Somaliland: More Poison from Kenya

Kenya and Ethiopia are vying for lucrative Somaliland market: selling Miraa, narcotic green leaves a.k.a Khat, to Somaliland. But Somaliland hardly gains anything from this market; all the while Kenya and Ethiopia reap hundreds of millions of dollars, yearly. So, the question is: why is Somaliland government catering to the needs of foreign countries, while feeding its public with poison-annihilating generations?

And as if the devastating economic impact already inflicted on Somaliland by the Ethiopian Khat wasn’t taking a toll on Somaliland people, Kenya wants to join the battle to gain millions of dollars all the while sending Somaliland people into extreme poverty.

Meanwhile, Khat traders, consumers and more importantly Khat-junkies in the Somaliland government argue that banning the drug has twofold: for one thing, the government will lose tax revenues collected from Khat; for another, the local traders will have no viable economic alternatives to earn livings. While both of these arguments seem plausible, what the officials and traders don’t see is the obvious. And that is, Somaliland’s budget is about 250 million dollars, annually. Yet its people buy over 400, some reports estimate 524, million dollars worth of Khat from Ethiopia, yearly.

Well, if Somaliland stops buying Khat with 400-524 million dollars annually and alternatively invests the money into the economy, wouldn’t Somaliland collect more tax revenues and create thousands of jobs not only for Khat traders but also for thousands of unemployed youth? Wouldn’t banning the flow of Khat into Somaliland generate more income and in turn stop thousands of job-seeking Somaliland people venture into deadly high seas? Also, wouldn’t thousands of addicts rid of the habit and rebuild their dysfunctional families? No matter how you slice it-there is no logic to wasting 400-524 million dollars per year on a product that has devastating health effects on the public. The truth is: Khat isn’t only draining Somaliland economy, but is also destroying its society-wiping out generations or rendering them euphoric and hysterical.

According to the 2015 World Happiness report, Somaliland has one of the “happiest” populations in the world. This happiness comes with a great price, however. Sadly, Somaliland also has more mentally ill people per population density than any other nation; an article published by theguardian states, “…at least one person in every two households had some form of mental illness”. Ever wonder why? The bitter truth is more than half of the Somaliland population are constantly drugged with mind-altering (stimulating) Khat, so why wouldn’t they be some of the happiest campers in the world? And to keep up with the high demand of Khat, the Ethiopian farmers use powerful but banned Chinese fertilizers and large quantities of pesticides. Hence, Somalilanders consume far more pesticides than, perhaps, the targeted insects eat, leading to mental disorder, cancer and other illnesses. Over stimulating minds combined with using massive amounts of pesticides—in fact explains why more than half of Somalilanders remain mentally ill.

To illustrate the over consumption of pesticide, a Somalilander was once operated in Dubai for stomach-related illness, and after the operation his doctor asked the patient, “How on earth did you end up consuming so much pesticide?” The patient responded, “I have been chewing Khat for decades.”

Moreover, the Khat trade itself terrorizes Somaliland people and livestock alike. Every year, hundreds of people and livestock are either injured or killed by vehicles loaded with Khat recklessly speeding over 150 km/hour through pothole riddled and narrow roads of Somaliland cities as well as in the open grazing areas. In fact, every Somalilander knows no sooner Khat vehicles’ blasting horns are heard from distances than everyone scrambles to safety. Frantically, parents collect their kids from the streets. Even concrete walls won’t stop these speeding vehicles as they, time and time again, crash into buildings-killing or injuring the occupiers. And above all, many more buyers and traders are either killed or injured each year because of Khat-business violent disputes.

The lopsided economic relationship between Somaliland and Somalia on one side, and Ethiopia and Kenya on the other is too obvious. Simply put, as of 2014 Ethiopia spends 340 million dollars on its one-million armed forces annually. And Somaliland eagerly picks up the tab, as it spends 400-524 million dollars to purchase Khat from Ethiopia. (No wonder why the current Ethiopian Prime Minister, Hailemariam Desalegn, vows to protect Somaliland-Ethiopia’s cash cow. And the captive-audiences in Somaliland rejoice the PM’s remarks. Yet, we, the Somalilanders, shed more crocodile tears than thunderclouds could spill rains for the Jama-dubad village massacre).

Similarly, Somalia buys Khat that is worth hundreds of millions of dollars from Kenya and the Somali business community in Nairobi, Kenya contributes over one billion dollars to Kenya’s economy, yearly. Somaliland and Somalia, on the other hand, gain nothing from Khat.

To sum up, Somaliland and Somalia should seek a fair trade with Ethiopia and Kenya. And the aim is far from crippling the Ethiopian and Kenyan farmers who heavily depend on the export of Khat to Somaliland and Somalia, as it is finding a viable solution. That is, Somaliland and Somali officials should inform their counterparts in Ethiopia and Kenya that Khat is losing popularity among the Somalis—and the demise of the drug is inevitable as a death knell rings for Khat—so an economic alternative for the farmers should be devised within a year.

Dalmar Kaahin