• Customs officers from the Kenya Revenue Authority (KRA) and security personnel routinely encounter scary experiences with deadly smugglers
At the designated entry and exit border points between Kenya and its East African neighbours, also marked as One Stop Border Posts (OSBPs), is an ever flowing movement of people and trucks from dawn to dusk and vice versa, a clear indication of a thriving trade.
Itis not a walk in the park for Customs officers controlling these movements. This is because witty traders exploitthe slightest opportunity of a lag in the border control system to smuggle prohibited goods or deny Ceaser what belongs to him.At the stations, Customs officers ensure that all goods crossing the border are verified and necessary taxes are paid. They use baggage scanners and sniffer dogs (K9) to detect prohibited goods like narcotics.
However, deep into the expansive shrubs on the no-man’s land in the borders lay chilling dangers by dreaded invisible smugglers waiting for the opportunity of lapse in border control to smuggle goods.
Customs officers from the Kenya Revenue Authority (KRA) and security personnel routinely encounter scary experiences with deadly smugglers, some are said to be heavily armed.The officers receive constant threats and at one time, a KRA officer at the Busia border station received head of a dead person.
Goods commonly intercepted at the border include sugar, rice, narcotics and vehicles. Seldom, officers on border patrols have intercepted cattle being smuggled to Kenya. The opportunity for smugglers has been rarestthanks to the always-vigilant Customs officers.
On 20thJuly 2019, Customs officers at the Isibania border station thwarted a child trafficking scheme by three suspects. This was a shocking incident at the border station as trafficking in persons is a serious crime and a grave violation of human rights and of global concern.
The Customs officer through analysis of baggage scanner images discovered that one of the suspect’s baggage had newborn baby clothes but there was no baby in site. According to KRA, the officers became suspicious and requested that the baby be brought for confirmation.
The baby had already been whisked to the Kenyan side by one of the suspects and was waiting for the accomplice to get cleared by Immigrations Department. The suspects were arrestedand are currently facing charges of human trafficking.
At the Malaba OSBP, witty traders have been attempting to use the physically challenged persons to smuggle goods in small quantities and evade taxes. On 8thAugust this year a visually impaired man was intercepted while smuggling eight boxes of Simba Waragi liquor. The suspect was being carried on a bodaboda.
Any time at the station, physically impaired persons on wheelchairs would be seen lining up at the Customs gates with two or three bags of sugar under the wheelchair. A local trader said they try to win customs officers’ empathy who would hear none but ensure they pay the duty.
“Customs know that by using two or three physically impaired persons to ferry three bags of 90 kg sugar across border, and only three trips a day, the smuggler will have loaded a full truck with 54 bags of sugar in two days. “They claim to sell in their shops but they do not look like they own any business. Smugglers are using them,” said the trader.
At the porous borders, if not chasing smuggled vehicles or bhang, it is Customs officers chased by dangerous smugglers. The driving experience of their driversdetermines. It is even more dangerous during night patrols. Vehicles have overturned in the recent past because of tracking speeding smugglers in the region while others have been stoned by hostile residentsand windscreens damaged.
The deadliest one, according to witnesses, is whensmuggled cattle are intercept several kilometers from the station. Customs officers have to drive them on foot all the way to the station holding room.
Smugglers use informers who pretend to be bodaboda operators to monitor and track the movements of border control personnel. They can track while on phone calls hidden in their helmets and giving real-time information. This is a challenge to patrols and seizure operations.
KRA’s Western Regional Coordinator Mr. Joseph Kaguru said KRA is committed to facilitating legitimate trade to ensure no prohibited goods enter or pass through Kenya. “We are doing everything to curb illicit trade in the region while ensuring that rightful taxes are collected by customs officers.” He noted.
According to Mr. Kaguru, there are more initiatives being implemented to address the current challenges such as porous borders, lack of harmonized standards for particular products among the EAC partners.
“We have also established Rapid Response Units across the whole region to monitor goods under Regional Electronic Cargo Tracking Seals (RECTS). We are also in the process of harmonizing internal laws for example the new Excise Act,” said Mr. Kaguru.
The regional head of Customs said plans are underway to use drones, motion sensors, and modern patrol units for surveillance along the borderline. He added that KRA is also collaborating with Ugandan agencies in conducting border patrols.
Government’s initiative to have joint patrols have helped curb cases of collusion while strengthening the security of the personnel participating in patrols. Busia County Commissioner Jacob Narengo said there is a structured approach to deal with border management.
“Under the Multiagency Team, we are able to share information in various committees like the Border Management, County and Sub County Security and Intelligence Committee. We also have Cross-Border Sensitization Program,” said Mr. Narengo. He also noted that Interior and Coordination Ministry provide security backup to Customs officers whenever they are doing border operations, crackdowns on request.