By Mohamed Mukhtar
When one hears Mogadishu residents protesting against the authority’s decision to ban Khat imports, one would feel a sense of normality returning in Mogadishu. On November 16, a group of people took the streets of Mogadishu to express their objection to the banning of khat. Fresh khat leaves are glossy brown and contain a psychoactive ingredient chemically similar to amphetamine. Whatever concerns that the protestors may still have, it is a sign that Mogadishu residents are choosing a new way to get their frustration acknowledged.
Khat is said to be the scourge of Somalis like cocaine is to the Americans and Europeans. It is estimated that Somalis usually spend about $300,000 a day on Kenyan khat, which is delivered to Somalia daily. Unfortunately, khat depletes the hard currency available insides Somalia and regularly creates the domino effect of humanitarian and financial difficulties. The report Experience in the control of khat-chewing in Somalia states, “the economic problems associated with khat-chewing include the spread of corruption, the theft of public and private property to support the habit, damage to people and to property caused by accidents that occur under the euphoric state induced by the use of the drug, and the loss of many working hours among civil servants and private employees.”
Somalis spend $300,000 a day on Kenyan khat delivered to Somalia daily
In addition, khat makes people indolent. This is supported by a prominent Somali anti-khat activist, Eng Rukia Osman Mahmoud, who asserted that “Our men have become lazy over the years because of the widespread trade that forces them to just sit and enjoy the product.”
So it seems that there is a convincing case for banning khat and Mogadishu is lucky now to debate a khat issue rather than a flimsy ceasefire. Since June 2006, when the Mogadishu Islamists repulsed the bloodthirsty warlords and started to project their authority on Mogadishu and its surrounding areas, Mogadishu has started to witness what many people might call a ‘miracle’. The Courts have pursued popular policies that brought improved security, orderly streets and functioning ports. The disappearance of gun-totting boys chewing khat is a relief Mogadishu has been waiting for more than a decade. However, like any administration, they have engaged in not well-liked policies such as the attempt to restrict the media or sports.
It is undeniable that the Courts need to develop policies quickly to regulate the areas that they control. It is also irrefutable that these policies have to satisfy competing needs. The challenge is how to pace, sequence and enforce these policies effectively. When policies are introduced unsystematically, the consequences could be disastrous.
According to the BBC Somali section, the Islamic Courts had taken measures to ban khat effectively without publicising their new policy. As a result, according to Reuters, one person lost his life and another was wounded when Somali Islamist armed forces opened fire on Thursday at a Mogadishu crowd protesting against the burning of khat consignment. And this has created confusion among traders, consumers and security forces. On Friday, the Courts introduced a law making khat illegal in all Islamist-held areas. Sharif Sheikh Ahmed, the chairman of the Islamic Courts Union, said, “The Islamic courts have forbidden the import of khat into areas of Somalia under our control.”
Since Islamic Courts came to power, the future of several industries including the entertainment and khat has been questioned. Many Somalis are fervent supporters of banning khat, nevertheless, they are questioning if this is the right time to outlaw khat trading. Somalia is at a critical time and Mogadishu is very vulnerable to recoil its violent history if the citizens are not handled carefully.
Furthermore, it is important to ask if banning khat was a quick fix solution for Thursday’s event or whether it was a well thought-out solution. Would it be more helpful if there was a major campaign to raise awareness of khat before a ban was introduced? Which one is more beneficial to levy taxation on khat that could be earmarked for social and economical programs, or to illegalise and lose potential income? Is a ban enforceable?
Before a policy is enacted, it is important to look at its consequences as it will create losers and winners. Professor Amihai Glazer, University of California underlined the importance of developing a policy: “In designing a policy, consideration should be given not only to the factors which affect political support for adopting the policy, but also factors which affect political support after the policy is adopted.” The losers are forces that cannot be ignored. Khat is very popular among Somalis and a significant number of Somalis are in the khat trade. The khat trade between Somalia and Kenya creates jobs for more than 250,000 people in Kenya. And the Kenya government, as expected, will not welcome this ban.
Prohibiting khat will definitely test the Courts as there will be economical and political pressures against them. These pressures will come from Somalis, Kenyans and others who benefit or use khat. As mentioned above, khat has negative socio-economy effects and Somalis should have been made more aware of that in order to convince them to make social investments and forgo any economic incentive that they may have. Khat consumers should have been informed the health risks that khat imposes. There should be alternative jobs for those who work in the khat industry, so it will be easy for them to switch from a debauched industry to a finer business. A well-publicised future date should have been selected for the adaptation of the policy. Good public relations and well planned media programmes would have helped a lot. If carefully planned policies are adopted in this pace and sequence, they will eliminate unnecessary confusion.
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