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West African drug barons fight back

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Updated Fri, June 14th 2013 at 00:00 GMT +3

The West Africans and their Latin American counterparts usually target the Asian and European markets, but are also thought to be responsible for the emergence of cocaine trafficking and abuse in East Africa, which is a transit route. Kenyan police sources believe that the cartels may have influenced the detention of the plane in Nigeria.

Even as the government cracks the whip on suspected foreign drug barons, their internal and external networks remain intact.

The Nairobi-based foreign drug barons — who mostly live and own property in upmarket estates like Kilimani, Kileleshwa, Lavington and Riverside — are adept at the art of seduction, luring young beautiful Kenyan women to act as mules (individuals used to carry drugs) in a mix of business and pleasure. The Kenyan women mostly targeted are students, airhostesses, models and high-end prostitutes. Some are married to the drug barons and junior members of the cartels while others are their girlfriends, who are co-opted into the highly secretive and intricate syndicates. Less influential members of the cartels are also said to be increasingly renting houses in South C and South B. 

Some of the suspected drug barons in Nairobi are known to frequent various entertainment joints, often accompanied by bodyguards and beautiful women. In two establishments on Koinange Street, the kingpins and their hangers-on usually buy expensive drinks by the bottle and fill the tables with beer. They are loud and arrogant, and can never be touched by bouncers, no matter what they do. Some even hold licensed guns.

According to a security officer, it is almost impossible to link the drug lords to the business since they have perfected so well the art of covering their tracks. They indeed do not even touch the drugs.

Head of Anti-Narcotics Unit (ANU) Hamisi Masaa said his officers have made many arrests adding that they are on the trail of those still plying the trade.

“We shall get them. We have arrested many suspects before and the statistics speak for themselves,” he said. The ANU boss said they were now preparing the quarterly statistics that will be released at the end of this month.

Errant security agents, immigration and registration of persons officials, influential politicians, airline staff, revenue and tax officials have been drafted to work for these cartels that use Kenya as a transit point – though there is a growth in the local market for the drugs. The officials are now panicking following the President’s tough stand.

Apart from buying influence, the barons have also used the courts to frustrate any attempts to arrest and deport them.

A senior police officer working at the Jomo Kenyatta International Airport (JKIA) and who did not want to be named, described the real barons as being faceless because of their ability to fool all those involved in the trafficking chain.

“They walk free as work is done on their behalf. They recruit so many agents that even when we arrest a suspect, he or she has no idea who is the owner of the drugs. The chain is too long and reaching the real boss is sometimes impossible,” said the officer.

Our source, who has been involved in many drug busts at the airport, said a majority of those caught are innocent Kenyan unknowingly recruited as traffickers or couriers.

For now, it appears some barons have gone into hiding as they wait for things to cool off, and are supposedly fully briefed about the government moves against them Their active networks, however, remain a threat.

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