Miraa traders in Kenya are up in arms after Somalia turned back an aircraft transporting 13.6 tonnes of khat to Hargeisa, the capital of the breakaway Somaliland region.
Nyambene Miraa Traders Association (Nyamita) Chairman Kimathi Munjuri said the plane was turned back on Saturday, despite having been cleared to make the trip.
Mr Munjuri said the traders would lose Sh8 million if the khat is not delivered on time.
“The miraa is valued at about Sh3 million, Sh2.5 million goes to transport and there are other logistical costs which cannot be refunded. We had approvals from the Somaliland Civil Aviation Authority and everything was going on well, until the aircraft entered Somalia’s airspace. The pilot was told that he was carrying illegal cargo,” Mr Munjuri said.
Mr Munjuri complained about the slow pace at which the Foreign Affairs was addressing the trade stalemate with Somaliland.
Farmers who grow miraa varieties popular with the export market have decried harsh economic times following the suspension of international cargo flights into Somalia amid the Covid-19 pandemic.
The farmers from lower lying parts of the Nyambene ranges In Meru County, particularly in Karama, Athiru, Kanjoo among others grow the ‘Grade’ or ‘Kiza’ variety which is exclusively meant for the Somalia market.
According to the farmers, the variety is preferred for export due to its succulent trait that enables it to remain fresh after several hours of transportation.
The variety is largely grown under irrigation.
Hargeisa, a major consumer of Ethiopian khat, is experiencing a shortage of the stimulant due to ethnic unrest that has hit Ethiopia’s expansive Oromia region for the last five days.
Flight 5YMSA, which had overflight and landing clearance from Somaliland Civil Aviation and Airports Authority, turned back and landed at Wajir International Airport.
According to Somalia based news sites, the cargo plane was denied entry due to the country’s air travel restrictions in a bid to contain the spread of Covid-19.
Led by Nyambene Miraa Sacco Chairman Moses Lichoro, the farmers from Kabuitu in Igembe Central called on President Uhuru Kenyatta to engage his Somalia counterpart Mohamed Abdullahi for the resumption of cargo flights and for authorities in Mogadishu to stop denying landing rights to cargo flights bound to the Somaliland capital Hargeisa.
Despite Somaliland declaring unilateral independence in 1991, the issue of air traffic control is yet to be agreed on between Mogadishu and Hargeisa.
The yet unrecognized state is in talks with Somalia, spearheaded by Djibouti, to resolve longstanding differences.
Airspace control is one of the issues Somaliland wants to be solved in the talks that resumed late last month in Djibouti.
The move by Somalia was reportedly received with protests in Hargeisa by expectant miraa chewers who are hit by the shortage.