Zambia's drug war heats up

Jowie Mwiinga in Lusaka

Senior drug enforcement officer Mwamba Makasa was driving into his yard one Sunday two months ago when a gang of four men shot and wounded him.

The Drug Enforcement Commission in Zambia reacted to the daring daylight ambush by declaring an all-out war, dubbed “Operation No Return”, against Zambia’s drug dealers, whom the authorities blamed for the attack.

So far, the commission has detained 12 people in connection with the attempted murder of Makasa. It has arrested another 124 suspected dealers and seized drugs worth an estimated $380 000. The confisticated drugs include opium, morphine, mandrax, hashish and cannabis.

Says Commission Director Raphael Mungole: “We will not allow drug dealers to stop us.
My officers and I stand ready to fight the drug war to the bitter end.”

Zambia earned a slot on the international drug map in the 1980s, when several Zambians were arrested for trafficking in Europe and the Far East.

Many were prominent figures with strong political connections, starting with the wife of Wilson Chakulya, a senior member of the central committee of then President Kenneth Kaunda’s United Independence Party (UNIP).

Nyanhango Chakulya was arrested in Britain in 1983 and jailed for two years for possessing 22kg of cannabis. In 1984, diplomat Vernon Mwaanga was arrested in Germany after being found with marijuana. His diplomatic immunity saved him. Also in 1984, cabinet minister Sikota Wina was nabbed for drugs in India, but managed to flee to Zambia, dressed in a Northern Sudanese djellaba (long white gown), complete with turban, and using a forged Sudanese passport.

In 1985, Kaunda ordered an investigation into high-level drug dealing which led to the detention of several suspects, including Mwaanga and Wina. They were released without trial, but the stigma of narcotics trafficking continued to haunt them. They later joined the now ruling Movement for Multiparty Democracy.

Two years ago, pressure from donors and the Zambian public forced Mwaanga and Wina to step down as foreign minister and deputy speaker of the national assembly, amid allegations that they still dabbled in drugs.

Last week, Mwaanga’s 19-year-old son, Maliko, was arrested along with two former army officers, after being found with high grade cocaine worth an estimated Stg 70 000.

Zambia’s drug war will be a long one. As the economic climate worsens, more people are turning to selling drugs. Drug enforcement investigations have revealed that farmers in southern Zambia, who traditionally smoke marijuana, are being lured into the narcotics market by city-based drug

Last year, the drug enforcement commission seized 870 tonnes of cannabis throughout the country and it hopes to better that haul this year. However, its new found zeal appears to have left the drug dealers undaunted.

Last month the Canadian authorities impounded four tonnes of marijuana smuggled from Zambia and last week drug enforcement officers in Lusaka found 4,5 tonnes of cannabis, when they raided the home of a South Korean.—

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