Ah, the Seychelles. Paradise on Earth. An archipelago of over a hundred islands in the perfect, turquoise-blue waters of the Indian Ocean, it’s tropical coves and white sandy beaches draw rich Western tourists to its luxury hotels, giving it the highest GDP per capita of any African nation.
It’s also got a serious drug problem.
“I hope you talk about my country. It’s fucked-up, man,” James, an ex-dealer and gangster told me.
There’s two main reasons for a drug’s popularity. The first is desire: the customers wanna get high. The second is availability: dealers have to deliver what the customers need. The Seychelles’ problem is it’s a victim of geography: 2,000km off the east coast of Africa, the fastest-growing drug market in the world, and lying right on the narcotic highway from the heroin heartlands of Asia, namely Pakistan.
In the 1980s Pakistan was ruled by Islamist dictator General Zia, who took power in a 1977 coup, and under his reign the drug business flourished. Long after his death, Pakistani intelligence kept its ties to major terrorists and drug dealers including D-Company, the cartel led by notorious crime lord Dawood Ibrahim. Today, family ties to back home still help facilitate heroin smuggling within elements of the Pakistani diaspora. The dope is packed onboard sailboats at the docks of Karachi and shipped to East African ports like Zanzibar and Mombasa, stopping by the Seychelles on the way.
More recently the Indian Ocean’s become a passageway for coke, too, passing through Sri Lanka hidden in sacks of sugar from Brazil. It’s tricky to keep an eye on all 115 islands that make up the Seychelles, making it easy for smugglers to operate. But not always.
“I used to have two guesthouses but one time when I was broke, I had no money and this girl I was fucking, she was also a dealer and she said, ‘I can help you’. I didn’t think about it so I said OK,” James recalled. “So it was night and I got to the boat, but in this part of the sea you have the French navy. They don’t give a fuck, just shoot in the water, like rata-tat-tat! Their bullets shredded my friend, and I ended up swimming in the ocean for four hours.”
James’s in his mid-20s, but in a small country where everyone knows each other he was one of the top importers in the burgeoning drug trade. I met James at a detox centre outside the country last year where he’s hiding out from his former associates.
“I come from a fucked-up family. My mother’s side is ok but my father’s side are straight gangsters,” he said.
“One night I was with my friend when he started chatting shit to the cops, and I was in the army so I know most of those guys and he put me on the spot. Then four more guys show up, saying, ‘we’re gonna fuck you up.’ I have a kilo of coke in my backpack, so I’ve got to make a decision – be a nice guy and go to jail, or be a hard man and get out of it. So I pulled a pistol on them. Thank God my brother was there, he’s a big-time gangster. He pulled out a pistol too. Then I looked over at my friend, he’s trippin’. He ain’t no gangster. I had to beat his ass later, and my brother had to pay off all the cops afterwards.”
James’s adventures in the drug business took him all over the world. Nigerian drug lords are at the driver’s seat of West Africa’s yayo express, taking advantage of the weak local rule-of-law to deliver parcels of cocaine all over the continent and into Europe.
“I met this guy called Vegas and he told me to come to Nigeria. That’s where I became a big man in the drug business. But what I learned is over there it’s not bling-bling, it’s bling-BANG! See I got this here,” he said, pointing to a mark on his eye, “from fighting two guys, and this (a scar on his cheek) from a machete.”
From Lagos, James made his way to Kuala Lumpur. While not particularly dangerous crime-wise, Malaysia’s extravagantly corrupt and a major transhipment point for heroin and meth from the Golden Triangle. At the same time, it’s laws are very strict and getting caught with drugs will leave you facing the hangman’s noose.
“The worst prison I’ve been to is in Malaysia,” James winced. “There, you eat off the floor. The worst gangsters there are the police; they run everything. They pretend to be such a rich, upright country, but I know what they’re really like.”
In the end, it wasn’t po-lice, jail or rival gangsters that led James to quit the game. He broke the second rule of Scarface: don’t get high on your own supply.
“I started drinking when I was thirteen, then I went on through school, university, the army,” said James. “I’d wake up, do a gram of coke to wake me up, smoke skunk to take me through the day, then heroin to take the edge off. I missed out on so much stuff when I was on drugs. I forgot to call my mom on her birthday.”
He wasn’t alone. Authorities estimate that out of a population of ninety-four thousand on the Seychelles, ten percent are on heroin – more than anywhere else in the world. James is convinced the government is behind drug dealing on the islands.
“This corrupt government is killing our youth,” he told me.
James’s stories suggest some cops can be bought, but while there’s talk of corruption in the NDEA (National Drugs Enforcement Agency), there’s not much telling how deep it goes. The Seychelles is number 27 on Transparency International’s Corruption Index which, all considered, is a pretty good score (it’s better than Spain or South Korea). But then again, being a remote set of islands where everyone knows each other that’s been effectively ruled by one party since the seventies might make it easier to cover things up.
But the government has put in place several harm reduction measures, including a roving white van which dispenses methadone to addicts. It’s not ideal and there’s still no naloxone, but it’s a start. As for James, he wants to do his part:
“I want to go back and open a sober house but there’s people looking for me. When I was in Europe they heard I was staying at a rehab centre and sent someone up to look for me. Only my mom knows I’m here. I’m planning to stay here for a few more years till the heat dies down.”
Niko Vorobyov is a government-certified (convicted) drug dealer turned writer and author of the book Dopeworld (Drugswereld), about the international drug trade. You can follow him on Twitter @Lemmiwinks_III