This week singer Iryn Namubiru made it back on home soil after a harrowing two weeks in Japanese detention. Her trip to perform in Japan went only as far as the airport where a search of her bags found her to be in possession of illicit drugs.
The singer needs to thank her lucky stars.
Asia has been fighting the drug problem for centuries – the Opium wars between the England and China in the 19th century were over the Asian nation’s desire to stop the importation of the potent drug by British merchants. As a result of this long history many have a zero tolerance policy for the trafficking and use of illicit drugs.
China is world famous for sentencing hundreds to death for trafficking in drugs, other Asian nations also prescribe death sentences but at best long prison sentences in the deplorable conditions.
The details are still scanty about how her release came about but it probably helped that Namubiru holds a French passport.
Drug related crime has been growing steadily over the last two decades in Uganda. Anecdotal evidence suggests that we have moved from being a transit point for drugs from Asia to Europe and become consumers.
Part of the reason is that our laws against offenders are lenient with drug trafficers suffering a fine of a million shillings or a year in prison. This is ridiculous viewed against the street value of a stomach full of cocaine, which may run into billions of shillings.
Everything happens for a reason and Iryn’s experience should serve as a wake up call for our politicians and law enforcement agencies.
The drug trade does not work in isolation. The same networks used to traffic drugs are used in human trafficking, smuggling, gun running and any number of illicit trade enterprises.
To think that as long as my family and friends are drug free is to take a narrow view of the situation.
In terms of the economy the proceeds from illicit trade have to be laundered. It has been known for a long time that the land inflation in Kampala is due to hot money and is not supported by general income levels in the city. These funds distort the economy, knocking out genuine businessmen out of work and living the field open to counterfeit and substandard goods endangering the society as a whole.
But even more scary is that if these networks take route in our backyard they tend to proliferate like a virus, inserting themselves in every aspect of our lives and in extreme cases they take over whole governments.
And if you think about Uganda would be a prime candidate for takeover.
We are literally at the center of the world, with less than a day’s flying to Asia and Europe. We have relatively weak security systems. Our officials are corrupt to the gills and we have a lot of desperate people seduced by the good life and willing to do anything to make a quick coin. Our national budget is under $5b, it would take considerably less to secure this country as a illicit trade hub, a funnel for billions of dollars sloshing around in the shady underworld of drugs, human trafficking and money laundering.
And once crime takes over our streets it’s only a matter of time before its running our government, with rest of us working as indentured labourers or markets for their nefarious products.
As farfetched as this scenario may seem it has already happened in the recent past in Europe.
In Montenegro, to get around western imposed sanctions on the former Yugoslavia in the 1990s, they leased ports and airports to cigarette smugglers. With a foot in the door these gangs have never gone away trafficking in addition to cigarettes, in women and narcotics.
Organised crime induced corruption was so bad that Italy had a warrant out on the head of former Prime minister Milo Djukanovic for his role in smuggling cigarettes.
So let Irynn’s ordeal not be in vain lets clamp down on this vice now before it spirals out of control.