Towards the end of last month, on August 29, this newspaper reported the questioning by prosecutors of a suspected woman drug trafficker arrested at the Kigali International Airport en route to Entebbe, Uganda, from Bujumbura, Burundi.
Drug trafficking is not something you get to hear about every day in Rwanda. That is more the preserve of countries like Kenya, Tanzania and Ethiopia, which, according to international drug agencies, are on constant radar as supply chain hubs for illicit drugs in Africa, and onwards to markets in Europe and the United States.
On the same day the drug trafficking circumstances surrounding the suspected woman were being reported in Rwanda, a momentous event emphasising resolve to battle the vice was happening in Kenya.
The country’s President, Uhuru Kenyatta, was overseeing the Kenya Navy blow up a seized drug-smuggling ship and its illicit cargo of hundreds of kilogrammes on the Indian Ocean off the coastal city of Mombasa.
It was momentous on two counts: It not only emphasised the country’s political will to deal with the problem of illicit drugs as underscored in the Protocol on Combating Drug Trafficking in the East African Region, but also sent the strongest message yet of resolve to the local and international purveyors of the illegal and ruinously debilitating trade.
Opiates such as cannabis and narcotics such as cocaine and heroin not only destroy our youth, but where the traffickers are allowed to gain a foothold they subvert entire institutions, from the judiciary to the police and other institutions of governance, through corruption holding nations hostage.
But the ramifications are global with the ever present threat of violence and regional instability.
The World Drug Report 2014 draws a link in “the surge in opium cultivation and production in Afghanistan, the violence associated with the illicit drug trade, and the growing instability of regions, including West and East Africa, that are already vulnerable to trafficking and to rising levels of local production and use of illicit drugs.”
The report indicates that available data suggests cannabis use, notably in West and Central Africa (about 12.4 per cent), is probably higher than the global average (3.8 per cent).
The prevalence of use of other substances – except for cocaine, which remains at the global average – is low overall in Africa.
East Africa remains a major conduit for these hard drugs. According to a 2013 UN report titled, Transnational Organised Crime in Eastern Africa, some air couriering such as by the Ugandan-born British suspect arrested in Rwanda last month has been noted.
However, the report says, heroin has been tracked to and through Eastern Africa since at least the 1980s, with several recent large seizures suggesting that this ï¬‚ow has only increased. The drug haul dramatically blown up off the Kenyan coast at the end of last month was among the latest.
The UN notes that the Eastern Africa region is attractive to international drug trafficking syndicates as they are quick to exploit non-existent or ineffective border (land, sea and air) controls, limited cross border and regional cooperation as well as deficiencies in criminal justice systems.
It is for this reason that the blowing up of the drug laden ship on the Indian Ocean came off with a bang (pun intended) to send the strongest message possible not only in the region, but the world over.
And, with the 2001 Protocol on Combating Drug Trafficking in the East African Region already in place all that is required is firming up and embracing it to the letter.
The fight against drug trafficking must not relent to ensure those underwriting the illicit trade are brought to book.
The writer is a commentator on local and regional issues.