East Coast Heroin TradeThis comprehensive report by Simone Haysom, Peter Gastrow and Mark Shaw provide a picture of just how this deadly trade has evolved.

And they don’t mince their words: the report lays out how serious the nexus is between Asian families and African politicians.

This is part of the report about Kenya

“In the 1990s, families on the coast of Kenya who had, or established, links with connections to Pakistani drug networks and European buyers began to transship heroin through the region.

These included the wellknown Akasha family, who achieved notoriety when the family patriarch was murdered in Amsterdam following a drug deal that had gone awry in 2001. After the father’s death, the family continued to traffic drugs, but there was infighting, and the family came under scrutiny as the face of Kenya’s heroin trade. As a result, they began to lose political protection, culminating in the extradition of two Akasha brothers, and an Indian and Pakistani associate, in early 2017.

The Akashas were not the only Mombasa family operating in the trade in the 1990s. Another alleged kingpin was Tahir Sheikh Said, who died in 2017. Later, as drug trafficking and politics shifted into closer orbit, the trade moved inland and Nairobi became a key hub. Many major figures were active in Nairobi in the early 2000s, having begun their careers there.

Between 2001 and 2008, there were numerous public allegations of drug trafficking in Kenya, and several MPs and their associates were named. Of those listed in a US embassy report, and subsequently named in Parliament as being linked to the narcotics trade, six are current or former holders of political office.

Among them, five have held (or still do hold) political office in Kenya’s Eastern Province: William Kabogo, former Kiambu County governor; Gideon Mbuvi (alias Mike Sonko), 2nd Governor of Nairobi; John Harun Mwau, former assistant minister and former MP for Kilome; Simon Mbugua, former MP for Kamukunji (in Nairobi); and Mary Wambui, former MP for Othaya.

From the coastal region, Ali Hassan Joho, Governor of Mombasa, and his brother Abubakar, as well as Mombasa businessman Ali Punjani, were also named as prominent drug traffickers in the same report (in fact, the US report allegedly claims that Punjani and several other traffickers funded Ali Hassan Joho’s 2007 campaign to win a seat as an MP for Mombasa).

Harun Mwau, along with businesswoman Mwanaidi Mfundo (alias Mama Lela), who is now in prison in Tanzania on drug-trafficking charges, were listed as drug ‘kingpins’ by the US in 2011. All have denied these allegations.

A subsequent investigation into claims made in the Kenyan Parliament by police was said to have absolved them, but in very controversial circumstances.

Harun Mwau, perhaps the most prominent figure caught up in these allegations, has been widely cited by our interlocutors as an early ‘model’ of how to combine the shadow economy, politics and business. Mwau has repeatedly denied being involved in drug trafficking. He is a prominent businessman and former shareholder in the region’s biggest supermarket chain, Nakumatt (holding shares worth US$10 million, which he has since offloaded). He owned a bank (Charterhouse), and has had a varied political career: he headed the anticorruption agency and was a national lawmaker; he also ran for president. He was a major funder of Mwai Kibaki’s election campaign as president and was subsequently appointed as assistant transport minister, a position in which he appears to have been responsible for Kenya’s container transport arrangements and for the Kenya Ports Authority, which controls all ports of entry and inland container terminals in Kenya.

Mwau resigned from this position after being named in Parliament as being linked to drug trafficking. For many years, Mwau operated an inland container depot at Athi River on the outskirts of Nairobi, known as the Pepe Container Freight Station.

These are just the most public figures linked to the trade. Reportedly, there are other Swahili-Arab families from the coastal region involved in the drug trade, who are said to have kept a low profile but remain active and successful in the trade. ‘Arab coastal networks have several hundred years of diplomacy behind them,’ said one anti-corruption activist. ‘They would never threaten you to your face. There is a grace to the way they do things. They cooperate with the [drug traffickers operating out of Nairobi].’


In recent years, the volume of heroin shipped from Afghanistan along a network of maritime routes in East and southern Africa appears to have increased considerably. Most of this heroin is destined for Western markets, but there is a spin-off trade for local consumption. An integrated regional criminal market has developed, both shaping and shaped by political developments in the region.
Africa is now experiencing the sharpest increase in heroin use worldwide and a spectrum of criminal networks and political elites in East and southern Africa are substantially enmeshed in the trade.
This report focuses on the characteristics of the heroin trade in the region and how it has
become embedded in the societies along this route. It also highlights the features of the criminal-governance systems that facilitate drug trafficking along this coastal route