Kenya’s drug-peddling women waste away in Hong Kong Jail


A letter from a mother jailed in a Hong Kong prison to her two young sons in Nairobi’s Huruma slum speaks of her hope amid despair and her undying love for her children.

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In them Ms Ann Wambui Maina, a convicted drug trafficker, sees hope for a future of prosperity, not one of regret and hardship in a faraway land.

She does not mention that her search for a better life for the boys aged eight and nine is the reason her own took such a bad turn.

“How are you, my sweet boys,” the letter begins. “I hope you are doing fine. I love you! I know this month is your birthday Hussein, and I really wanted to send you a card, but I have to wait a little bit ….”

As a birthday gift to Hussein, she attaches a sketch of herself smiling and on either side, little portraits of what she thinks her sons might look like two years after they were forced apart.

She ends the letter by telling them to read hard, pray and listen to their elders. “Just be good boys,” she implores, her sense of regret over how things have turned out breaking through.

Ann, 29, is serving an eight-year sentence after being caught at Hong Kong International Airport while on a drug-delivery mission.

She is among scores of young Kenyan women languishing in jails in Asian countries on drug-related charges.

The ministry of Foreign Affairs was not able to provide the exact number of Kenyans imprisoned in foreign countries on charges of drug trafficking, but by 2009, anti-narcotics sources said there were 300.

Most of them are being held in China, India and Pakistan. Most are young women from poor backgrounds lured by the opportunity to make quick money and live a lavish lifestyle.

A statement given in Parliament in 2009 by then Foreign Affairs minister Moses Wetang’ula indicated that 27 Kenyans, including 22 “very young women”, as he put it, were serving sentences in China.

In 2009, five Kenyans were sentenced to hang by Chinese authorities for drug trafficking, highlighting the magnitude of a problem whose impact is being acutely felt by the victims’ families at home.

Illegal business

The Sunday Nation tracked down the families of four convicts to Kiamaiko, a slum in the sprawling Huruma neighbourhood, and listened to stories of how the young women were lured into the illegal business they believed would be their ticket out of poverty.

“My sister was approached by a friend some time in 2006 with the promise of casual jobs such as being a housegirl and bar tending in China,” said Ms Grace Maina, Ann’s sister.

However, Ann did not realise then that she would be taking the first step that would eventually land her in a foreign jail. Just one year later in August 2007, she called home to inform her sister that she had been arrested in Hong Kong.

“She told me that the people who were taking her for the job had forced her to ingest the drugs at gunpoint during a stopover in India,” said Ms Maina.

“She told me that she had no choice; they would have killed her.”

Like most Kenyans who have been arrested for drug trafficking, it was Ann’s first time abroad, and her sister reckons that the sheer nervousness of being in a foreign country and doing something illegal must have given her away to anti-narcotics officers at the airport.

Independent sources told the Sunday Nation that up to 20 young women from the larger Huruma community could be languishing in jails around the world, especially in Asia, although we could not independently verify this information.

“There are rumours of so many of them having gone abroad to traffic drugs, and they have ended up in jail, but we do not have the exact figures,” said Mr George Wanjohi, the Kiamaiko ward councillor.

Six of the women convicted in China come from his ward, although he suspects that many more families could be suffering in silence due to the social stigma associated with the drugs business.

But what is certain is that between 2006 and 2009, an active recruitment drive took place in Kiamaiko and other slums in Huruma in which young women were lured into the narcotics underworld with the promise of riches.

A stone’s throw from Ann’s humble home, Ms Margaret Muthoni is silently mourning her daughter, Mary Mukami Muthoni, 29, who was jailed in Hong Kong for five years in 2007.

“My daughter had never travelled out of the country before, and I just gave her my blessings when she said she had found a job abroad. I allowed her to go because I simply wanted a better life for us all. If I only knew …,” she said.

The widow, who is 66 and diabetic, is now looking after her daughter’s three children with little support. Her small second-hand clothes business can hardly cover the family’s needs, and she often has to rely on the support of neighbours and good Samaritans.

A common thread runs through the interviews with the families: the young women were recruited by a local woman who seemed to have been working at the behest of powerful drug lords.

Act as mules

It is no longer a secret that young Kenyans are increasingly being lured to act as “mules” for West African drug syndicates, mainly Nigerian, whose masterminds are aggressively targeting students and desperate women from poor backgrounds.

Ms Mukami believes her daughter was introduced to the trade by a local woman named Collette who was working for drug barons of foreign nationalities. Collette, she said, convinced her that she had found her daughter a job selling curios in China for a period of three weeks.

“She once came here and told me that she was going to help my daughter, and I had no reason to





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