In Summary
  • Here, deals are cut, and with the right network, household goods headed for retail stores in most parts of the Coast region, have a through pass, enriching a long network along the way.

  • This is as the Kenya Revenue Authority (KRA) officials chase shadows. The porous transit points are aided by clueless and lax police officers

They are masters of the terrain. From the unofficial panya routes on the Kenyan border with Tanzania, to the inlets of channels at Indian Ocean, local smugglers have mastered all the tricks in the book to sustain their trade.

Everything from clothing, drinks to household goods are ferried back and forth along clandestine routes, both on land and sea.

PACKED TRUCKS

Crossing into Tanzania is easy. At the one-stop border post in Lunga Lunga, Kwale County, the Nation crossed without documentation and returned through the same route.

Most people walked across the border without being questioned by security or immigration officers.

Across the border in Horohoro town, is a smugglers’ paradise.

The buzz of activity — matatus picking passengers to Tanga, packed trucks and open-air markets selling everything — belies the secret that the town owes its growth and economy to smuggling of goods into the Kenyan market.

As part of the investigation, Nation reporters posed as traders who wanted to ferry goods across to test how easy it is to dodge border checks.

At a restaurant, where the reporters picked a conversation with a chatty owner, the owner said: “Just bring the goods here and we will store them. Later at night, we will move them for you at a small fee of up to Sh2,000. But we have to see the goods before we negotiate.”

He was ready to carry the goods on a motorbike or bicycle depending on the quantity.

“If the goods are many, I will just mobilise people and we will pretend like we are moving houses and carry everything in one trip. We know some of the unmanned routes where there are no police officers,” he said.

BLIND EYE

Welcome to Kwale’s smuggling haven!

Here, deals are cut, and with the right network, household goods headed for retail stores in most parts of the Coast region, have a through pass, enriching a long network along the way.

This is as the Kenya Revenue Authority (KRA) officials chase shadows. The porous transit points are aided by clueless and lax police officers

Once across, the goods are dropped at Jua Kali Town, which is a few metres away from the border point on the Kenyan side. When asked if it was not too risky to have the goods dropped “under the Kenyan official’s watch,” the trader said: “Kenyans have no problem. They will only care if it is sugar.”

Interviews with dozens of smugglers revealed what makes smuggling thrive at border towns. They said officials are often either on the take themselves or turn a blind eye.

The state of the border allows citizens of the neighbour states to cross with ease, thus derailing efforts to tame the vice.

“When you find a local, the better for you. The goods come here and we store them at the hotel. They stay there until we are able to transport them at night. Flour, washing soap, rice and everything. People carry them on a daily basis,” said a smuggler who went by the name Ali.

A huge per cent of the town’s wealth and people’s livelihoods comes from the illegal trade

UNCOMPLICATED

“Most people in this town depend on smuggling. I’ve taken a lot of things across every evening. Were it not for that, we would be jobless. We know how to do it because it’s something we’ve done for years,” Ali said.

Enterprising locals sell contraband in bulk and arrange the logistics, procure guides, assist with bribing officials where needed and organising storage.

An encounter between our ‘trader’ and a kingpin in charge of a large-scale smuggling operation inside his shop in the town was uncomplicated. He would pass for an ordinary shopkeeper.

A source said police officers know about the whole racket, but they would only halt the smuggling if they are not well paid for the deal. Often, they supervise the illegal trade and ensure safe delivery of sugar to its destination.

We were given room to negotiate the transport price which ranged between Sh1, 000 to Sh, 1,500 for the goods to be ferried on boda bodas.

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