Reports of people smuggling drugs outside Malawi are increasing. Of late, foreigners, and Malawian young women have been arrested while trying to export illegal drugs.
In this edition of FRIDAY SHAKER, Faith Kadzanja establishes the magnitude of illegal drug business in the country and its impact on young people.
Early October this year, Police at Kamuzu International Airport (Kia) in Lilongwe arrested a 32-year-old woman from Zomba district, Harriet Namate, for allegedly being found attempting to export 8 kilogrammes (kgs) of Apomorphine drug, an illicit substance.
Airport Police publicist, Sapulain Chitonde, said the suspect, who is a business lady in Zomba, was expected to board an Ethiopian Airways flight to Mumbai, India.
He said the suspect was questioned by police detectives who were manning the final security police checking point in the forward lounge at the airport to give them an account of her possession and it was later known that she carried drugs.
She was convicted and sentenced to three-and-half years’ imprisonment with hard labour by the Senior Resident Magistrate Court sitting at Mkukula Magistrate Court last Wednesday.
In her mitigation after pleading guilty to the charge, Namate said she is young and productive and that she was being used by some people in town.
It is a syndicate that reportedly ships the drugs through Mozambique and such a syndicate has agents in Malawi, according to police.
Namate is alleged to have revealed that she was among 20 girls who the drug traffickers recruited in Malawi and that before her arrest she had travelled abroad on such assignments several times.
Chiponde said it was difficult tracing the masterminds as they flee even from their houses and relocate to other countries once the girls they assign are arrested.
On the same day that Namate was arrested, a Ghanaian woman identified as Sally Adarkwa was also nabbed.
Adarkwa is alleged to have attempted to export Apomorphine drug weighing 5.2 kgs.
Barely 14 days after the police arrested Namate at Kia for dealing in illegal drugs on October 22 2019, Nigerian, Humphrey Okoro, was also netted for allegedly attempting to export cocaine to Mali.
According to Chitonde, Okoro was in possession of cocaine weighing 0.7 kgs.
In the same month of October, Lilongwe police arrested a business lady for being found in possession of a substance deemed dangerous drugs at Bunda Road block along M 1 Road in the city.
Central Region Police spokesperson, Kingsley Dandaula, said the Criminal Investigations Department officers from Central Region Police headquarters received information that the suspect was coming from Mozambique with the substance.
He said the officers then rushed to Bunda roadblock where they conducted searches on each and every vehicle then caught the woman.
Most of the people that are caught taking part in drug business are the youth who would have otherwise become productive citizens of this country.
Mostly such cases also involve girls.
According to the airport publicist every time they arrest a person on drug-related issues, usually they are below the age 35 of years which clearly indicates that many Malawian girls are being used to traffic drugs.
“For almost one-and-half years, the whole 2018 we had no such drug exportation cases or indeed, being found in possession of the drugs. From October this year, such cases have resurfaced. Our first case of drug this year was on October 6 and from then on other three cases followed simultaneously,” Chitonde said.
He said there was need to ensure that girls are protected from such kind of abuses.
“We are seeing young girls or indeed young women from the age of 35 and below being used in this drug dealing malpractices. Instead of these people being productive to the nation, they are being used and sold by some disgruntled men in town. In most cases, this is not their own business but they are some people behind them and this is a major worry,” Chitonde said.
Reports indicate that the women are usually recruited by some people in Lilongwe who promise to give the people exporting the drugs a lot of money at the end of the mission.
Most of the drugs are reportedly sourced from Mozambique as reported by people who have been arrested.
The drugs are mostly exported to India, South Africa and West African countries.
Women rights activist Beatrice Mateyu, who is also Human Rights Defenders Coalition member, said what is missing to fight the vice is the issue of neglecting raising awareness on drug trafficking especially in urban issues.
She said it was surprising how the drugs get into Malawi and pass through the borders when there are security personnel in such places.
“We need to have more awareness targeting adolescent girls and young women especially those in urban settings so that they should refuse such deals. We also wonder how these drugs enter our country. Our security personnel, including the police, should step up their game in terms of controlling what comes to the country. They can as well work with members of the community to help them arrest suspects,” she said.
United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime National Programme Officer on Human Trafficking, Maxwell Matewere, said there was need for Malawi to strengthen its laws on drugs.
“There is a need to come up with a policy on drugs control and reform the current law which is very weak on drugs control. There is also need to build capacity of the Malawi Police Service and Immigration Office to detect and investigate cases of drug trafficking.
“We are also aware of the need to raise awareness among members of the general public on the process that the drug traffickers use to recruit unsuspected women, children and girls to become carriers of drugs,” he said.
One of the targets of the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs), also known as global goals, adopted by all United Nations (UN) member States in 2015 is for countries to strengthen prevention and treatment of substance abuse, including drug abuse.
Prohibitionist drug policies should be adopted as they have a significant impact on access to drug treatment and proven harm reduction services for people who use or indeed want to export drugs.
Lest we forget that last year, a young Malawian died in Brazil after some condoms stuffed with drugs burst in his stomach. The people that are being used to export the drugs do not only risk being jailed but also put their own lives at risk.
It is high time Malawi does something to protect the lives of women and girls that are caught in the web.
Investigating the prime suspects and finding the agents who recruit the people in this business would be one way of ending the vice.
Foreign Affairs and International Cooperation Ministry alluded to the same fact through a press release dated July 20 2018.
“In some cases, the drug dealers have also approached the victims posing as businessmen trading in products such as cosmetics, artificial hair and other items and have taken the unsuspecting women on business trips to places such as India, Brazil and West African countries unaware that the said businessmen are dealers or traffickers of dangerous drugs including cocaine, heroin and other dangerous narcotic substances,” the statement says.
“In the process, the victims are made to carry luggage (sealed or otherwise) concealing drugs when passing through airport security check points, ending up being arrested. Furthermore, the Ministry would like to urge the travelling public not to accept to carry any luggage suggested to them by people they do not know, especially those they meet in airports and other public places.”
So far, some four Malawian women are serving jail terms in countries such as Ethiopia, Latin America and India over the drug related offences, according to the ministry.
“In the past month, two young Malawian ladies were recently arrested at Bole International Airport in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia, for trafficking dangerous drugs and are currently in detention awaiting trial.
“Another Malawian woman is serving a seven-year jail sentence in an Ethiopian prison while a forth one is undergoing trial in the same country, having been arrested last year over similar charges. We have others serving sentences in India and Latin America.”
The ministry admitted that the arrested women revealed that they were either duped or coerced by foreigners (mostly male) to enlist in this illicit drug trade with promises of monetary rewards, better life and sometimes even marriage.
It is also the government’s responsibility to provide the youth employment so as to keep them away from such illegal businesses.
In January this year, the Parliamentary Committee on Foreign Affairs and International Relations estimated that in the past few years, 15 Malawians have been nabbed on drug smuggling charges in countries like China, India and Thailand.
In its preliminary findings, which were presented to Parliament, the committee established that porous borders, poor security system and a weak legal sys tem were factors contributing to the escalating drug smuggling cases.
The committee, through its then chairperson Alex Major, noted that when arrested, the courts slap offenders with a fine which they are able to pay and are released.
“The Penal Code and other related legislations on dangerous drugs are too weak to deal with this problem. You find that a person is arrested with possession of drugs worth K2 million but the court fines them a small amount. As a committee, we will suggest that these principal acts are revised to deter offenders here in Malawi,” he said.
The committee also implicated some police officers as being part of the syndicate.
So far 32 kgs of illegal drugs of different types worth millions have been confiscate at Kia and Lilongwe Police.
It is clear that our young women are at risk. It time the authorities protected the lives of women and girls.