Ever since the recent decision by the UK Home Secretary Theresa May that Khat would be classified as a class C drug, there seems to have been a number differing reactions across the board, writes anti-khat campaigner Abukar Awale.
The vast majority of the Somali community support the ban for obvious reasons and have been cautiously optimistic that it will take effect sooner rather than later.
But a small minority within the Somali community are hesitant, believing that the long-term effects of the ban are difficult to predict, and claiming that khat users may end up using class B or A drugs should they be unable to obtain khat.
We then observe that a number of academics in pharmacology and neuro-pharmacology have put forward their opinions on the ban with some even ridiculing it. Presumably they felt it sufficient to make these claims as they and their families and friends are detached from khat use and addiction, so aside from the fact that their stance is a minority one within academia itself, we won’t attach too much credence to their views.
We also notice that in Meru, north eastern Kenya (where khat is grown) the community has been extremely vocal in highlighting the potential economic effect of the UK ban on the khat industry locally, claiming that it will drive millions into poverty at a stroke.
Last but by no means least, there has been a noticeable silence from the Somali leadership. This is surprising given that Somalis themselves are traditionally the end users of khat and therefore most greatly affected by its harmful effects.
My khat addiction
I myself having campaigned for eight long years for the banning of khat and believe that the ban cannot have been announced soon enough and that a large number in our community will express and translate their gratitude into political support for those that implemented the ban come the next election.
As an ex addict, I of course have first-hand knowledge of the devastating physical and social harm that it causes to its users and their loved ones. I actually consider my own personal experience to be representative of the vast majority of khat addicts in that my khat use became so extensive that it came perilously close to causing family breakdown.
Of course, I can blame no one but myself for my erstwhile predicament but I’m grateful that I managed to find a way out. I often get asked by people what would I do in order to cater for former khat users, as if to suggest that my campaigning against it therefore renders me personally responsible for finding them something to replace it with. My response woud be simple – if I could break free from khat addiction, then of course so could anyone else.
Thankfully, I have a job whereby I’m able to support my dependents, now free from the debilitating effects of khat use. No one provided me with an alternative or helped me find employment simply because I don’t accept that it is the responsibility of others to do so. I’m happy to help where I feel I can but ultimately, every adult individual must assume personal responsibility for their actions and life choices.
To briefly discuss those whose financial interests are impinged upon by the UK khat ban, a number of Meru senators and MP’s have been making preposterous claims that it is politically-motivated due to Meru’s support for the candidacy of the current President of Kenya, Uhuru Kenyatta.
The local khat dealers there have also voiced the opinion that boycotting British companies would be a suitable response to the khat ban. Others believe that a more cerebral approach would be to send a delegation to Britain to vehemently lobby the relevant parliamentary committee in order to reverse the proposed ban.
There are also ideas about challenging the ban through the law courts, in effect asking the UK government to allow them to continue supplying drugs to vulnerable UK immigrant communities for financial gain. We welcome the opportunity to meet with our Kenyan counterparts in court. This is for the simple reason that their recourse to the law is a tacit admission of responsibility for the harmful effects of the khat trade wrought on our commnity, which will allow us to submit a counter claim for damages.
Moreover, one of the more surreal episodes in the Meru reaction has been the claim by the head of the Global Miraa (khat) Traders network that khat is religiously endorsed by the Bible, further going to say that the baby Jesus (pbuh) and the Virgin Mary were visited by three wise men who brought them gold, frankincense and, not myrrh but miraa. All of these responses demonstrate the desperation and lengths people will go to maintain the status quo.
I propose the following to the Meru leaders. First of all they must understand that the UK government is responsible for the well being of UK citizens and cannot of course assume responsibility for what happens in north eastern Kenya.
I’m sure that the UK government recognizes the sovereignty of Kenya which of course has a democratically elected government that is more than capable of catering for the needs of Meru. Secondly, the World Health Organisation classified khat as a drug as far back as 1989, which precipitated the banning of khat in a number of countries across the western world.
Khat traders should also take into account a growing groundswell of opinion within Kenya itself that views khat as a harmful drug that should be banned. The National Authority for Campaign Against Alcohol and Drug Abuse in Kenya has been vociferously campaigning to have khat classified in similar terms to that of much of the civilized world.
Thirdly, instead of lobbying the UK on its own, in order to reverse several bans why do they not sent delegations to the USA, Canada, France, Finland, Sweden, Germany and Holland where Khat was banned as a drug recently as a year ago?
Fourthly, if khat farmers are really worried about the prospect of being pushed into poverty, then I have a simple proposition to make to them that will surely be ethically viable, if perhaps not as lucrative in the short-term as selling drugs to poor refugee communities in the United Kingdom.
How about thry use their vast reserves of arable land to grow food instead of khat whereby they could not only feed their families but contribute the wider region as well, therefore helping to eradicate the khat problem in the Horn of Africa?
For a region of the world that has endured drought after drought, it sounds so simple that it is confusing why the so called Meru leaders do not show some real leadership on this and provide their constituents with a more plausible alternative.
But to bring us back to the issue of leadership. For some reason, the Somali political class has remained silent on this issue and has not so much as mustered an official response to the UK ban.
The Presidents of Somalia, Somaliland, Puntland, Djibouti and the Ogaden , where much of the adult populations and children as young as 10 have been affected by khat to varying degrees somehow in their lack of an official response do not see irony of a foreign government banning khat to protect vulnerable Somali communities abroad.
It is also regrettable that whilst Kenyan and British politicians robustly debate the economic effects of the ban in Kenya, the Somali leaders (of which as you can see there is no shortage) have failed to speak up in order to defend the rights of their own citizens.
We are now find ourselves in the bizarre situation of a Conservative Home Secretary protecting Somalis from Kenyan drug dealers who clearly view Somalis as their cash cow while their own leaders respond with a deafening silence.
If a few Kenyan MPs feel confident in their chances of legally challenging this great nation’s sovereignty with regard to its drug policy while the Somali leaders turn a blind eye to the suffering of their own people, then Lord have mercy on us. To put things into some kind of perspective, the amount Somalis spend annually on khat is greater than the entire budget of the central government of Somalia, yet no alarm bells seem to be ringing.
It is this failure of leadership that made like-minded Somalis decide to take matters in to their own hands and launch a campaign to ban khat that to date, by the grace of God, has been successful. We therefore urge the UK government to swiftly take steps to implement the ban at the earliest available opportunity and bring our drugs policies in line with the vast majority of the civilized world.