In 2014, at Nsambya Police Barracks, Grace Akullo, the director of Criminal Investigations Directorate, vented her anger as 159.68 kilogrammes of narcotic drugs worth Shs109 billion were publicly destroyed.
The drugs had been seized in 52 cases with drug traffickers at Entebbe Airport and other parts of the country in more than three years.
But by the time the drugs were destroyed, none of the drug traffickers from whom they were seized was in jail – all had paid a total fine of Shs35m and marched to freedom.
“If our laws were like those of Kenya where they are fined thrice the market value of contraband, they would feel the pinch,” Akullo lamented.
In 2014, the police registered 1,480 narcotics and psychotropic substances cases in which 671 people were convicted.
Police recovered 67.7kgs of cocaine and 1.1 tonnes of marijuana, but only Shs11.9m was got in fines from the offenders.
The National Drug Policy and Authority Act 2000 gave a drug pusher a year in jail time or a fine between Shs1m to Shs2m or both irrespective of the quantity of narcotic drugs he or she was found in possession with.
The weak laws had attracted drug lords to Uganda. It was not only cheap to transit drugs to Europe, China and America, but the risks of losing money in litigation and jail were minimal.
Once a drug trafficker could be arrested, he or she need not waste time. He or she would admit to the crime and be produced in court. In court, the drug trafficker would plead guilty and be fined between Shs1 and Shs3m or a year in jail.
Such a fine was pocket change to drug traffickers.
United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime report indicate that Uganda is a transit point for narcotic drugs to other parts of the world.
Police reports show that many Ugandan drug traffickers are just couriers for drug lords that pay them peanuts for executing illegal missions.
A case of a 24-year-old Shirat Nalwadda, who was arrested entering Liberia with 1.2kgs of heroin worth Shs120 million in April 2014, opened eyes of investigators about drug lords.
Nalwadda told Liberian investigators that said she unknowingly transported the contraband that had been concealed in her luggage by her new Nigerian boyfriend.
Narcotic drugs concealed in Nalwadda’s luggage were not detected at Entebbe International Airport before she travelled to Liberia.
However, she was sentenced to 10 years in jail, but Liberian President pardoned her later basing on her story. Some Ugandan drug couriers haven’t been lucky.
In the same year, China executed Omar Ddamulira and Ham Andrew Ngobi, who were convicted of illegal possession of narcotic drugs.
Prosecutions of Ugandans threatened to derail Uganda-China’s relationship after Ugandans threatened to avenge on Chinese nationals doing business in Kampala City.
Ray of hope
An investigation by the Uganda Embassy in China indicated that most Ugandan couriers were paid an average of $5,000 (about Shs15 million) for each mission.
With Uganda’s image abroad at stake and its nationals getting caught up in the illicit trade and consumption, Akullo’s wish was granted in April 2015 when the president assented to a new law, the Narcotic Drugs and Psychotropic Substances (NDPS) Act 2015, which gives harsher penalties to offenders and drug pushers.
The NDPS Act 2015 states, “A person who traffics in a narcotic drug of psychotropic substance commits an offence and is liable in respect of the narcotic drugs or psychotropic substance to a fine not less than five hundred currency points or three times the market value of the narcotic drug or psychotropic substance, whichever is greater, and in addition, to imprisonment for life”. Five hundred currency points is equivalent to Shs10m.
Since the enforcement of the new law in December last year, only one convicted drug trafficker, Agnes Egona Aniugo, a Nigerian woman, has been able to gain her freedom after paying a heavy fine of Shs15m. The rest are serving long terms in prison unable to pay the heavy fines.
The last person to benefit from the lenient laws was Pascal Echesirim Bolle, a Belgian of Nigerian descent, who was arrested at Entebbe International Airport with narcotic pellets in his stomach in November last year.
He pleaded guilty to charges of illegal possession of narcotic drugs and he was sentenced to 12 months in prison and also ordered to pay a fine of Shs2m. He is serving his time at Kigo Prison.
Drug traffickers after him are facing a different situation.
Joanita Nakitende was arrested at Entebbe International Airport trafficking 12 kilogrammes of marijuana in car batteries on December 9, 2016. Nakitende was trafficking the drugs to China. She admitted the offence and expecting to be produced in court on the old laws.
She was wrong. She was prosecuted in the NDPS Act 2015. When she pleaded guilty in court, she was sentenced for the first count of illegal possession of illicit drugs to 18 years or a fine of Shs200m.
She was also sentenced to 20 years or a fine of Shs200m for trafficking illicit drugs.
Court ordered that she serves her sentences consecutively meaning if she is to pay a fine, it will be Shs400m in total or spend 38 years in jail. It was a sentence of steel; she failed to pay the fine hence going to Kigo Prisons in Wakiso District.
Emilian Kayima, the Kampala Metropolitan Police spokesman, celebrated Nakitende’s fate.
“This is a milestone for us. Such punishments will deter many drug traffickers who had turned our country into a transit place for illicit drugs to developed countries,” Kayima says.
Had Nakitende proceeded and got arrested in China, the punishment for drug trafficking would have ranged between life imprisonment and death.
Two South Africans, Nkcosolwanga Funiwe Abigal and Grace Jolile Onyia, who were arrested for possession of narcotic drugs they had concealed in their bags, were convicted in the new law.
Nkcosolwanga, had 8.5 grammes of illicit drugs, was sentenced to 10 years imprisonment or a fine of Shs150m while Jolile was sentenced to 18 years imprisonment or a fine of Shs200m for possessing 3.7kg of narcotic drugs.
On December 14, 2016, Gloria Aniugo Vera, a Nigerian, and her mother, Agnes Egona Aniugo, were convicted of possession of illicit drugs at Entebbe Airport.
Vera was sentenced to 11 years in jail or a fine of Shs100m while her mother was sentenced to 10 years imprisonment or a fine Shs15m. Her mother paid the fine and was deported to Nigeria.
Two other drug trafficker, Limas Sluckis, a Lithuanian, arrested on December 11, 2016 with a kilogramme of contraband concealing in his underwear, and Frenardez Limenez Sernando, a Spanish, arrested on December 29, 2016, with 1.4kgs were convicted.
Kayima says since the new law was enforced, they are seeing a reduction in number of cases of trafficking narcotic drugs at Entebbe International Airport, the country’s main transit point.