Monday, July 14, 2014


Last week we heard the heart rending story of the widow of a Ugandan who was executed in China for drug traffiking.

The convicted trafficker, Andrew Ham Ngobi and another Ugandan Omer Ddamulira were executed two weeks ago by Chinese authorities after they were convicted for being in possession of a combined 43 kg of cocaine, with an estimated street value of sh6.6b.

There have been enough apprehensions of drug traffickers to tell us this not an isolated case.

Recent press reports have it that as many as 23Ugandans have been sentenced to death for smuggling drugs into China. In addition another 22 Ugandans are serving life in several jails scattered across China, while four others have been placed behind bars for a period ranging between 12 and 15 years.

As if that is not enough Uganda, is increasingly being seen as a transit route for drugs to Asia and Europe. Add to this the fact that while the national economy continues to grow, wealth and income disparities continue to widen leading to greater desperation among a significant portion of the population. It does not take for any serious soothsaying aptitude to predict that the number of Ugandans convicted abroad and maybe at home will only increase in coming years.

Ngobi's story made for national headlines I suspect because of the widow's testimony but who knows how many more Ugandans have been convicted or are serving long convictions in countries around the world with zero tolerance for the drug trade.

We should not be tempted to think this is a problem for other people and that the rest of us reading the paper over  breakfast just before we go to church are unaffected.

"A recent conversation with a high school counsellor revealed that the major problem she was battling was not under age sex, adolescent adjustment issues or even students cutting class but the rapidly increasing incidents of drug abuse. Clearly I could not relate. I came from an era when the handful of students  who smoked or stole out of school to go dancing or cut class were the bad boys. ..

Every so often we now hear of young adults combatting debilitating drug addictions or dying from overdoses. They don't make kids like they used to.

But beyond the worrying trend among our young adults and subsequent generations, these increasing drug related problems have wider ramifications.

Last year the value of global illicit trade was estimated at $650b in goods ranging from cigarettes to human trafficking and up to $2.5trillion in illicit financial flows. It's not clear how much of this trade flows through Africa but if only a percent of it did, that would be $35b annually or about the  size of East Africa's total annual trade.

An unintended consequence of our ramping up our investment in infrastructure means it will become increasingly easier to get around the region and the continent, couple this with our poor or corruptible enforcement officials and one can see that this continent will soon be a haven for international organized crime.

This should have us -- not only the parents, all biting on our finger nails.

The history of organized crime has two very disturbing characteristics. 

One, that the networks employed for the drug trade are the same ones used for gun running, human trafficking, smuggling and any number of other nefarious activities. We shouldn't seat on our hands thinking drugs are our only problem. The more the drug networks entrench themselves the more likely that all other ills will come rushing in the door.

"But even more scary is that organized crime is not content just to have foothold in a country or region. They are not averse to taking over administrations or whole governments to ensure they have continuous carte Blanche to do as they please...

It is not unheard of. 

In South America governments are being held hostage by cartels who have corrupted the entire political and administrative processes, engaging in all out war against drug lords at the expense of critical service delivery and In addition because of their international reach these illicit networks are causing diplomatic incidents everywhere they are.

The plight of Ngobi and Ddamulira should serve as a wake up call for the country. 

It is possible that illicit networks are already finding their way into our country, not surprisingly given the extent of our official corruption alone, but we better be warned that when you give them an inch they will want a mile.

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