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Tanzania boost Kenya’s war against bhang trade 




Tanzanian authorities have brought synergy to outlawing cultivation and engagement in marijuana trafficking business throughout the nation to the chagrin of most marijuana growers and traders.

Prior to last week’s crackdown on the cartels dealing in the trade and subsequent banning of the narcotic in the region, activities of growing, selling and transporting the weed seemed to be normal in the Kenya’s neighbouring country.

The  Tanzanian Home  Affairs Minister, Mwigulu  Nchemba who led an operation against the drug in a village in Northern Tanzania, where six hectares of Marijuana grown in forests was destroyed, urged local farmers engaged in the business to look for other means of livelihood.

According to a story by Xinhua news agency published by a Kenyan Media, Mr. Nchemba vowed to extend the operation countrywide to bring what he termed as an illegal trade to an end.

However, while many Tanzania nationals were quick to criticise the move, it was apparently clear that Kenyan Authorities were the happiest lot about the ban and the announcement came at a time when the government was in a serious dilemma dealing with notorious drug traffickers roaming towns and villages.

For decades, Kenya has offered a big market for Tanzanian marijuana consumed locally and those on transit to other countries.

Bhang worth millions of shillings has passed through the Isebania-Migori-Kisii highway en-route to Kenyan urban areas, with only a fraction being netted and destroyed by the Kenya law enforcement agencies.

The cartels believed to be working in cahoots with their counterparts in Tanzania have always smuggled the weed, grown on the vast plantations within the Mara region into Kenya where consumption spreads to school children too.

Kenyan authorities led by a team of NACADA officials have in the past attempted to engage Tanzania authority in bilateral talks to help resolve the issue but their counterparts have not been cooperative despite being a signatory to the agreement declaring bhang illegal internationally.

A KNA spot-check over the weekend in Tarime, Tanzania to grasp facts about the business on the drug found out that bhang is deemed a legal crop in Tanzania and is grown just like any other crop such as sugarcane in Kenya.

“Twalima mumeya huu katika mazingara huru kama vile mnavyo kuza miwa huko kwenu (We grow this crop in a free environment similar to how you do with sugarcane in your country),” remarked one Tarime resident Zakaria Maponza during an interview.

Maponza said Kenya has been one country that Tanzania bhang growers have regarded a ready market for their produce and businessmen come all the way from as far as Mombasa to buy the crop.

But now that the government is keen on illegalizing the crop, we have to look for alternative crops to sustain our lives, added Maponza who confirmed owning a bhang farm in a remote village near Tarime town.

But other farmers had little kind words for the Tanzanian minister, saying he must prepare to fight a war that he may not win in his life.

“Bwana huyu asijifanye mwerevu sana. Ni lazima ajipange viliyo kabla hajajitupa ndani ya vita hivi. (He thinks he is sufficiently knowledgeable. He must prepare well before he picks this war,” said another cannabis- cultuivatingTanzania national.

But Migori County Police Commander (CPC), Joseph Nthenge  welcomed the move, saying police in the two neigbhouring countries will work hand in hand to arrest and prosecute crop growers and peddlers.

“We appreciate the efforts being made in Tanzania to fight the drug and I warn those engaged in cultivating, peddling and transportation of the crop in this region that their days are numbered. They must stop now or face the law,” he said.

While the Tanzanian side had in the past exhibited a high degree of “don’t care attitude” towards containing bhang growing in their jurisdiction, the Kenyan side has been blamed for offering a ready flourishing market for the foreign country’s produce.

On the Kenyan side, the crop is illegal but peddlers have to do business at all costs to line up their pockets, it has manifested openly, even as the police force and other law enforcement agencies in the country attempts to break up the business.

The two East African states have in the past agreed to fight the cross-border drug trafficking, but it seems Tanzania has been playing games with their neighbour knowing very well that the trade will not end without Kenya killing the booming market.

A cartel, allegedly involving a clique of errant police officers, immigration officials and top business gurus, is said to be the stumbling block, operating a well webbed under cover cross-border drug trafficking, minting billions of shillings annually.

The trade is being handled by wealthy Kenyans who are able to ferry the stuff in sleek cars as effective means of camouflaging away from the eyes of “uncooperative security agents.”

Hardly a day passes without a sleek car, preferably Rav 4, and Pajero model cars being impounded or involved in car-chase with security officers along the Isebania – Kisii highway.

Interestingly, whenever a consignment is impounded and the stuff taken to police station, the haul hardly finds its way to court indicating a conspiracy between security officers and those in the business.

“We are disturbed that the business has refused to go away in the country because police are seriously involved in it and are providing ready market for the stuff in towns and market centres,” claims a resident of Migori town who asked not to be named for fear of the ruthless cartel.

The man accused security officers of releasing bhang that has been impounded to their friendly peddlers who pay them after selling the consignment.

But the County police boss says he cannot connect the security officers with the business because none of them has been arrested with the stuff anywhere in the area.

However, Nthenge could not explain why the service has not effectively dealt with the business even though there are so many roadblocks mounted between Isebania and Kisii town, the main artery for the drug to Nairobi and beyond.

By George Agimba

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