From Luwum street, the drugs are spread through the city by â€˜foot soldiersâ€™, who even reach schools
By Joshua Kato
ALEX Metaloro tried to smuggle drugs through the airport. His tummy was filled with pellets worth sh54m. He had 13 hours ago swallowed the pellets for â€œsafeâ€ transportation, from Pakistan to Uganda, via Dubai.
He passed through Dubai undetected, but could not survive Ugandan airport security agents. They saw him walking in an angled manner, which raised their suspicion.
After his detection, he was forced to go to the toilet and pass out the goods. He did so in a special toilet, called Waterloo, which is able to separate drugs from human excreta. The haul was overwhelming! A Ugandan record in drug trafficking had just been broken.
Metaloro passed out a 100 pellets of drugs, the largest any person has ever passed out at Entebbe. The previous record was held by two Pakistani, who passed out 50 pellets each, early this year.
He was later paraded before the press. He smiled momentarily, but he was resigned to the fact this is another deal, gone sour.
This drug-smuggler was just the latest to be detected by airport security. Uganda has for long been refereed to as a drug conduit. Entebbe Airport is regarded as a major drug route, used by smugglers to and from the Middle East.
Such is the problem, that a workshop to sharpen the investigative skills anti-narcotics personnel was held in Kampala from October 29-November 1.
As it turns out, Uganda is just one of the countries that is used by drug smugglers. This is a complex business, carried out by a complex and sophisticated group of people. A recent United Nations Institute for Social Development survey pointed out that Drug producers and traffickers have organised themselves on a global scale.
A big number of Ugandans are involved in the trade, both inside and outside the country. Currently, more than 20 Ugandans are serving prison sentences in several countries over drugs-related offenses.
â€œThe number could even be higher than that. These are convicted, but there are many others who are not yet convicted,â€ Elizabeth Kuteesa, Uganda Policeâ€™s CID chief, said.
More than 20 court cases on drug related crimes are currently going on in the courts. The suspects include foreigners. The foreigners include six Pakistanis.
Since 1995, the total value of drugs intercepted by the Anti-narcotics department amount to nearly sh3bn.
In 1995, 580 grams of heroin, valued at about sh27m were seized. In 1996, 2kgs of heroin valued at sh108m were seized. In 1997, 10kgs of heroin and 639 grams of cocaine, plus 400 grams of ecstasy all valued at around sh650m were captured.
In 1998, 1kg of heroin valued at sh54m was seized. In 1999, 14kgs of heroin and 412 grams of cocaine all valued at close to sh850m were held. In the year 2000, 3kgs of heroin and 1kg of cocaine, all valued at sh220m were detained. In 2001, 5kgs of heroin valued at sh270m were seized. In the year 2002 13kgs, valued at close to sh700m have been apprehended so far since January this year.
According to the UN research, the main players in this field are rich businessmen: â€œThey have put a significant proportion of their drug money in financial centres,â€ the report said. This tallies well with the observations of Ugandaâ€™s CID chief, Kuteesa said: â€œVery many rich businessmen in Kampala are involved.â€ According to two Pakistani nationals arrested with drugs worth sh247m, there are famous businessmen involved in the trade.
â€œUgandan authorities should net the drug barons living comfortably in Kampala,â€ one of them identified as Dilawar Khan, from Peshawar, Pakistani said. They named, among others, Sam Engola, a tycoon involved in so many businesses. He however came out and denied this claim.
According to the police, there are so many other players, apart from the rich: â€œActually, what the rich do is coordinate the movement of these drugs from one area to another, but they donâ€™t transport it personally,â€ a CID officer said. Those who do the transportation are poorer, adventurous individuals, who are promised huge sums of money, if the goods arrive.
During the arrest of two smugglers from Pakistan, the CID also detected people at the airport who were waiting for the delivery. â€œWe figured out that there was a group of rich people waiting for the Pakistanis at the airport,â€ the officer said.
Security pointed out that drugs are run on several streets in Kampala.â€ In Kampala, movement of these drugs from one area to another involves so many people. Some are Boda-Boda cyclists, some are even pose as street kids, while others are the rich,â€ a security officer said.
One of the cells is on Luwum street. From here, the drugs are spread through the city. â€œThe coordinator here is a bespectacled man who is also a rally fan. He has â€˜foot soldiersâ€™ who walk with the pellets to various destinations, including schools,â€ a former aide to the crook said.
This coordinator drives a short chassis Pajero. Police pointed out other drug cells as Namuwongo, Natete, Kisenyi and William streets.
In Kisenyi, the cell is mainly run by Somalis and Pakistani.They bring in the drugs from the far east, repack them and send them to Nairobi by bus. They use some of the proceeds to finance their wars back home,â€ a security source said.
A little of the drugs is sold here throughout the city. â€œYou can get a fag at as low as sh200 from street corners, but the most expensive is the powder, which is only used by the rich,â€ a source said. A tiny dot of the powder goes for as high as sh10,000.
The journey to Nairobi or Dar-er-Salaam is not so difficult, since buses donâ€™t have checks for drugs: â€œOnce inside a bus, everything is alright. You are sure of moving to Nairobi or Dar es Saalam, and delivering to your clients,â€ he added.
The police commander, Major General Katumba Wamala, pointed out that the drug trade is much bigger than what is seen on the outside: â€œIt is not only business, but also terrorism,â€ he said, while closing a workshop of regional police officers on investigating drug trafficking. He added: â€œSo many traffickers do so to finance terrorist activities internally or externally.â€
Since much of these drugs come from areas around Afghanistan, the major general has a point. According to the US research, the Talibans and Al-Queada terrorists used to finance their activities by cultivating and selling drugs. From Afghanistan, the drugs are infiltrated into Pakistan, from where they are spread to other areas. This certainly explains why most of the smugglers nabbed at Entebbe airport are from Pakistan.
In the last three years, the Uganda police has intercepted thousands of kilos of drugs. The haul includes cocaine, heroin, hashish and marijuana. According to Kuteesa, the smuggling of the powder is now on the increase in the local market. She attributed this to its profit margin.
On November, 8, the police destroyed assorted drugs worth sh300m. The drugs included 7.182 Kgs of heroin, 200 grams of cocaine and about 1kg of dried marijuana. This was the second destruction of drugs this year. In February, drugs worth sh600m were destroyed.
â€œWe have to ensure these drugs are destroyed so that they do not find a way back into the market,â€ Edson Mbiringi, the assistant commissioner of police in charge of crime, says.
In the year 2000, a special toilet that can separate drugs from excreta was acquired by Entebbe airport. The toilet was donated by the United Nations Drug Control Program(UNDCP). It is valued at sh24.4m.
In developed countries, however, more sophisticated devices are used. Take the example of the X-ray: â€œThis is used to screen all baggage passing through the airport for drugs or any other prohibited material,â€ an airport official said. In some cases, manually checking of the baggage might not bear fruits.
â€œThe drug-smugglers are getting more sophisticated by the day. For example, many of them use false-bottomed bags,â€ the UN research said.
The pellets are covered with polythene, which cannot be detected by X-rays. In fact, most of the suspects at Entebbe are got because they appear to be uncomfortable.
â€œAfter 12 or so hours with the pellets in your stomach, you become affected,â€ a source at the airport said. It is even more dangerous if one of the pellets bursts. Security forces can pick you up and induce you in the toilet.
Metaloro was nabbed because he seemed to be having pain in his tummy. He was also not walking properly.
A smuggler will go without food for close to two days before swallowing the pellets. He then swallows the pellets one by one. Through all this, he takes a little water, but no food: â€œThe reason they avoid taking food is obviously, to avoid the toilet. Smuggling deals have flopped sometimes when a smuggler cannot hold it anymore and has to defecated the pellets, either on the plane, or airport terminal,â€ a security source told The New Vision.
The anti-narcotics department has also got dogs, specifically trained to detect drugs. On more than one occasion, these dogs have helped detect and intercept drugs at the airport.
Since this is an international problem, Uganda is working with other countries to fight the problem. The October 29-November 1 workshop in Kampala was just one of many planned: â€œWe have incorporated other intelligence services to help combat drug trafficking,â€ she said.Ends