Tanzania’s drug battle..may the good guys triumph!

20Feb 2017
The Guardian Reporter
The Guardian
Tanzania’s drug battle..may the good guys triumph!

Jambo for the week, and will the coming one still find the nation in a drug watch frenzy, with people viewing events unfolding on television with almost the same enthusiasm they have for their favourite programmes.

“No one should be spared in new anti-drugs war” ---”War on drugs: thirteen dragged to court, but no real kingpins” --- “J.P. M. appoints Drug Czar” and “Anti-drugs boss: We’ll start by cleaning up the courts”, are just a small sample of media headlines in the first two weeks of February alone.

But maybe the reason for the rapt attention from the public, lies in that media heading “…BUT NO REAL KING PINS’.

Regional Commissioner Paul Makonda has been in the spotlight with his dossiers of those suspected of drugs involvement, of which many have been named, but people are waiting in suspense for the disclosure of the “big baddies’, which doesn’t seem to be forthcoming.

Whilst names were announced from the first two dossiers by the commissioner, he refrained from revealing the identities from the latest one, saying that would be the prerogative of the newly appointed commissioner general of the Drug Control and Enforcement Authority (DCEA) Rogers Sianga.

Well, we don’t know if Sianga will use that prerogative or not, but he’s certainly to be commended for his honest statement, when he said “We are often surprised when someone is arrested with over 50 kilos of drugs, and the judge in their ruling lets the suspect go free, as they don’t see any wrong doing in the case”.

A good example of this was some years ago, when a large container of tea shipped from Dar to Antwerp, was found upon opening to be a consignment of drugs. Though this was a watertight case with the perpetrators known, it was ruled that there was no evidence to support it…end of issue.

The commissioner has already made a list of judges and magistrates suspected of such ‘‘ethics bending” (shouldn’t that be called criminal behaviour?) so definitely Bwana Sianga, the people will applaud your decision to ‘clean up the courts’!

Over the years, how often have citizens here been surprised by odd judicial decisions, but few, if any officials up to now, have openly voiced doubts on these dubious judgements. Perhaps, because as an indicator of the rot in the system, it reflects negatively on the government, and the judiciary, being a pillar of it.

The drug problem goes back a long way, and maybe could have been halted earlier with serious commitment from state organs, but instead, with some involved in the trade being given free reign, it’s no surprise that Tanzania is at its hub, just like the poaching business…and possibly for the same reasons, collusion, complacency…or both.

In January 1996, a local government newspaper reported that foreign experts assisting the country said the address of a container in which five tonnes of drugs were impounded at Ubungo, was for Dodoma, but the P0 box number used was that of a Jamat in Dar es Salaam.

Also around this time, there were reports of some unlikely organisations such as religious bodies with connections to the drugs trade.

Yet fifteen years later, in 2011, as President Kikwete announced he was forming a new task force to halt the drugs menace, few (if any) major players had been netted…and six years on today, we’re again awaiting exposure of the big names.

But in the twenty one intervening years since 1996, how many of those, have operated with impunity, and will the current ‘king pins’ also be able to continue making money out of misery.

Misery indeed. Since drug offences warrant custodial sentences, unsurprisingly, many inmates of places like Isanga prison hospital, and Mirembe hospital in Dodoma, are addicts.

And in March 2007, Dr Nkya head of Mirembe Hospital, told the Daily News that most of those at Isanga were between 15 and 35 years old.

He said that 65% were primary school drop outs, 2% college graduates, and that 75 % of drug takers in their facilities, were from affluent families. One decade later, it would be interesting to know the statistics, which must have increased significantly.

Given the massive societal implications of the drugs scene here, it’s long been underplayed. (as was the elephant decimation) and in a country like Tanzania where many projects are donor driven and funded, there appeared to be a lack of interest in the past from the international community toward this escalating menace.

But in 2005, a US report, indicated not only increasing consumption of drugs in Tanzania, particularly in Zanzibar, but tellingly, also pointed to local involvement in the trade, , the consequences of which were sadly apparent, where 291 people admitted to hospital at the time, had problems related to drug abuse.

The short sighted might say being a drug addict is a question of choice, and not deserving of sympathy. But there are street children in cities around the world, like those in Nairobi, who started the habit as a means of dulling the pain of their existence.

As such, they could be compared to some who acquired lung or liver cancer through excessive smoking or alcohol abuse, or HIV through promiscuous habits. Fortunately, to curtail the horror of Aids, positive action took preference over moral judgements, and some of that compassion and action should be directed to curb the drugs blight also.

In 2005 I penned a piece headed “Drugs…how long from crisis to catastrophe” …but twelve years on and the advanced economies are still waging war on drugs, so how can the developing countries like Tanzania succeed, even with the new found resolve and strategies? …as commissioner Sianga rightly said this is a “wake up call” …but who can we really rely on to heed it?

Photo caption: One of the good guys… Drugs Control and Enforcement Authority Commissioner General, Rogers Sianga, speaking with various government leaders recently, says that the anti-drugs war has often been undermined by magistrates and judges mishandling some cases, and that he will ‘clean up the courts’. File photo.