The Citizen (Dar es Salaam), 28 August 2011
East African countries, particularly Tanzania, have been receiving more Afghan heroin flows, as the continent of Africa at large emerges as a conductive drugs trafficking route to Europe, North America and other parts of the world.
The revelation has been made in a report released recently by the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime (UNODC), which says that drug traffickers, faced with tough restrictions to transit through Asia and Middle East, have turned Africa into their preferred station for heroin shipment to Europe and elsewhere.
The report titled "The global Afghan Opium Trade: A threat Assessment" points out that Afghan heroin flows across Tanzania and East Africa are now blamed for generating increased drug abuse in the region and some parts of the continent.
It notes that during the first quarter of 2011, there were two major heroin seizures (each above 100 kg) reported by Kenya and Tanzania, adding: "The most fragile African states are particularly vulnerable, as drug trafficking organisations are able to exploit the low capacity at seaports and airports. Indeed, East Africa's minimal law enforcement at ports of entry has encouraged drug traffickers to transit heroin from Pakistan or Gulf countries through East Africa."
The alarming revelation is likely to prompt anti-narcotics agencies in Tanzania and the entire East Africa region to intensify the ongoing war against drug trafficking and abuse.
Notably, the reference to Tanzania as a hub is not totally new, as the country has been witnessing a tremendous increase in heroin seizures over the last two years. Larger amounts of heroine have been seized here than in any other East African state of late.
The report is the second in a series issued by the UNODC under a research project that studies worldwide flows of Afghan opiates, as well as trafficking in precursor chemicals used to turn opium into heroin.
UNODC believes the findings will provide a better understanding of the global impact of Afghan opiates, and help the international community identify vulnerabilities and possible counter-measures.
The report asserts that drug seizures, and the arrest of traffickers, indicated that drug traffickers-particularly West African networks - were increasingly transporting Afghan heroin from Pakistan and Iran into East Africa for onward shipment to Europe and elsewhere.
In Tanzania, a good number of Pakistanis, West Africans and Iranians have been arrested and charged in court for trafficking the most dangerous narcotics on earth.
Police figures released June this year show that 18 foreigners were among those arrested for drug trafficking offences. According to the head of Anti-narcotics Unit, Senior Assistant Commissioner of Police, Godfrey Nzowa, five Iranians, three South Africans, four Kenyans, three Pakistanis, two Nigerians and one suspect each from Mozambique, Liberia, Guinea and Ghana are currently facing charges over the banned trade.
A live example was the arrest in Tanga in March last year of Iranian Mohamed Ali Pouradad with 95kgs of heroin worth a staggering Sh25 billion, the largest ever consignment of illicit drugs seized in the recent past.
In June last year, two West Africans were arrested in Dar es Salaam in what the anti-narcotics boss described as a major breakthrough in the fight against a new wave of drug trafficking by couriers masquerading as diplomats.
The foreigners, a Liberian and a Guinean, had presented themselves to the Immigration officials as diplomats. However, they were allegedly found in possession of 31 kilograms of cocaine worth $372,000 in two bags, labelled "diplomatic", ostensibly destined to the Arusha-based International Criminal Tribunal for Rwanda (ICTR).
Two Pakistanis Shahbaz Malik and Adul Ghan Peer Bux are also among foreigners still facing trial in Tanzanian courts for drug trafficking. The government is challenging in the Court of Appeal a decision of the High Court to grant them bail pending trial, as the offence is unbailabe under the narcotics Act.
They were arrested in February this year at Mbezi Jogoo, a Dar es Salaam suburb, allegedly with 179,000 grams of heroin worth a staggering Sh6.2 billion.
According to SACP Nzowa, a total of 376 kilograms of heroin were seized by the law enforcers between 2009 and June this year.
Global heroin trafficking routes
The UN report says heroin flows from Afghanistan in three main directions-- to Pakistan, Iran and Central Asia. From these border countries, Afghan heroin is trafficked to Europe, North America, the Middle East and Africa, and other regions in the world, with the only exception of South America.
"This is fuelling heroin consumption in Africa, a region generally ill-equipped to provide treatment to drug users and to fight off the corrupting effects of drug money," UNODC says.
Trafficking through the new Africa route is likely facilitated by relatively high levels of corruption, widespread poverty and limited law enforcement capacity in many countries.
For his part, Mr Nzowa says many of the arrested suspects claimed that they had been forced to engage in illegal trade because they lacked alternative means for survival.
"Many of the suspects claim they have nothing else to do than being couriers of drugs. So they sacrifice themselves. But the fact is that they have to engage in lawful activities, as there is no shortcut in life," he says.
Current State of the Global Opiate Market "The emergence of Africa as a heroin trafficking hub is almost certainly due to ongoing corruption, widespread poverty and limited law enforcement capacity - as well as increased pressure on traditional drug trafficking routes," says the report.
The report further points out that once in East Africa, Afghan heroin flows to Europe, North America, South-East Asia and Oceania - either directly or via other African countries.
Increasing flows of heroin to Africa have also led to increases in drug abuse across the continent. Indeed, African authorities have reported increases in both drug trafficking and heroin abuse. However, drug abuse estimates are likely to be unrealistically low due to lack of comprehensive data.
UNODC says that in 2009 the global opiate market was worth $68 billion, with heroin consumers paying $61 billion and opium consumers, $7 billion. According to the report, heroin and opium prices are dependent on a number of factors, including purity, supply and demand, distance from the source and risk of interception.
Profits from heroin trafficking increase rapidly as heroin is moved along the trafficking route. Criminal networks benefit by diluting heroin purity, enabling maximum benefit from increasing street prices.
Indeed, the total farm-gate value of Afghan opium was just $440 million in 2009, with elements of the Afghan insurgency likely to have made $155 million.
By comparison, in 2009 international (non-Afghan) organised crime groups made at least $7 billion in profits.12 Indigenous groups -facilitating street-level heroin dealing - probably earned even more than international drug trafficking networks.
In 2009, a total of 395 drug cases were recorded in Afghanistan and 499 people were arrested; among these, 23 were Afghan public servants and 21 were foreigners - with 16 Africans, six Iranians, one Canadian, and one Pakistani.
The high number of African nationals arrested in Afghanistan might be an indication of the increasing level of Afghan heroin trafficking to Africa.
In 2009, an estimated 40-45 tons of Afghan heroin were trafficked to Africa. The majority of this amount was consumed in Africa; however, Africa is now emerging as a heroin trafficking hub for onward movement to Europe, China and Australia. Across Africa, 1.2 tons of heroin were seized in 2009.
Based on seizure data, the report says the majority of heroin trafficked from Pakistan to Africa is conducted by African couriers rather than Pakistanis. Heroin is most likely exchanged in industrial cities such as Karachi or Lahore, before being shipped by air.
Trafficking from Pakistan to East Africa also occurs by sea, given the limited capacity of law enforcement at seaports across East Africa. Most heroin enters Africa through its eastern countries. Head of the Drug Control Commission, Mr Christopher Shekiondo, admits that heroin traffickers are increasingly targeting Tanzania for the business due to its geographical position.
"They are looking for countries which they can easily penetrate so that they can reach their final destination-America," Mr Shekiondo says.
"We have discovered that they are increasingly using the sea. They are using covert seaports to bring in the substance," he says.
Mr Shekiondo says the law for fighting drug trafficking and abuse in Tanzania is good, but admits it is not being effectively implemented.
Heroin reaches Nigeria via East African countries (Ethiopia, Somalia, Kenya, Tanzania and Mozambique) by air or overland; however, it is also transported by couriers on direct flights or shipped directly to Nigeria from the countries of origin. Heroin is smuggled into South Africa mainly using couriers and parcel post.
Other routes involve entry through Kenya, Tanzania and Mozambique, and the use of road networks. Exact volumes and routes are difficult to determine given that East African countries provided UNODC with very limited drug trafficking data in 2009.
In 2009, Africa's drug trafficking market was worth an estimated $3.2 billion - most of which went to Nigerian criminal groups. Nigerian organised criminal groups dominate the African drug trade.
However, drug trafficking in Africa involves both African networks, including Nigerians and Tanzanians, as well as foreign networks, including Chinese and Pakistanis.
Although African drug traffickers are clearly very active in Pakistan, few Pakistanis are likely to be active in Africa.
In 2009, an estimated 34 tons of heroin were consumed in Africa. However, number and distribution of drug users are difficult to determine as official drug consumption figures were provided by just 9 per cent of African countries in 2009. The UN agency recommends that African data collection capacity must be developed as a matter of urgency, since the absence of data makes it almost impossible to accurately estimate the number of opiate abusers in the continent.
Available data suggests that there are more heroin users in East, West and Central Africa than in Northern and Southern Africa. According to the report, this is not surprising given that East Africa is the main entry point for Afghan heroin and West Africa is an important exit point. Estimated number of African users may also be skewed by heroin purity levels. Given the economic profile of consumers, heroin purity at street level may be even lower than 10 per cent. Low quality heroin is often mixed with cannabis; intravenous abuse of heroin is not very common, as most heroin abusers smoke the drug.
Africa's high level of HIV/Aids, coupled with current trends of increased heroin trafficking to the continent, may result in increased heroin abuse and further HIV/Aids infection in the coming years. The spread of the disease by injecting drug abuse has already been reported in the region.
A study of 336 heroin abusers in Nairobi found that 44.9 per cent used, or had previously used, heroin by injection; of the 101 persons who abused heroin by injection at the time of the study, 52 per cent were HIV-positive. Heroin abuse by injection is also reported to be spreading at an alarming rate in the Tanzania.
Law enforcement and seizures in EA
In 2009, African law enforcement seized 1.2 tons of heroin; just 70 kg of this was seized by customs.
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- United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime (UNODC)