And Angella Asiimire
UGANDA'S topography as far as narcotic drugs are concerned has changed fundamentally and for the worse, if recent revelations by authorities are anything to go by.
Uganda is not only a conduit for hard narcotic drugs - heroin and cocaine - but has turned into a consumer.
This leaves the nation staring in the face of looming danger of the ramifications of increased local consumption of the drugs.
Details emerged recently as 7kg of seized cocaine and 1,125 pellets of heroine equivalent to more than 11,250grammes, all with a street value of over $547,500 (sh884.2m), seized between 2005 and 2007, were set ablaze.
Police chief Maj. Gen. Kale Kayihura said the nation had since left the role of only being a passage and had now qualified itself as a destination for hard narcotic drugs, which hitherto only transited through the country to West Africa and Europe.
He was swift to warn of a looming disaster if left unchecked. â€œIf we donâ€™t move fast, we may lose an entire generation.â€
What is more worrying is the pace at which local consumption of heroin and the more deadly and destructive cocaine is growing.
â€œIt is becoming pervasive,â€ he warned and called for a massive campaign, similar to that aimed at fighting HIV/AIDS, to check local consumption.
As if to lend credence to the change, rehabilitation centres, have mushroomed in the country, Kayihura said and blamed foreigners for the local consumption.
â€œI am aware that both the CID and other security organisations are following clues about a certain racket of foreigners who have started getting these drugs to our children,â€ he said at the destruction of a huge seizure of narcotic drugs at the Nsambya Police barracks.
Details emerged as a report by the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime (UNODC) reported significant changes, showing an upward trend of cocaine use in Africa and blaming the rise in local consumption on continued use of the continent as conduits or shipment points, an aspect that is particularly true about Uganda.
â€œThe increasing use of African countries for cocaine transshipment could be contributing to rising levels of cocaine use. In 2005, 10 African countries reported an increase in cocaine use, up from eight and seven in 2004 and 2003 respectively. The number of African countries reporting stable cocaine markets remained unchanged in 2004 and 2005 (at nine),â€ the 2007 World Drug Report notes.
The report also highlights the increasing use of Africa as a major transshipment point for cocaine, pointing out that the biggest seizures over time have been made on the continent.
â€œCocaine is trafficked to Europe via the Caribbean and, increasingly, Africa. Over the 2000-
2005 period, the largest increases in cocaine seizures were reported by countries in Africa and West and Central Europe,â€ the reports said, noting that in Africa, seizures rose six-fold as compared to a fourfold rise in West and Central Europe.
what is cocaine?
Cocaine hydrochloride is a stimulant for the central nervous system, which, scientifically, interferes with the bodyâ€™s ability to reabsorb dopamine, a chemical neurotransmitter that allows a person to experience pleasure and movement. Cocaine can be snorted, smoked, or even injected right into the bloodstream.
When one takes cocaine, their body produces extra amounts of dopamine but is also inhibited from reabsorbing it, causing over-stimulation in the brain.
This causes euphoria, extra alertness, false overconfidence and hyper-stimulation.
Although users report feeling exhilarated while on the drug, the effects wear off quickly and withdrawal symptoms begin almost immediately.
These include, but are not limited to: anxiety, insonmia, depression, paranoia, irritability and in some cases, physical pain.
Long-term users of cocaine risk serious health problems that eventually become fatal, including: an irregular heartbeat and heart failure.
Others are chronic insomnia, psychosis and severe depression, seizures and brain hemorrhaging and respiratory failure.
Regardless of whatever short-term benefits users believe they get from using cocaine, the addictive properties and fatal results of usage are not worth the risk.
Given that cocaine is administered intravenously and often sneakily, it can fuel the spread of HIV, eroding the gains made by the country now used as a role model in the fight against the scourge.
Why the change?
Lax narcotic laws have been responsible for this gradual progression.
The laws, police authorities have argued, are not deterrent enough to keep away couriers, who have built a base of local consumers.
â€œTraffickers were convicted and sentenced to short terms in prison or fined. Drug traffickers continue to use Uganda because our weak laws and the punishments are not deterrent enough compared to countries like China and Iran, where the maximum sentence is life imprisonment or death,â€ Haji Moses Balimwoyo, the deputy director CID in charge of crime investigations, says.
Internal affairs minister Dr. Ruhakana Rugunda acknowledged the weak law but said remedial measures were being put in place.
The Government, he said, is coming up with more stringent laws on narcotics.
â€œThe penalty will be very severe,â€ Rugunda said and hailed the Police, particularly Detective/ Assistant Inspector of Police Henry Magoola, the Entebbe Airport anti-narcotics chief, who was behind the 7kg cocaine seizure.
Magoolaâ€™s office resisted bribes from the suspect, Rugunda said.
In over 30 cases, more than 25 suspects, 14 of them Tanzanians, two Kenyan and a Guinean were arrested in connection with the drugs, charged in court, but most of them walked away with lenient sentences.
Records indiacte that the Guinean, Mohammed Savane, arrested in 2007 in connection with the seven kilograms of cocaine seizure, got away with fine of sh 400,000.
Yusuph Pandisha, 43, a Tanzanian who was arrested in 2006 and passed out 168 pellets of heroin, got away with a sh1m fine as did Kenyan Mohammed Bakari, 41 who was arrested in 2006 and forced to pass out 81 pellets.
Muhammed Asghar, 31, a Pakistani, arrested in 2007, passed out 96 pellets of heroin and was sentenced to 14 months in prison.
It is such lenient sentences as compared to the lucrative nature of the vice, which the Police says lures traffickers into the country, knowing that they can get away with it.
Centres of origin
Most of the heroin, Kayihura says, comes from the south Asian states including Afghanistan, Pakistan and Iran and trafficked through the Middle East, according to the UN.
â€œHowever, it appears that cross regional trafficking is gaining importance. For example, there are indications that a small but increasing proportion of opiates from Afghanistan are being trafficked to North Africa, either via eastern and western Africa, or Europe,â€ the report notes.
HOW ITâ€™S DONE: Heroin
In most cases, the couriers swallow the pellets, often given to them by invisible contacts to deliver to another unknown contact at the point of delivery.
So secret is the trade that it removes faces.
Conscious of the cargo in their stomachs, the couriers often avoid eating or drinking anything during the flight, until they reach their destination.
Merely drinking a soda can cause the bowels to open up in less than a minute. This is the main method used, although there are others.
As regards cocaine, if Savane is anything to go by, traffickers have come up with new styles.
They purchase a new suitcase, wrap the cocaine in several polythene bags, peel off the cloth lining on the suitcase and create a false bottom.
They then load the cocaine, give the suitcase a new cloth lining, often meticulously done and sealed with strong reeking glue that is repulsive even to police sniffer dogs.
What needs to be done
Experts have been quick to note that strong laws alone will not rid the country of the problem.
A comprehensive mix is needed to tackle the problem. This includes sensitisation, tackling poverty and having all stakeholders (parents, teachers and religious institutions) waking up to the challenge and playing their part.
Drugs: Uganda no longer a conduit, now a consumer