Friday, October 26, 2012

The Road to Heroin hits Zanzibar

By: Molly Nocheck
Produced & edited by Leisha Lininger

For tourists, Zanzibar offers the perfect destination for a blissful getaway. Island tourists are enticed by sandy beaches lined by turquoise-blue water, the historic charm of Stone Town and the rich culture of the island.

Zanzibar, an archipelago of Tanzania, is a popular tourist destination. Foreigners are drawn to the picturesque coastline and rich history of the island.

Most are unaware, however of the heroin epidemic that has ravaged locals.

By delving deeper into the seemingly idyllic island, the extent of the heroin epidemic is obvious. Zanzibar is quickly becoming an emerging player in the heroin trafficking ring.

Courtesy of U.S. Embassy Tanzania. Academic Fair Use.
“The tourists are generally unaware of what goes on in local society. They spend a lot of the time on the beach. Quite a disconnect,” said Tamalyn Dallal, producer of Zanzibar Dance, Trance and Devotion.

Heroin trafficking and addiction has become a national issue of concern for Tanzania.

Zanzibar’s island health ministries estimate at least seven per cent of the nearly one million inhabitants are addicted to heroin, one of the highest usage rates in the world.

According to the 2012 International Narcotics Control Strategy Report, Tanzania is primarily a transit country with some local consumption of heroin.

Zanzibar lies on a major drug trafficking corridor for markets in Asia, the Middle East and Europe. The unique geographical nature of the island makes it difficult for officials to monitor porous borders.

The Zanzibar coordinator for the National Commission of Drug Control, Dr. Mahmoud Mussa, says unofficial, unorganized harbors and lack of proper detection equipment make it easy for trafficking to occur.

This coupled with local corruption and global ignorance makes Zanzibar a prime trafficking stop.

“Europeans and North Americans do not inspect containers originating from Zanzibar as carefully as they would if the containers were originating from India, Pakistan or Afghanistan,” said Hassan Jaffer, a member of the Outreach Zanzibar board of directors.

“There is little cooperation, networking and sharing of information… within the country and with international partners,” said Dr. Mussa.

The lack of communication is creating a problem both internationally and with locals.

Heroin, locally referred to as “brown sugar,” is easy to come by on the island.

Courtesy of the U.S Department of State. Academic Fair Use.
“The heroin is very cheap and easy to access in Zanzibar; the individual can pick up one foil-wrapped dose on the street for around less than $1,” said Dr. Mussa.

Suleiman Mauly, a former addict who runs a network of rehabilitation centers in Zanzibar, says the local addiction is rooted in trafficking.

“Local dealers are a part of a chain, receiving the drugs from big dealers.”

These dealers obtain the heroin either from the ships docked at one of the harbors or from drug mules, who ingest small amounts into the stomach.

“Availability, accessibility of drugs and the effect of the tourism industry are among other risk factors that make youth in Zanzibar indulge in abuse of drugs,” said Dr. Mussa.

For local Zanzibaris, overcoming the growing heroin problem is difficult.

“Zanzibar is a very corrupted island. It’s very difficult to go to jail for drug dealers,” said Mauly.

Local resident Warda Al Jahadhmy agrees. “They go to jail for few months, are released and they are back in business again, destroying our brother and sister’s lives.”

Mauly, who has been called the “Nelson Mandela of heroin addition”, says increased access to rehabilitation centers is key to combating heroin usage on the island.

Dallal sees a need for a more worldwide approach.

“Zanzibar is an entry point for drugs headed from India and Pakistan to South Africa and Europe. So if there was less demand in those countries, it would not be entering Zanzibar.”

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