Khat chewing in the Horn of Africa
The issue of khat chewing which is an indigenous practice in the Horn of Africa has gained global prominence due to migration, increase in its use and associated socio-economic and health problems amongst its users. Khat is a leafy plant mainly grown in the Horn of Africa, where it has been traditionally and culturally used for centuries. Khat has a stimulating effect and some say its use is compulsive, however reactions and responses to khat use in terms of policies and regulatory measures do vary markedly. At international level, there is limited evidence of concrete measures being taken to regulate khat production, trade and consumption. While countries in the producing regions have not raised khat issue as a grave concern, it is countries in Europe and North America with increasing number of khat using immigrant populations that have attempted to control khat in various ways. Khat already has a global market and a recognised economic value in comparison to other crops such as tea, coffee and cacao by populations in the producing regions. In addition Khat trade has a complex distribution network and therefore efforts to control it would require recognition of its potentials to develop into a black market if criminalized. Furthermore selective implementation of ban or control on khat at global, continental and specific country levels is likely to be problematic, especially in the horn of Africa where the borders are porous and governments there, have limited capacity and resources to enforce laws but also lack of a harmonised approach to the issue of khat. However lack of clarity on the positions taken for and against the plant continue to add to the controversial nature of khat issue. These controversies result from contradictions inherent in the findings of past and recent scientific studies on the plant. A large body of literature on khat mainly focus on the negative consequences of its use from a health perspective, while ignoring the socio economic perspectives and social significance of the plant amongst using populations in the horn of Africa but also in the Diaspora. Not withstanding concerns over khat use, some of the arguments against khat can be contested since they mainly originate in countries whose cultures are less conversant with khat chewing. As the world faces the reality of khat use as a phenomenon, efforts to bring it under international conventions and possible control at national levels will increase. However these efforts would require in depth consideration of the varied aspects that underpin the evolution of khat production and consumption as a global phenomenon. Of significance in this process is the recognition of the link between khat use and its social significance for its traditional users within local and international immigrant populations vis-à-vis the use within the confines of “normal use” and the implications for overall perceptions about drug culture and calls for prohibition. Secondly the recognition of khat’s economic value in the producing countries and its international dimension, through migration and global trade networks and possibilities to develop “mafia like traits” if criminalized without sensitivity to implications for crime related operations and money laundering. Thirdly, recognition that harmonisation of policies that are sensitive to the diverse background of khat issue would be crucial for attempts to regulate khat. However normalisation of khat trade through harmonisation of trade policies between countries concerned that are the major suppliers of khat to Somalia and elsewhere is key to khat regulation in a more productive way. Lastly, despite its international character, any attempts to find a solution to the khat issue ought to pay attention to the conflict dimension that has not been addressed by recent studies on khat. A possible link between the conflict in Somalia and khat trade is valid for analysis and policy formulation in that, global Khat trade has a strong link with networks in Somalia and amongst Somalians in the Diaspora. And with warlords in Somalia noted to have a stake in khat trade, the control of the khat trade fuels the violence in Somalia.
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