The United States has added two Kenyans, including a parliamentarian, to a list of global drug kingpins who now face U.S. sanctions, a move that spotlights the East African nation's involvement in the international drug trade.
The two Kenyans were among seven people that the U.S. added to the list of overseas narcotics kingpins on Wednesday. Under the 1999 Drug Kingpin Act, identified drug traffickers and their related businesses are denied access to the U.S. financial system and transactions with U.S. companies and individuals.
The Kenyans include parliamentarian Harun Mwau, who is among Kenya's richest citizens. The other person named, Naima Mohamed Nyakiniywa, is said to be involved in business.
Kenya's drug problem _ primarily heroin _ has been escalating for years and is partly fueled by corruption, former U.S. Ambassador to Kenya Michael Ranneberger told The Associated Press in an April interview days before he finished his assignment in the country.
"It is a very serious problem. We have seen a steady increase in narcotic trafficking in Kenya over the past five years and even before that ... it is extensive," Ranneberger said. "At this point it reaches to very senior political levels."
Mwau resigned as assistant Minister for Trade in December after Ranneberger gave a report to Kenya's security minister naming Mwau and three other legislators and asking Kenyan authorities to investigate them for drug trafficking.
A preliminary report from a police investigation conducted in the port city of Mombasa said it could not find any evidence linking the parliamentarians to drug trafficking.
"I think there is an enormous amount of corruption involved," Ranneberger said. "If you talk about narcotics trafficking lots of people could be influenced and you know the so-called police investigation that took place in Mombasa was not serious of course. That investigation is ongoing, by the way. Of course nobody was absolved of anything."
Mwau's office did not immediately respond to calls seeking comment. Nyakiniywa, the other person named, could not be reached Thursday.
Kenyan police spokesman Eric Kiraithe said Nyakiniywa has been under surveillance. He said officials were trying to confirm reports she was arrested this week in neighboring Tanzania on drug trafficking charges.
Ranneberger said the major drug being trafficked through Kenya is heroin from Asia, some of which is destined for Europe. A little goes to Canada and some to the U.S., he said.
Ranneberger said America's main concern is that the drug trade may further destabilize Kenya.
The State Department's International Narcotic Control Strategy Report for 2011 links drug trafficking in Kenya to the country's culture of impunity, and says it has serious ramifications to the nation's health, security, and stability.
The other five people named on the new kingpin list came from Afghanistan, Colombia, Mexico and Kyrgyzstan.