An exclusive interview with Kenyan Miraa trader in Somaliland Kimathi Munjuri who is also the Nyambene Miraa Traders Association (Nyamita) Chairman
Somalilandsun: Khat is a plant with stimulant properties that grows in many parts of the highlands in east Africa and some Arab countries. Traditionally, Khat has been used for medical purposes, including: treating the symptoms of, and increasing resistance to, coughs, bronchial asthma, hay fever, fatigue, diabetes, and malaria; an appetite suppressant to aid weight loss; an aphrodisiac; and increasing levels of alertness, ability to concentrate, and confidence.
Khat leaves are cultivated in the highlands of the Horn of Africa, Southern Arabia, and along the East African coast. In parts of Ethiopia, Kenya, Somalia, and Yemen, Khat leaves have been chewed for many centuries. Ethiopia is khat’s country of origin (the Khat-chewing habit began in approximately the fifteenth century) and it is currently the world’s largest Khat producer. Khat has many names indifferent countries, including “qat” (Yemen), “jad” or “chad” (Ethiopia, Somalia), “miraa” (Kenya), and “marungi” (Uganda and Rwanda).
In Somaliland Khat is so enmeshed in daily life and culture that it has become an important import tax earner for the government, and according to the Somaliland Annual Statistical Report 2018, Khat ordinarily accounts for 30 per cent of domestic revenues, or USD 36,449,435. Between USD 120,000 and USD 150,000 was collected daily from tax on Khat imports in Kalabaydh customs station.
But this income and jobs created are based on a monopoly of the herbal import from Ethiopia exemplified by Every day events in which trucks loaded with the narcotic plant Khat, grown in northeastern Ethiopia, hurtle along rough roads through the desert to make fresh deliveries to eager customers across Somaliland.
On the other hand this Ethiopian monopoly is at times detrimental to chewers, traders and those gainfully employed in the trade due to events like recent protests by Khat growing Oromo tribe against the assassination in Addis Ababa of popular singer Haacaaluu Hundeessa
For a number of days during the protests, Khat imports almost ceased and the few tons that reached the market in Hargeisa was priced very exorbitantly with a bunch usually selling at $5 going to upto $15.
Within that period a plane laden with 13.6 tons of Miraa to Hargeisa worth $80,000 was turned back by Somalia federal authorities despite the fact that the flight # 5YMSA had landing rights issued by the Somaliland Civil Aviation Authority.
In the matter the issue here is not the immense loss incurred by the Kenyan traders , the airspace management dispute between Somaliland and Somalia nor the importance of Kenyan business and diplomatic relations with local authorities but the monopoly enjoyed by Ethiopian Khat vis ‘a’ vis those from Kenya.
To grasp a glimpse of the Kenyan miraa imports to Somaliland and challenges we spoke with, Kimathi Munjuri the Nyambene Miraa Traders Association (Nyamita) Chairman and the herbal stimulant supplier to Somaliland who incidentally owned the consignment denied entry by Somalia on the 4th July 2020.
Q; Mr. Munjuri How long have u traded in Somaliland?
A: Our trade in Khat (Miraa) in Somaliland has been on for the longest time I can remember, that is from 2000, especially the Towns of Lascanood and Buhoodle mainly due to their proximity to the Southern Somalia.
Lately in the last 5 years we started going to Qardo Then we have severally supplied Hargeisa City especially when there is some unrest in neighboring Ethiopia
Q: What quantities of Miraa do you supply in Somaliland?
A: Over the years our supply quantities to the country have remained average With 3 tons daily to Lascanood and for Buhoodle which is on and off but when it’s there it’s 2tons 15 days while our main target Hargeisa likewise when it’s on, it’s 3tons daily
Q. Does Nyambene Miraa Traders Sacco have local agents in Somaliland?
A: First is to inform that Nyambene Miraa Trade Association (NYAMITA) is not an exporter on its own its association is through Individual members who are the exporters. The Sacco only pushes for the common good of all of its members. And yes we have had some agents who handle our business in the country namely Faras and Jabutawi trading companies.
Q: How much tax per a 100kgs do the Somaliland authorities charge your imports?
A: For 100Kgs of Miraa at the airport in Hargeisa, we are charged $200 compared to Ethiopian imports at $95 per 100kgs. This is what has made our business in Hargeisa impossible because it makes our commodity very exorbitant to the consumer while making the Kenyan Miraa uncompetitive to the Ethiopia Chat
Q. Will the $95 per 100kgs levied on Ethiopian Khat be okay with miraa as pertains competitiveness?
A. Sure If we are charged the same tax we can compete and at the same time we can further lobby for some rebate given that we are transporting the Miraa by air which is very expensive
Q. Are you the only Kenyan miraa exporter to Somaliland?
A: No am not the only trader there are many others though their main focus is Somalia while mine is solely Somaliland
Q. Recently a cargo plane of your miraa destined for Hargeisa was denied entry was it by Somalia or Somaliland authorities and what tonnage was it?
A: The ill-fated flight had a cargo of 13.6 tons of Miraa worth $80, 00 and to our understanding the over flight denial was by the Somalia Civil Aviation Authority-SCAMA
Q. Which authority had issued the landing rights?
A: The landing rights for flight # 5YMSA were issued by the Somaliland Civil Aviation Authority.
Q: In your trade activities over the years in the Country are you ever in contact with local government authorities, Somaliland Khat traders association and the chamber of commerce?
A: Yes we are in regular contact with Somaliland authorities mainly in extension to their engagement with the Kenyan government. We had some contact with some people who said they were from the Association but we lost contact while we are yet to make any relationship with the Chamber. It is our understanding that contacts with the association and the chamber are made by our agents in the country.
Q. Are you licensed to trade in Somaliland?
A: Yes we are licensed Miraa exporters. Our agents are licensed in their areas too
Q: in your opinion why should the Somaliland authorities avail Kenyan miraa ease of competition with Ethiopia Khat?
A: first and foremost this will break the Khat monopoly in the country. Secondly we plan to establish a nationwide distributorship network which translates to employment opportunities for many but most important is the sure to accrued goodwill between the two governments that might and shall subsequently ensue with Kenya viewing the Somaliland quest for international recognition favourably.