• More women are being caught up in drug trafficking rackets as a means to survival
Mariam's mornings are all the same. Waking up, going to Kongowea market, where she gets supplies for her day's business, and going back home, where she embarks on her daily duties.
On a normal day, the Mombasa resident makes snacks such as viazi karai, samosas and bhajias. But behind the ordinary face of a woman commonly known by her customers as “Mama Viazi” is a peddler of what might send her to prison, where she would join her husband, should the authorities pounce on her.
But what to do? Mariam's husband left her behind with children and in-laws to fend for. The family's breadwinner was arrested in 2014 during a police swoop at her home area, for allegedly having bhang worth thousands of shillings. The husband was later arraigned and charged with trafficking narcotic drugs and later sentenced to 10 years in prison.
The conviction made Mariam's life take a U-turn as she had to be both the mother and father to her family. Mariam was left behind to look after their five children as well as her in-laws, including the mother-in-law.
She was deprived of the good life her husband offered, with an income whose source she did not care about.
At this juncture, Mariam opted to start a snack shop to get some income that would sustain her family. “We went from living large to surviving on a meagre income from the business. It was barely enough,” she said.
DRUG STORAGE 'KIBANDA'
A few months later, a friend of her incarcerated husband approached her with a good deal, which he said would be continuing from where her husband left off.
Mariam said, “I had no idea what my husband's business was and so I thought it was something legal, so I accepted.”
Mariam never suspected that the business would be moving drugs since her husband had maintained his innocence and even assured her that it was the police who planted the bhang on him.
It was after accepting the offer that she realised she was would be using her food kiosk to move drugs to different customers.
Initially she was hesitant, but after receiving in her first payment as much as what she earned in a week, she was determined to continue with the business.
Her duties are to store drugs that will be collected by the sellers, who in turn peddle to smaller users. Previously, she only stored the narcotics, but with time, she started selling to smaller users, which fetched her a few extra thousands.
“At first I would be afraid that police might discover and pounce on my kiosk, but with time, I learnt to make friends with them and escape arrests,” she said.
While eating at her joint, one can easily note that her customers are young people who will follow her to the back, where it serves as a kitchen to the kiosk.
Mariam makes at least Sh3,000 on a bad day, which is triple the amount she makes in her snacks business. She has no regrets for doing such a business as circumstances forced her into it.
“I know one day the law might catch up with me, but until then, let my family live a decent life and I will make sure none of my children indulges in such a business,” she said.
Many girls and women are easy to convince to do some chores in exchange for a few coins or in some cases for freeReachout Centre director Abdurahman Taib
Keziah hawks drinking water, but deep down, she knows that her “other” business is what puts food on the table. She is such a beautiful soul, one you cannot think is involved in any wrongdoing.
She said her boyfriend would send her to deliver some goodies in exchange for a few thousands. “He would wrap the package to look like a normal parcel and ask me to drop them in different locations while on my way to town, where I hawk water,” she said.
It was easy for her maybe because she was not aware of what was inside the package.
However, she later learnt of the contents on a day when one of the clients she had dropped a package to opened it in front of her to confirm the contents.
“The customer said someone had earlier given him a bad quality of the product and therefore, he wanted to confirm its quality before letting me go,”she said.
That's when she learned she had been moving heroin without her knowledge.
“Carrying those parcels is easy when you do not know what is inside. But it is very uncomfortable once you know what you are carrying,” she said.
Kessiah admitted that even after making the discovery, she could not bring herself to stop the business. She said it is not easy as the money coming from the business is too sweet to just abandon.
“Hawa jamaa hawaezi kukuwacha utoke. Either wakuuwe ama wakuseti kwa polisi unyakwe (People in this business cannot let you go easily. They either kill or set you up to be arrested by the police),” she said.
Trends of women being caught up in drug trafficking rackets seem to be increasing every day. Many are arrested alongside their spouses or partners. Most of them claim they were not aware of their husband's businesses.
SUSPECTS ALREADY ARRESTED
In April, Peris Anyango and Christine Awino were arrested at the Jomo Kenyatta International Airport with narcotics worth $245,000 (Sh24.5 million).
The duo was reportedly travelling to Jakarta, Indonesia, and had intended to go through Ab Dhabi before their final flight to the Asian country.
In June, Caroline Nyambura was nabbed alongside her husband Masuo Tajiri with 1.4kg of narcotics. The duo was also found with Sh1 million in cash, which police believed to have been proceedings from their drug trade.
Tajiri was not new to controversy. He had spent 20 years in prison after he was found guilty of robbery with violence and was only released under the presidential pardon. Earlier this year, Tajiri was once again in police custody alongside Fatuma Mohammed for allegedly trafficking drugs.
In July, Ruweida Farah was arrested alongside Abubakar Yahya with heroin of unknown value.
Stakeholders in the fight against drug trafficking and its abuse say the rate at which women and young girls are being used in moving drugs is worrying.
I know one day the law might catch up with me, but until then, let my family live a decent life and I will make sure none of my children indulges in such a businessMariam, drug peddler
Abdurahman Taib, director of Reachout Centre, said the situation is getting out of hand since peddlers are now targeting schoolgirls to deliver drugs to clients.
“Girls are unknowingly being turned into drug traffickers. Some innocently do not know what they ferry, but some do it with full knowledge and they do it for money or a better life,” Taib said.
When young girls are involved in the peddling, then the society should get worried. But why are drug traffickers targeting women and girls as suppliers in their business?
Taib said many girls and women are vulnerable, making them easy to task with some chores in exchange for a few coins or in some cases for free. A vulnerable person is easy to either convince or threaten to ferry drugs.
Taib said in the society, women are also perceived as the innocent gender, which is very unlikely to be linked to drug peddling.
The Reachout director blamed their increasing involvement on poverty, greed and lust for quick and easy money. He said such businesses come with great incentives, which can easily lure women into it.
“Women also have many mediums of peddling drugs. Nowadays, you can find your favourite Mama Mboga being the seller of drugs. And barons are aware that women are perceived as innocent and cannot easily be pinned down, and that is why they are now using them,” he said.
Taib said women also inherit the businesses from their husbands who have been arrested. In other scenarios, drug peddling is a family business.
Efforts by the organisation to reach out to women who were forced into the business by circumstances have been futile as they are reluctant to come out. This is because they fear how the society will perceive them.
“They also cannot abandon businesses that give them thousands in income for nothing. How will they feed their families?” Taib added.
He said unless the government gives the women alternative means to provide for their families, they will continue being drug peddlers.
The director urged the government to change tack in fighting the drugs menace to unravel new ways being used by drugs traffickers.
Edited by Tom Jalio