All imports and flights delivering the mild stimulant Khat have been banned from entering Somalia. These measures left chewers of Khat in a stew. Before the Covid-19 pandemic, when bunches of fresh leaves arrive in Mogadishu from Kenya, men go missing. They were often seen in lounging in Khat kiosks or at homes. Miraa, also known as the leaf, is a stimulant that sends the user into a frenzy of excited chatter. During this time, business deals are made and broken, while fighters are kept awake. In March, the Somalia government banned international flights, including those carrying Khat. This was part of its efforts to control the spread of the coronavirus.
When the government imposed a lockdown, it forbade people from chewing their beloved leaves together. Gathering to chew miraa would break social distancing rules. Officials warned that because miraa is picked by hand, it could help spread Covid-19. However, the stimulant is still finding its way into Somalia. Some enter the country by road from Ethiopia, while others transport it on water from Kenya. Meru County, the heartland of Miraa farming in Kenya, the situation is grave due to the restrictions.
Kimathi Munjuri, chairman of the Nyambene Miraa Traders’ Association, revealed that members of the organization exported about $250,000 worth of Khat every day to the Somali capital, Mogadishu. Approximately five hundred thousand farmers grow the stimulant in the Horn of Africa. Therefore, many will be hit hard by the ban. Although many khat sellers in the country have nothing to trade, a couple of crafty dealers have hit a goldmine.
“Before the Corona, we got fresh deliveries from Kenya. Now, we purchase it illegally from the port city of Kismayo, and because it is so limited, we fluctuate the price. Previously, I sold one kilo of miraa for about $20 to $25. Currently, I sell it for $120. This ban has been very good for some business.”
Men without Khat is like a fish without water, which is the expression of one committed chewer Mohamed Abdi. He has to taste some leaves; however, with the inflated prices, he cannot afford it. He feels he is quietly running mad. While others have temporarily stopped chewing the leaves, others have resolved to other illegal drugs to compensate for their not chewing. Therefore, alcohol consumption and the use of illicit drugs have risen in the past few days. Some have begun robbing to afford to buy Khat.
“For us khat lovers, this is the most unbearable situation we have ever been in.”
Seized Khat burned
The leaf is also popular among the security forces, whose salary is far too low for them to afford the new prices. Reports say some police and soldiers are stealing money to pay for the leaves. The authorities say that they will reassess the condition after the Islamic holy month Ramadan is over. Vehicles captured under the current ban are confiscated. Any khat is found is burned. The big fish in the Khat industry agree to the bun saying health is a priority compared to anything. However, some sneak back to the markets and fetch the sky-high prices.
“I expected few people to try to smuggle khat into the country during this suspension, But I did not imagine more than 30% of the residents to be so addicted to it that they would go to any extent to get their hands on it.” said the president Muse Bihi
Anti-Khat Activist in Delight.
Some people are happy with the khat ban, especially anti-khat activists like Abukar Awale. They define the ban as a blessing from the skies. There are fewer cases of domestic violence. Wives can now spend time with their husbands and fewer instances of divorce. Also, men are spending their money on their families instead of drugs. There is an increase in productivity rate as men no longer waste six hours chewing Khat. Also chewing Khat has a possible link to mouth cancer, addictions, and psychosis. Activists say if Somalia wants to rise, it should utilize the hundreds of millions of dollars spent on Khat for the development of the country.
Mr. Awale hopes the ban will not be lifted. But this is unlikely. There is a robust pro-khat lobby in Somalia. It is doubtful politicians will outlaw the drug as it is such a core part of the social life and economy. Plus, many powerful politicians have not opposed to a lively chewing session themselves.