By Steve Umidha
Cigarettes now tops the list of the most smuggled goods across Kenya’s porous borders, according to new findings, with sugar also an ideal product of choice for cartels in the trade.
A new report by the African Uncensored – a think-tank of Continental investigative journalists, believes that the law enforcement officers are heavily involved in the smuggling of illicit goods, with those bursts highly concentrated at the Kenya –Uganda border, in Busia town, where most trafficked goods are mostly found.
It also found that such products are highly targeted by illegal rings owing to the fact that the goods are highly profitable and easier to smuggle.
The report now fingers high-ranking State officials including politicians and business owners who are said to be the financiers of the illegal trade with the help of other high powerful government officers – sometimes at supervisory agencies.
Reacting to the survey, Stop Crime Kenya (StoCK) Chairman Stephen Mutoro – called for a speedy probe into the increasing vice, with statistics showing that illicit trade costs an estimated Sh153 billion a year in lost taxes and robs the state of resources needed for vital services.
“This chilling expose by African Uncensored illustrates how deeply entrenched the menace of illicit trade has become as consumers struggle to cope with the soaring cost of living,” he noted, adding that the vice also funds other criminal enterprises, breeds corruption and finances extremism across the region.
That figure – according to Dr John Akoten, the deputy director of the Anti-Counterfeit Authority (ACA), trade in counterfeit or smuggled goods is estimated to be around more than Sh800 billion every year.
The Kenya Association of Manufacturers (KAM), however, estimates that 40 percent of manufacturers’ market share is lost every single year to counterfeits or Sh30 billion (US$ 42 million).
Smuggling trade at the infamous Busia border and other points has over the years made cigarettes available cheap, thereby increasing consumption.
A third of annual global exports go to the contraband market, representing an enormous impact on consumption, which has been faulted for an increase in the burden of disease, especially in poorer countries like Kenya.
It is also estimated that one in every five products sold in Kenya is counterfeited with as much as four million Kenyans or more using counterfeit goods including sugar, cigarettes, bottled water and cooking oil, a growing concern now feared to be putting the lives of consumers’ health and security at risk.
“Smuggling syndicates are getting rich, corrupting officials and endangering lives.
Government must rethink its approach to illicit trade, enforcement agencies must redouble their efforts to counter illicit trade and the justice system must ensure that any participants in illicit trade suffer the harshest of punishments,” said Mutoro.
Willis Okumu, a researcher, ENACT Programme – a capacity building lobby group, believes that high production costs and the mismanagement of factories are to blame for the drop in sugar production in Kenya over the past two decades, opening the door for smugglers.
“This ‘sweet secret’ occurs through Kenya’s porous international borders with Uganda (Busia, Lwakhakha, and Sio Port), Tanzania (Sirare and Namanga), Ethiopia (Moyale), and Somalia (Mandera), reads in part his research work.
In 2020, for instance, sugar made up 48 percent of the goods smuggled into the country, according to the National Crime Research Centre, which also noted that Kenyan criminals working in Western region of the country where majority of sugar factories are based, are colluding with Ugandan factory workers who smuggle sugar and sell it to Kenyans along the border areas.
On the other hand, BAT Kenya estimates that illegal tobacco trade in Kenya accounted for over 12 percent of the market at the end of 2017 – losing government some Sh 2.2 billion in excise revenues and leading to less government revenue contribution from legitimate cigarette sales.
The biggest driver of illicit tobacco trade is believed to be tax-evaded cigarettes with most of such products disguised in fake tax stamps, cigarettes for export that are not sold in their destination market and cigarettes smuggled into the country.
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