By Abukar Awale
Friday March 8, 2019
Both being situated in the strategically advantageous location of the Horn of Africa, it goes without saying that Somalia and Kenya are forever linked by the bonds of modern history, trade, commerce and geopolitical challenges that have long been factors that bring about unity between our respective nations. Our common interests and firm partnerships are therefore beyond breakable and this is something that should be a cause for celebration in my humble view. With this in mind, rather than adopting the archaic, short-sighted view of regional powers vying for supremacy in a tough geographical neighbourhood so to speak, we should recognise the as yet unquantifiable and largely untapped potential on offer in combatting our common challenges and obstacles to development and prosperity.
Within this context, there two key areas which are in my view impediments to our joint progress that continue to curtail our dreams and rightful place in the world in the community of civilised nations. Somalia with help of the International Community, including the Kenya Defense Forces is winning the war of attrition against Al-Shabaab, a clearly ever-present threat to the region as a whole. As the recent terrorist attacks in Kenya and Somalia by Alshabaab have shown, the threat from the terrorism still persists and is a war that Somalia and the International Community are determined to win decisively, however long this arduous task may take.
While Somalia (with the aid of Kenya, I should add) battles with enormous security, social and economic challenges on several fronts, Kenya somewhat perplexingly seeks to undo some of this support by persisting with the transportation and import of Khat drugs into Somalia to the not insignificant cost of our society and economy. Khat continues to be a curse of Somalia, as it robs us of the hopes, health, and aspirations of our society, seemingly unable to remove the invisible shackles of psychological and physical incapacitation as a direct cause of khat abuse. This shows no sign of abating to boot. The importation of khat into Somalia even has executive office support from President Uhuru Kenyatta who personally visited Somalia on -date--- to negotiate lifting the ban of miraa exports from Kenya into Somalia. It was a sad day on many fronts, not least because such a request should never have on the political agenda between distinguished Heads of State. Such a personal intervention could hardly be described as being in keeping with or befitting of a visionary leader on an official state visit. This is certainly not the vision that the late Jomo Kenyatta bequeathed for Kenya.
However, at the risk of ridicule and sounding naïve, surely it would be better if the President of Kenya focussed on making personal interventions to the Meru Farmers to focus their efforts on growing food instead of khat, thereby reforming the agricultural sector of Kenya towards a more sustainable, ambitious and fruitful economy that would be profitable and more ethical for all. Why is this seemingly simple solution not at least mooted for further discussion?
I note with interest that Kenya recently assumed leadership in harnessing global action and partnership in the recent dynamic, forward-looking conference on 26th November 2018 which focused on the blue economy provides an opportunity for reform for a balanced economy in the agricultural sector. Such reforms could be aligned with Somalia’s vast (potential) blue economy and there could be economic trade-off between the two economies, away from the harmful effects drug imports into Somalia. This is where a comprehensive trade deal could take place that encourages diversification of the Kenyan economy that ultimately provides financially support to the needs of Meru County residents who heavily depend on Miraa import into Somalia.
Many of you may rightfully ask why a Somali should interfere in the local affairs of Kenya and Meru County in particular. Recent research from Embu University, which may be of interest, concluded that Khat use is affecting and contributing to school dropout rates among the youth in Meru County. Authoritiesin Kenya and Somalia are both witnessing a slow, needless collective numbing of minds that continues to rob our children of their potential in exchange for the short term final gain of khat traders. This phenomenon, that has afflicted our youth with such devastating effect, should usher in an era for a new social chapter and vision that harnesses our joint aspirations and economic livelihoods for the foreseeable and long term future. Meru County’s agricultural potential once harnessed and diversified will be a bread basket for the whole of East Africa combined.
At current trends, this potential is being lost to khat/drug trade, which the Meru County has become so financially dependent on. It is tragic to have one of the most fertile lands in Kenya consumed by drugs when such land can be utilized to transform the agricultural sector of Kenya to the benefit of East Africa collectively. It is also a tragic irony to see famine in some parts of Kenya when Meru County can play transformative role to becoming the economic and agricultural lifeblood for the whole of Kenya. This is a classic case of lack of prioritization of resources leading to missed opportunities on a gargantuan scale. To combat this, with so many existing vested interests intent on maintain the status quo as it is, requires courageous leadership and firm conviction that commits to ambitious set of reforms that will determine our joint future for generations to come.
In the present day, such initiatives are required more than ever in Kenya and Somalia. There is no doubt that Kenya is key strategic partner and ally to Somalia on matters of regional security, but much of this support is undone by the instability wrought on our society and economy as a direct result of the khat trade. How we can robustly mitigate and eliminate these threats to our people is one of the challenge of our times. Will our leaders be blessed and endowed with the necessary political conviction to see through ground-breaking reforms that will undoubtedly give rise to an ambitious, vibrant economy that serves the interest of both countries? This is the legacy our countries require at a grass-roots level.
However, to realize such vision they must be much political introspection on both sides of the border. Both leaders should held to task and fully accountable for the lack of courage in taking the necessary steps to curb khat abuse in both Somalia and Kenya. We must not allow the current situation to continue unchecked, where impoverished families that live hand to mouth are financially dependent on khat as a means for survival and khat users are seemingly incapable of removing the shackles of khat addiction from their minds and bodies. I fail to see how a united, common approach to our joint economic prosperity and regional security can be adversely affected by curbing with this painful scourge on our respective peoples for generations to come.
Kenya side first – because ultimately, Kenya on the one hand is helping to defeat terrorism in Somalia while also drugging the Somali military (indirectly) into asleep with khat drugs. This is a contradictory of huge proportions practically and intellectually. Kenya is indirectly aiding and abetting Alshabaab by hindering the Somali military force and by extension indirectly contributing to the killings of its own brave KDF soldiers without even realizing. This is now being felt on the streets of Nairobi and Mogadishu at high cost to our safety and lives. The issue has become a national security threat on both countries and it is high time we all realize the impact of our actions on our safety, place in the world and beyond.
The lead Anti-khat campaigner