Khat consumers’ dilemma: Mafrash, Mosque or the British Pub?

Officially, Khat is illegal in the UK. The debate over the pros and the cons of the ban is still raging not only in this country, but across the world, particularly in countries where Khat is produced and consumed.


For the pro-camps, the UK government has done the right thing, which should have been done long time ago.  For them, their argument and the voice of the families, addicts and others who have suffered under the influence of the stimulant plant has been heard by the government. To them, the day has come when families will be healed from the trauma and the distress caused by the consumption of the drug. To their satisfaction, days when children missed school or truanted due to their addict parents’ neglect  are numbered and the ban will put some common sense back into the minds of these drug crazed parents.


They believe that the phenomenon of neglected children taken by social services because of the failure of their addict parents will be a thing of the past. This is a new phenomenon to the UK’s Somali community where some children are being taken by the state only to be given to lesbian or gay parents, perceived by the community as an outrageous act of betrayal by the state as it’s against their culture.


To them, young minds ruined by the use of Khat will be healed and used to their benefit and others. Unemployment – caused by laziness and lethargy induced by the use of drug – will be reduced, as sober minds will seek employment in this competitive British labour market. Physical and mental health issues among Khat consuming communities will be improved as the drug, which they associate with physical and mental health problems, will be taken off the streets. Indeed, suppliers, users and addicts will think twice before attempting to break the law; the ban will help push the drug out of people’s reach.


To the pro-camp, Somalia’s contemporary history supports the British government’s action. In 1980s, the military regime banned Khat to curb some socio-economic problems (e.g. marriage breakdowns, unemployment and physical and mental health) it associated with the drug.  At the time, supporters of the ban believed the government did the right thing because some sort of law was needed to combat problems associated with Khat.


Believe or not, there were huge markets in major cities, such as the Sinai  market, which was dedicated to the supply and the consumption of the green plant.  Fridays, Mogadishu’s Khat consuming community e.g. ordinary people, middle class people and civil servants congregated at markets to see the weekend through.


And lastly, the pro-ban group believe the ban will help the Somali community integrate with the wider British community because healed minds will be forced to adventure out into the wider community, seeking employment and other business interests.  Isolation and loneliness will be a thing of the past.


To the opponents of the ban, the government has banned a popular recreational drug used by people in East Africa and Asia as past-time habit and in social events.  To them, to chew this green plant is un-harmful habit and one of the best ways to spend good quality time with friends and relatives, just as going to an English pub with good friends at weekends is a good way of socialising with your own community.


When it comes to the negative side effects of the use of Khat, they argue that it is more or less the same as the consumption of any other drugs e.g. alcohol. Use it too much and you are down the gutter, use it sensibly and you have the best of both worlds: recreational mild drug for socialising, and a booming business associated with Khat, creating much needed jobs in the community.


From the experiences of banning other drugs, it is very likely the Khat business will just go under-ground, becoming more expensive and dangerous to suppliers, consumers, and the wider community. This means long-term jail terms for suppliers, unregulated expensive Khat market emptying users’ pockets, and a wider economic fall out as income generated from Khat will be lost in an already marginalised community.


To them, the British government, having ignored recommendations by its own scientific advisory committee, has taken a politically motivated action intended to target one particular community heavily involved in the Khat business. The ban is not intended to helping or caring for this invisible community that is already at the bottom of the British, but to further marginalise it and worse to criminalise some sections of the community.


They compare the UK government’s ban with the Somali government’s ban of the drug in Somalia in 1980s when the government was accused of oppressing a particular community (clan) that was heavily involved with the Khat business. At the time of the ban, this particular clan was perceived as supporting rebels in the north-west region of Somalia, and the act was seen as a punishment. The UK government’s motivation to ban the drug seems similar to the Somali government’s one because it is targeting a community that is already stigmatised as a supporter of terrorism. Money generated by the Khat business was perceived funding terrorist groups in Somalia and therefore the action is not done in a good faith, but as means to achieve political ends: to force the community to act like the wider British society, i.e. do not chew Khat, but drink beer instead.


And finally, opponents of the ban argue that the ban will encourage some vulnerable sections of the community to join radical groups through brainwashing in mosques. Having been denied of their long-term past-time cultural habit, it is only human nature to seek alternative ways to fill their psychological void and emptiness resulting from the ban. The best option and the one they know to overcome the new anxiety is to go to the mosque to recommit themselves to the worship of their Allah. For most Somalis, praying five times a day and their lives will be filled with meaning and joy. Hence the outcome of the ban is more radicalisation of an already isolated and vulnerable community.


To a committed Muslim community like Somalis, one of the worse things that an individual could do is to seek refuge in alcoholism, hence as one of their cultural entertainment has been banned, some individuals may join queues of the English Pub to fill in the void in their lives thus more alcoholics in the community causing more social problems.


The question is would then the UK government ban alcohol to save Somalis from the well known dangers of alcoholism?!!  I do not think so for obvious reasons.


Only time will tell which argument of both camps will prevail in the future.


Muuse Yuusuf