The Ethiopian Customs Commission said it is struggling with the growing sophistication and capacity of drug smugglers who use Addis Ababa Bole International Airport.
Ethiopia is becoming among one of the emerging transit hubs for smugglers. Of around 156 drug seizures of outgoing drugs in Brazil, 64 were planned to arrive in or transit through Ethiopia, according to a report published by United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime (UNODC) in March this year.
In response to questions from lawmakers in the House of Peoples’ Representatives (HPR), Customs Commissioner Debele Kabeta said drugs like cocaine are being smuggled into Ethiopia in large quantities.
“Smugglers are working hard to use Addis Ababa as their destination and transit point,” he said. “These practices at the airport were never a trend in Ethiopia previously.”
Reports show vastly growing smuggling activities in the country this year compared to previous practices. Last fiscal year, the Commission confiscated smuggled goods worth 4.5 billion birr, but this grew to 10.2 billion birr a month ahead of the end of current fiscal year.
During the last 11 months, exports and imports of smuggled goods grew by 163 percent and 254 percent respectively, compared to the same period of the previous fiscal year.
Specifically at the Commission’s branch located inside the airport, exports by smugglers grew almost 200 percent, while illegal import increased exceedingly by 726 percent compared to last year.
In light of this fact, Members of Parliament grilled the Commissioner with questions about the enabling environment and actions to tackle it.
Debele blamed the nature of international flights and the growing capacity of smugglers for increased illegal activities, including smuggling of narcotics and other goods.
“It requires a high level of capacity, big resources, skills and human capital to control it,” Debele said. “We should learn from developed countries with the capacity and experience to build our own capabilities in resources and logistics.”
Concerned about the blame falling on his office, the Commissioner called for a thorough investigation into how cocaine weighing as much as a quintal gets loaded onto aircrafts in countries like Brazil yet detected in Addis Ababa.
He called for a holistic understanding of the situation and assistance for better results in disrupting contrabandist networks. “Whether in exports or imports, contraband through the airport is challenging us as they use various techniques, networks and behaviors,” Debele said.