DON’T LET YOUR DAUGHTER BE A DRUG MULE – MAIN FEATURE
Judith Akinyi, a.k.a. Saga MacOdongo was released from Langata Women’s prison in 2008. This former polytechnic teacher had been charged with smuggling narcotics in 2001 and found guilty. While in prison she wrote the book The Deadly Money Maker and assisted police in investigations that led to the arrest of an international drug baroness. MacOdongo was even extradited to the United States to give evidence that saw the woman who had seduced her into the drug world be found guilty.
In 2008 she received a Presidential pardon after serving 7 years of her sentence and she was released in April. While out of prison, she did the rounds on TV and Radio talk shows, telling her story and pushing her book. Caroline Mutoko had her as a weekly guest on Kiss 100 for one month, Patricia Amira hosted her on the pan-African Patricia Show on MNet and she even did a stint with NACADA , The National Agency for the Campaign Against Drugs, warning teens about drugs.
MacOdongo was rearrested in July of 2010. This time she was in Italy and charged for procession of cocaine. According to The Standard [http://www.standardmedia.co.ke/archives/business/InsidePage.php?id=2000013809&cid=4], upon interrogation, she claimed that strangers had forced her to swallow pellets containing cocaine after making her unconscious. It seems that despite accolades and seeming success and transformation, MacOdongo could not help going back into the lucrative but dangerous world of drug trafficking.
According to a Congressional Research Service report for the United States Congress, dated September 2009 and available at http://www.fas.org/sgp/crs/row/R40838.pdf , “Africa has historically held a peripheral role in the transnational illicit drug trade, but in recent years has increasingly become a locus for drug trafficking, particularly of cocaine. Recent estimates suggest that each year, between 46 and 300 tons of South American cocaine may transit West Africa en route to Europe. Recent cocaine seizure levels are sharply higher than those in the late 1990s and early 2000s, which in all of Africa rarely exceeded 1 metric ton a year.” The report goes on to state that one of the main reasons for this shift is “the operational allure for traffickers of low levels of law enforcement capacity and high rates of corruption in many African countries.”
Right now the Kenyan Ministry of Foreign Affairs estimates that there are about 200 Kenyans serving jail time in South East Asia alone. A Ministry official who is unwilling to be named says that the ministry does not have an exact figure “drug mules do not always travel on legal documents. Also not all Kenyans register with our foreign missions as recommended so we do not have an exact figure.” Aviation’s source also revealed that one of the young women who was arrested last year said that she can been recruited in a local hair salon, “the girl was a university student and she says someone approached her in a salon and told her how she could make about $3000 per trip. The sad thing is that by the time our Consular Services get involved, someone is in deep trouble overseas.”
Drug trafficking draws severe legal ramifications from life imprisonment to death sentences and yet every year hundreds of people are seduced into it. While several Kenyans and especially Kenyan women have made the news as drug mules, this is in no way a Kenyan problem as drug barons target young women across the globe. But why young women? Why are they more vulnerable to this type of seduction? Is it simply that they seem innocent, come from poor backgrounds and want shiny things? What about Kenyan women specifically makes them susceptible to this illegal and perilous way of life?
Victoria Fernandez is in her 40s and has been a senior flight attendant for almost 2 decades. In the course of her career she has watched several people get arrested despite stiffer sentencing, tighter security checks and the introduction of sniffer dogs. Asked what the lure is she says rather bluntly ‘it’s the money. It does not matter how well off we think we are we still want more. A young Kenyan woman who is sent to school with some harambee money soon learns that it is not easy to get by in the West. She may not even be on harambee money, her family maybe well off but even then most families find it difficult to earn in soft currency and spend in hard currency. These students may have had a certain lifestyle at home but they quickly discover that they cannot afford it out there. If they come into contact with the wrong crowd, they are an easy mark.’
How would a drug baron get a young student with a life ahead of them to risk it all? Fernandez says ‘young people are not risk averse. If anything we all take more risks when we are younger. A baron may seduce a student bluntly with promises of money. Others get into relationships with these young women and use love and sometimes violence to get them to take these risks. I remember a young mother who was arrested in London. She was in an abusive relationship with a West African man and she claimed that he is the one who made her do it.’
Are there more subtle ways to get someone to transport drugs? Fernandez laughs and admits ‘when I first became a flight attendant, I met a guy at a friend’s dinner party and he claimed to be a clothing sales man. He told me about a sister that he had in Paris whom he wanted to send some fabric to and asked me if he could give me a suitcase to carry. I would like to claim that I was savvy when I turned him down, but really I just didn’t like him and couldn’t be bothered to do him a favour. Later I found out that he was into all kinds of illegal stuff.’
She confesses that the guy only really became interested in her when he found out what she does, ‘I imagine that cabin crew are a drug dealers dream – we fly frequently and for free and though we are searched, we aren’t checked that much. We also know airports so we are comfortable in them unlike some travellers who are nervous and anxious.’ Fernandez cautions against carrying luggage for people, ‘do not carry things for people unless you know them and you have the opportunity to see and repack what they give you. You see, at customs you have to declare that you packed your bags yourself and that is what gets you into trouble because you are responsible for every bag that you travel with.’
On a random website, a former Filipino drug mule tells of being seduced through an internet dating site. She fell in love with a young man over frequent chats and he eventually invited her to visit him in Thailand. He did not ask her to carry anything for her until the third trip; she thought nothing of it but later found herself arrested, imprisoned, humiliated and heartbroken in a Filipino jail. Asked if she has heard stories like this Victoria Fernandez said there are constant rumours flying through airports and these cartels have a lot of resources at their disposal so she would not be surprised by a few free trips being thrown in to bait a mule.
Fernandez also highlights that students should keep personal strife to themselves, or only tell very trusted friends, ‘a person recruiting drug mules wants people who are desperate. A sick relative, unpaid fees, re-possessed homes… all these mark a traffickers dream and once they get you who knows what they will do to make sure that you never stop being a drug mule?’ A student may try to convince herself that she will only do one trip, sort some issues out, pay bills and never do it again, but who is to say that a successful mule can resign from her post? This is not after all, a corporate job governed by labour laws and strict HR policies.
In The Deadly Money Maker MacOdongo talks about being unable to make ends meet on a teacher’s salary, struggling to raise 3 children and how a woman she calls ‘Queen’ simply told her that they were going into business together. Apparently this ‘Queen’ never explicitly said what MacOdongo was to carry, rather she was sent to Pakistan where she was to wait in a house, get luggage and bring it back for payment. She was arrested at the Entebbe Airport in Uganda, brought home and was subsequently charged and sentenced to 11 years in prison. Despite claiming hardship and incumbent poverty as the genesis for her exodus into a life of crime, MacOdongo still managed to find her way back into trafficking after her release even though her children were grown and she had managed to parlay her story into a book and a modicum of fame and respectability.
You may assume that your son or daughter knows better than to get mixed in with the wrong crowd or that he or she is too smart to pack, strap on or swallow illegal drugs no matter what riches they are offered. However billions of dollars have been poured into the war against drugs and the business still persists. The barons who approach your child, the traffickers who set out to seduce him or her are experts who have a lot to gain in their chosen field. They know what to say, what to offer as bait – be it love, vacations or money – how long to wait and just how much pressure to apply to get what they want. It is naïve to think that only stupid people get caught up in the drug world.
As a parent, you may notice that your child seems to be able to afford a lifestyle that is well outside of their means and yours. Perhaps they brought home really extravagant gifts this Christmas? Maybe you visited them and were surprised at a lack of frugality? In 2012, with Google, Bing and other search engines at your disposal, parents can easily find out what their children should be earning if they work at a fast food joint, bartend, wash cars or man a gate as a part time job. Student visas typically come with restrictions on how many hours students can work per week so a parent can calculate, pretty accurately just how much their child is making per week. This may seem intrusive and you may want to respect the privacy of your young adult as they begin to navigate life on their own; however a brief glimpse at the potential consequences of silence should have you leaping at the opportunity to be intrusive. A candid conversation about what is going on in the world is not an accusation, simply an acknowledgment of reality. After all parents are raising adults, not children, and these adults should be trusted to withstand some harsh realities.