It has been a year already and many Ugandans still cannot believe Emmanuel Mayanja is not part of us anymore. Television and radio have not made it any easier for everyone to put an end to the chapter of young Emma, [as his brothers would fondly call him]. His works in music were simply such an expose of talent. But he is sadly no more. His death was alarmingly very untimely. It left an avalanche of distressing story versions. However it’s only an ill wind that blows no good at all – AK47 death broke the bubble on drugs in Uganda.
It is the one anecdote that seemed to have attracted public attention after the relentless undertones that AK47 could possibly have died of a drug overdose. And it would immediately make sense. After all, it is an open secret today that celebrities [mostly musicians] covertly use drugs for various reasons.
A few weeks ago, celebrated female rapper, Keko announced an indefinite suspension of her career, citing inattentiveness and distraction, born out of her addiction to drugs.
This came shortly after she was reported to have run clinically mad, and checked into a psychiatric hospital in Butabika, all on account of drug abuse.
There’s no more mince of words; in 2016, the drug problem is real and apparent.
In the past weeks, a picture of former Blu*3 music sensation, Jackie Chandiru was making rounds all over social media and it was merely the odds and ends of what many Ugandans used to repute as the epitome of beauty and glamour in this city. Being so wasted by drugs is the last thing many fans of Jackie’s would wish to come across – but they found themselves here; beholding their friend’s life wither away like lilies of the valley finally being subdued by the harsh rays of the sun. As it turns out, Chandiru is fighting for her life in a Rehabilitation Facility and everyone is simply clinging on to hope, for her sake. And she’s lucky. Not everyone gets the chance; Cerinah Nebanda didn’t.
Nebanda had spent only one and a half years into her first term as Woman Member of Parliament for Butaleja District. Yet even being so young, Nebanda is said to have brought to the August House a rare kind of fearlessness, and asked inconvenient questions to those in power.
But then she met drugs and the unthinkable happened – an overdose. On December 14, 2012, Nebanda was reported dead. Her colleagues in parliament were shocked, the country was frozen. Then a hullabaloo erupted. It’d only be quelled by Doctors’ reports that confirmed the young legislator had abused drugs to a coma.
Here we’re as a country, with over 80% of youths unemployed but with a rocket speed growth of drug consumption throughout the country.
In Uganda, the government stance on drugs is not really unambiguous to the public but the drug problem has become a serious concern for everyone.
In any case, drugs have always been loosely talked about in our communities, especially as the menace that they are, and now, almost on a daily basis, Ugandans are given reason to wonder where we are on drug abuse.
Two weeks ago, city singer, Kabaya, who’s also a protégé of Bobi Wine’s and an associate of Firebase Entertainment found himself on the wrong side of the law, when he was rounded up among a clique of thugs, in a spontaneous police operation that made night raids in ghetto residences of Kamwokya and surrounding areas.
Lately such unsightly scenes are not uncommon.
The Impact Of Drugs
The impact is always in all dimensions; moral, social, psychological, physical and financial. This is exemplified by one, Maddox Ssematimba, a slow/reggae music artist, famous for many searing tracks that became very famous in the late 1990s, most especially his balad, Namagembe. He’s arguably one of the best musicians this country has produced. Sadly, Maddox has since vanished and many think he is either too aged to sing or still somewhere in Sweden; all of which is not true.
Truth is the singer is in a worse state, somewhere in the ghettoes of Kampala. He abandoned his wife and kids in Europe, gave up on music, turned down all fellow musicians effort to rehabilitate him, because he is an irredeemable drug addict who’s not bothered by anything. When he was arrested by Police, he remorselessly admitted to being drug dependent and on national TV said; “I can’t do without drugs.”
When we chanced upon an opportunity to talk to these drug users, they simply speak of it as a basic need.
Apparently drugs are for confidence, energy, forgetting problems and to others, it is simply to get hyper and feel “iry” – to mean good.
But they are never half as eloquent while talking about the side effects.
The Common Drugs
The most common drugs used by the musicians and other local people especially in and around Kampala are Marijuana, Cocaine, Shisha and what is commonly known as Mirungi.
Omuyaye Ganja, a Rastafarian and entertainer who confesses to having used Marijuana every time he felt like getting “high”, says he could not live without the drug.
“It loads your systems immediately; it gives you energy and feel like you are on top of the world,” he drawled. He continues that at such a point you can even lift car.
There is Shisha and it comes in several categories. The ordinary one just has flavors and is not so harmful but the second one has more than just flavors and it charges one within minutes.
However, drug impact in Uganda is not as much with Shisha as it is with Marijuana aka Cannabis. Locally it goes with the name Njaga. It’s planted by nationals on many acres of land, while heroin, cocaine and opium are brought in by foreigners and used by a few Ugandans.
The rate at which the planting, processing and supply of Njaga in this country is growing is what has lately kept law enforcers and general public on their toes. It’s an organized trade and it’s a bloodcurdling trade.
The Drug Network
Many of the bars in Kampala and the suburbs are serious transaction centers, especially where Celebrities tend to hangout. These are central black markets for drugs.
Many of these bars moreover belong to senior politicians in government and one should never get surprised to learn that the exchange of drugs in this city’s nightclubs goes on unhindered – even when the police are aware. Instead, they are part of the clientele. Friendly cops will mention it’s the only way to get through the coldness of the night.
Kabalagala [the town that never sleeps] is talked of the Las Vegas of Africa – it is one of the known places where the drug business thrives like any other taxable business. If chance got you and stumbled across one of these drugged bars, you would totally be lost. It’s all a different world – in terms of behavior, lingo and style. Everything is shrewdly packaged in passwords and slang. You can never get the drug in your hands unless you pass the test. Some are downright armed with bayonets and lately, pistols, lest they got busted suddenly and need to stop the intruder. It’s what most bouncers do at the bars – to provide security for the trade.
If you looked keenly on the toilet walls and doors of most of these bars, you would find that there are stickers with inscriptions that only network friends understand. These are like codes, with WhatsApp contacts just in case you need merchandise delivered to you. Some codes are well understood even by International / Foreign dealers.
The delivery is also a trick to fool the naïve non-users; it comes packaged like food and in public you’d be misled to think that one ordered a meal which he has duly received. Well, it’s nothing but a hoax – drugs!
Although its perceived that origins could be the slums around Kampala where Rastafarians, gangsters and upcoming artists reside, it’s lacking of the big truth that they are very influential people leading the trade and the ghettos are simply a strategic route of transportation – for life in the slums is of mostly illiterate, ignorant and carefree people; no one asks questions – simply do a job, so they transport. Consequently, from these lowly places the drugs find their way into the uptown bars.
Selling On The Street
According to newly installed Old Kampala DPC, Kirumira, this is one of the certified jobs of the iniquitous criminal gangs, famously known as Kifeesi.
“They recently sell drugs in broad day light,” he explains. “Don’t be fooled to think that someone’s selling you chicken when he walks around with a box, tag-lining his merchandise as “Enkoko”. He is selling hardcore drugs.”
Apparently, these are in car parks, super-markets and literally everywhere, including the boys and girls who posture as chewing gum sellers, fruit and vegetable vendors by the roadside.
The Drug Trade
Places like Busia harbor acres of locally grown drugs like marijuana. Others are simply smuggled in by both locals and foreigners from India and Latin America. Some foreigners use the Entebbe airport to transit the drugs because of the puny laws in Uganda even though their destination used to be Kenya, Tanzania and European countries before Kampala became a serious market.
Drug traffickers are no ordinary people and orchestrate this crime at a highly professionalized level; they transport Cocaine across borders without raising suspicion. We’re told of how wet towels are used to carry cocaine in a very shrewd way. Apparently, these dissolve the cocaine in little amount of water, then soak the towel in it, only to capture the whole amount. Later when the towel has dried, one just needs to shake it lightly to bring out the drug in powdery form.
Other drugs enter the country concealed in powder, Vaseline and liquids. They come by air, road and water transport.
The sellers of these drugs often advertise themselves using code names listed in men’s washrooms in some bars around town with a telephone contact. So the interested buyer/user just calls or sends a text message with the code name and also informs the seller which table to find him at.
The network is so discretely run that you cannot understand if you are not a member of the system.
In some bars, the washrooms have been turned as a market of some sorts. While night lovers are shaking their booties to various tunes and drinking themselves to the grave, there is serious trade taking place behind the scenes.
In order not to be identified, some of the dealers use pimps to do the business on their behalf.
Besides a city is a slum, meaning near every club or bar are dark corners where some of the pimps or sellers transact their business from.
Why The Market Is Growing
The illegal drug business is growing in the country for many reasons;
For imported drugs, the border is still porous giving open ground for traffickers to move across borders easily.
Secondly, the rising number of Ugandan artistes who seem to thrive or perform well when they are high on these drugs seems to be boosting the business. The more they are, the more the demand for the products.
The influx of foreigners in the country as tourists, investors and visitors on transit with different intentions has further increased the rate of the drug deals
Given that, this drug business just like most black market products is very lucrative coupled with the fact that many Ugandans are unemployed; the illegal drug deals comes in handy. Another gentleman illustrated that cocaine the size of a pen can instantly make the seller a comfortable millionaire.
Combating The Drug Threat
In fact talking of combating the problem, on the whole outlook seems far-fetched. I am reminded of the tone of sarcasm in the voice of a confessed former user, Bobi Wine, who obviously has such an enormous cloud of loyal followers.
The other day, as he bailed his protégé, Kabaya out of Prison, he faulted the style of law enforcers to go after mere organic plants like marijuana and mirungi, instead of going after the processed products like kubah, or better yet, waragi. Himself and other celebrities alike simply overlook the bigger picture and in fact, some tend to stand in the way of Police’s struggle instead.
Meanwhile psychiatric cases have increased in the country, deaths have increased, intolerance, banditry and more organized criminal gangs sprouting day and night, all on account of drugs.
The case of drugs is not out of hand yet but it just might take commitment of government to come up with tougher legislation and sensitization of the public to act out fiercely against drugs – if not for anything else, at least for the sake of the nation’s young girls who suffer abuse at the hand of intoxicated rapists.
Recognition: Lonah Asianzu – contributed immensely on research of this article.