Wrong and Dangerous: Silence over Afghan Drugs in Eastern Africa

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A less recognised drug flow affects Eastern Africa: heroin, produced from Afghan opium, and trafficked through Pakistan and Iran. The first of several remarkable seizures in the region was made in March 2010. There is significant concern that money earned from this trade might be used to finance terrorist activity in the region. This will put immense pressure not only on the countries emerging from conflict but also those aspiring to build strong economies. One of the great dangers for the sub-region will be continuing ignorance and neglect of what is happening. The problem is grave and it deserves serious consideration from the United Nations. 

Overview:

The flow of cocaine passing through West Africa to Europe has attracted considerable international attention. A less recognised drug flow affects Eastern Africa: heroin, produced from Afghan opium, and trafficked through Pakistan and Iran. In the course of the last three years, there has been a surge in Afghan opium transiting through Eastern Africa. The current analyst wrote and warned about this but early warning is nothing unless followed by early action.

The Danger

In recent years the flow of Afghan heroin via India, Iran and Pakistan to Kenya, Tanzania and Uganda has grown disproportionately. After this heroin is shipped to Eastern and Southern African region it is in turn exported to Europe and the US. There is reason to believe that the estimates provided by observers are grossly underestimated. In the current year only a total amount of confiscated drugs has made up more than 1.5 million tons.

There has been enormous growth of the African continent’s involvement into Afghan trade. New and sustainable routes of heroin transportation from Afghanistan to Europe and the USA are reappearing. One reason why it lacked serious attention is probably because unlike the drug that comes through West Africa which targets Europe this one mainly affects local people. The evidence for heroin flow to and through Eastern Africa from other sources dates back to the early 1990s. However it has shown marked but threatening change since 2002. Since the US led invasion of Afghanistan in October 2001, the Golden Crescent opium trade has soared. It is worth recalling the history of this menacing development to even earlier periods. The Golden Crescent drug trade is intimately related to the CIA’s covert operations in the region since the onslaught of the Soviet-Afghan war and its aftermath.

In so far as Afghan drug trade is concerned Eastern Africa is just a recent target. The first of several remarkable seizures in the region was made in March 2010. Conversely, heroin use in the Indian Ocean islands evolved independently of the problem in the rest of Eastern Africa. And the combined effect of both regions is being felt in the Southern African region. South Africa has reported Eastern Africa as a key source of the heroin it receives. Nigeria has specifically pointed to several countries in the region including Ethiopia as a country from whence heroin shipments arrive. One of the great dangers for the sub-region will be continuing ignorance and neglect of what is happening.

The Inescapable Impact

Transit flows and shipment routes have expanded. The surge has created a serious local usage problem in parts of eastern Africa, especially along the coast in Mombasa, Dar es Salaam, and Zanzibar, and also in Nairobi. Injecting drug use is of particular concern, given the prevalence of blood-borne disease, youth buldge, conflict and terrorism in the sub-region.

There is significant concern that money earned from this trade might be used to finance terrorist activity in the region. It is just a matter of time before the alarming speed with which the ever increasing transit of drugs originating from Afghanistan becomes a major threat to regional and world peace. What the UN, –whose mandate is to support the prevention of organized criminal activity– has done is to obfuscate the size and criminal nature of the Afghan drug trade transiting to Africa, intimating –without evidence– that a large part of the opium is no longer channelled towards the illegal heroin market. On this aspect and for less clear reasons society and leadership in the Eastern African region seems to have been put to sleep.

As things stand now, Eastern Africa has reached a turning point and what comes next really worries me. This will put immense pressure not only on the countries emerging from conflict but also those aspiring to build strong economies. This raises critical questions. Will a region struggling to come out of conflict and violence, home to weaker states, lacking economic resources, become hostage to this danger? Will the most important regional organization they all belong to---and the UN where the primary responsibility lies----help them overcome the real challenge or will it continue to help them forget about it and avoid taking response mechanisms? These seem to me vital for any serious discussion on the issue at the level of Africa’s regional organisations and the UN. 

 

 

 

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