By Samira Sawlani
LONDON (Somalilandsun) – Khat has long been recreationally used by people in Somalia, Somaliland, Ethiopia and Yemen along with other east African communities, for those in the Diaspora it has always been one of their links to home.
For this reason its popularity in Europe and the UK has been at a consistent high for many years, however over the years most European countries along with the USA and Canada had placed a ban upon the herbal stimulant.
The latest of these countries, which has caused panic among Khat farmers and consumers in the Diaspora, is the United Kingdom.
Today UK Home Secretary Teresa May released a statement confirming that Khat was to be banned in the UK, it will now be treated as a Class C drug and anyone caught trafficking or supplying it will face up to 14 years in prison.
The official statement released by the British Home Secretary Theresa May reads ‘The whole of northern Europe – most recently the Netherlands – and the majority of other EU member states have controlled khat, as well as most of the G8 countries, including Canada and the USA. In all these cases khat’s exportation, importation, supply and its possession or use has been banned. Failure to take decisive action and change the UK’s legislative position on khat would place the UK at a serious risk of becoming a single, regional hub for the illegal onward trafficking of khat to these countries. Seizures of khat transiting the UK en route to the Netherlands have already been increasing in size and frequency since the Dutch ban earlier this year. The ACMD report recognised the likelihood that some khat is being re-exported to countries where it is illegal. The ACMD could not determine the scale of this activity based on the available evidence and acknowledged that this concern forms part of government consideration of the matter. Khat continues to feature prominently amongst the health and social harms, such as low attainment and family breakdown, cited by affected communities and the police and local authorities working with them.’
The ban has gone ahead despite the fact that drug experts in the UK have long emphasised upon the fact that there is not enough evidence available about the stimulant to warrant it being banned. Professor David Nutt, former head of the Advisory Council on the Misuse of Drugs, called the announcement “yet another disappointment,” while drug experts and drug policy campaigners roundly criticized the decision.
One UK based Somalilander stated “Khat is part of our history, our heritage, it is permitted in the Quran. Alcohol and cigarettes are more harmful yet the British government do not ban those”
In contrast to this, there are many whose views on Khat are at the other end of the spectrum. In 2011 over a 100 people mainly from the Somali Diaspora demonstrated outside the home of the British Prime Minister. They called for a ban of Khat citing a number of harms its consumption has done to individuals, family and the community.
The campaigners argued that it leads to addiction particularly among youth as it being legal suggests that it is a safe substance to engage with. Another argument which has long been given in justification of banning Khat is that it makes people lazy and so leads to users spending all their time and money chewing it instead of earning and supporting their family, this in turn creates conflict within the home and can often lead to divorce, continued unemployment and poverty.
Another serious issue related to Khat consumption according to those supporting today’s ban is the health issues it allegedly causes. One campaigner referred to a 2011 report called ‘khat related deaths’ in which 14 cases of young men who consumed excessive levels of Khar died from liver failure.
Certainly medical experts in Somaliland have also suggested that the chewing of Khat has adverse affects upon the health of people.
In 2010 a director at the TB Unit at Burao General Hospital told IRIN Africa “Currently, Burao General Hospital has 130 male and 30 female patients admitted to the TB ward,” Abdijibar Mohamed Abdi, a director of the TB unit at hospital, told IRIN. “One of the reasons for the high rate of infection among men is the chewing of khat, which is done in poorly ventilated rooms for many hours. Such men are also at greater risk due to hunger and sleeplessness as the chewing takes place mostly at night.”
This would then justify the ban put upon it in the UK . However some may argue that the media reports over the past few years suggesting that sales from Khat have contributed to funding terrorist groups such as Al- Shabaab may also be behind the decision taken by the British Home Secretary. There are also rumors that young people using Khat and hanging around London based mafrish’s are increasingly being targeted by radical terrorist groups.
Aside from all of the above, the impact of the ban upon Khat growing communities in Kenya and Ethiopia among other places is likely to be crippling. Khat production has created jobs, boosted profit and given communities the opportunity to grow in flourish. Statistics from Kenya suggest that 80% of Khat grown in Meru is exported and the industry is worth almost £80million. It also creates almost 500,000 jobs and the economy of Meru solely rests upon the industry meaning that the community depends upon Khat exports to survive.
Whether you choose to chew Khat or not, the next time you take some or observe someone else taking some, think of those who have lost family members due its usage, those who are addicted to it, those based in the UK who can no longer honour their heritage by chewing it and those farmers who are now in for a rude awakening when they find their profits heavily reduced.