Drug trafficking is not new in Rwanda and neither are its traffickers or consumers. Despite all efforts by Police to put an end to the vice, drug traffickers have become creative in more ways than one in an effort to outrun Police and other drug fighting agencies. Their tracks have evolved from carrying marijuana in passenger service vehicles to using jerry cans of local brew, below car seats, inside car doors and using minors.
However, they are always cautious to cover their tracks and operate in a very discrete way than they used to some years back. Although they cover their tracks, getting marijuana is not as difficult as it may sound if one knows where to look. And forget about Nyamirambo that used to be the hub for marijuana, the base has now shifted to Nyabugogo and Gatsata areas.
To track their footsteps, I had to rely on an old acquaintance that is in the business although he was skeptical about my intentions since we hadn’t met in ten months. After explaining to him over some beers, that I was working on a story, he agreed to show me how they do their business but on condition that nothing about the story could be traced back to him by his associates.
I agreed. I would assume a pseudo name and pose a new member who wanted to join the business. I would be operating in Samuduha and surrounding areas.
He told me that one of the strongest points they consider when they want a peddler or pushayi (pusher) as they are commonly known, was the trust fellow members had in that person, the area of operations and knowing how to roll a stick of marijuana.
However, he told me that they didn’t have weed at the moment since they also have to buy from other peddlers for their own consumption but agreed to show me the ropes.
Relying on my past experience when I was still a consumer and knowledge of the jargon used, I thought that I would be able to fit it in easily. My acquaintance operates around Kimironko and has developed a clientele that is mainly made up of unemployed or school going youth, corporate working class and ladies of the night.
The peddlers operate in a group with one person at the helm from whom they all get weed. The boss, as they call him, also lends them money when they are broke and they pay back with interest.
Meeting the team
Come the day, my acquaintance introduced me to some members of the group that we found at one of his friend’s house, a dingy place that had seen better days . The foul smell was a clear indication that water wasn’t the occupant’s best ally.
A stick of weed was passed around as they discussed ordinary issues ; their women and children and stories about some other topics that I quite didn’t understand.
They asked if I knew some pushers in Samuduha and I told them three names and they said they knew them too.
After chilling with them for half the day, they said that they would introduce me to their boss. They refer to him as Cobra (not real name nor alias) but they would first talk to him about it. I left them some money to buy beers and told them I had to go back home to check on some stuff. I learnt some names they use to describe weed such as Ikintu, Umugongo w’Ingona, Ibijumba, Ibinini, Umuti, Agacekuru among others.
On Tuesday morning, my friend called me and told me that everything was set and as soon as I’m available I should go and meet Cobra. As I was busy trying to finish my work early so that I don’t raise any suspicions about making a last appearance, I received another phone call alerting me that there was a consignment of weed coming later in the night. Meeting point: Nyabugogo.
I braced myself for the hardest night of my life since I would be hanging with drug peddlers. Many thoughts ran through my head, wondering what I would do if anything went wrong and police found me with them. How would I explain myself without blowing my cover? Nonetheless, I decided to go and even left behind my media ID just in case something happened and they saw it.
Nyabugogo - Kimisagara
Upon reaching Nyabugogo, I went to a nearby bar, ordered for a drink as I waited for my friend to call. The call came and I told them where I was and he walked in. A few minutes later another guy entered and last to enter was their boss.
It was difficult to tell that they were together because they move separately but within the same vicinity. Their boss looked like he was in his mid thirties and contrary to the other guys I had met before, he looked cleaned up. Dressed in trendy clothes and shoes, he asked me why I wanted to join and whether I had clients.
I told him that I didn’t have a stable job since I dropped out of school. I also informed him that in Samuduha we have to travel long distances in search for weed and I thought I could link up with him and start distributing in the area and I also make some money. He asked if I could handle the pressure that comes with the job and if I can be trusted to be discreet. I answered in the affirmative. He cautioned me that if I ever got caught by police, I would be on my own.
We left the bar and jumped on motor cycles to Kimisagara where the vehicle carrying the merchandise was parked. We stopped in front of a nondescript house with corrugated iron sheets for a gate and Cobra pushed the gate open and knocked on the door.
A man came out, he was expecting. Without wasting time, Cobra pulled out Rwf 350,000 for 20kgs.
As we were about to leave, three other guys came in and were also given a bag, they paid and they also left at the same time as did. However, not all bikes take the same route. They split up by taking different routes.
My motor bike guy followed one of the other guys who had found us where we had picked the weed and I realised that he was heading to Giporoso Muri Corridor. When he stopped at the MTN service centre in Remera, I also told my guy to stop a few metres back and started to follow him.
The guy went straight towards the airport security but for fear of being noticed, I stopped and pretended like I was peeing on the fence as I tried to keep a close eye on him while he transacted business with some people. It wasn’t long before I was interrupted by airport security who thought I was using their fence as a urinal. They sat me on the ground while demanding for an explanation for ‘peeing’ at the fence.
I wasn’t exactly forthcoming with my answers for fear of blowing my cover. When I realised that I might lose my target, I confirmed to them that I was a journalist investigating the life of prostitutes. He asked me for my card but I had left it behind. It was around 2am when I called one of my bosses that they realised I probably meant no harm and was working. They let me go but my target had already left.
Kimironko (BCR Estate)
Whenever a consignment is brought in, it is distributed to the neighbourhood pushers that same night. I called my friend and he said he had tried to call me but my phone was not going through. To which I replied that my phone’s battery had died and then I had stopped in Remera to grab something to eat. He gave me directions to a bar that was still open from where he would pick me and together we go to Cobra’s place that was used as a base.
I met the same pushers I had met the previous day. Each one was given his own share. Since I was new, I bought half a kilo and Rizlas (rolling paper) to use while packaging it. My friend paid for me Rwf 10,000 to show that I was a serious client. After we left, I gave my friend the weed and told him to take all the profits he would make from it.
How is police outmaneuvered?
They know how to cover their tracks. They all use pseudo names and they develop new jargons very often. Instead of using public service vehicles to transport the weed, they have turned to hiring personal and institutional vehicles.
The weed is stashed between the outer and inner surfaces of car parts such as doors and tool boxes or spare tires. The more sophisticated dealers stuff weed in condoms which they put in jerry cans and water or local brew is added. This is done to avoid the smell of weed. They always make sure the weed is rolled and very refined so as not to cause any damage to the condom.
However, the scariest part is using minors, especially when they are leaving upcountry schools going for holidays in Kigali. They give them some money and ask them to stuff it between their clothes in the suitcase.
A profitable venture
A kilo of weed goes for Rwf 17,500 depending on how it is packaged. But my friend told me that their weed is expensive since it is of high quality, big and they can get 50 sticks from one kilo. Each stick goes for Rwf 500 which brings them around Rwf 25000 per kilo.
Lower quality weed goes for between Rwf 300 and 450. The best weed comes from D.R Congo and the Southern province, I was told.
According to Rose G. Nyirabashyitsi, Senior Mental Health nurse, Ndera Neuro-Psychiatric Hospital, the hospital has received several cases of people; both youth or adults, who are mentally unstable because of drug abuse.
“Children as young as 10 have been brought here for treatment. The youth make up the majority of the number of patients who are admitted because of drug related illnesses. When they are brought here, we treat them and discharge them when they improve. However, we have had cases of children who make an improvement and when we discharge them, they go back to their former life and end up here again. Basically, for some, not all, it becomes a recurring aspect of their life.