Abukar Awale ( Qaaddiid )-The 24th of June 2014 will be a date forever etched in my memory. It wasn’t a day commemorating any personal milestone or particular anniversary but was the culmination of many years of hard campaigning and lobbying to ensure the near EU-wide Khan ban came into effect in the United Kingdom, the last (soon to be former) EU member state to formally ban khat under existing UK legislation. The fact that it took so long for Britain to fall in line with its European partners to me indicated that reason seemed to have taken leave of its senses with regard to Khat. For the life of me I couldn’t understand why Britain had fallen behind places like Holland in banning khat, arguably the country with the most permissive drug laws in Europe.
Over the years we campaigned, many people said it could not be done and that a khat ban would be nothing more than a pipe dream. Being a stubborn so-and-so, you could imagine the immense sense of satisfaction when the ban came into effect. This wasn’t so much through a desire to prove people wrong; merely that being a former khat addict myself I immediately understood the significance of this for people whose lives had been blighted one way or another by this terrible drug.
I only wish the ban was in place when I was a poor victim of Khat’s vice-like grip as this would have saved me a lot of personal trouble to say the least, but no matter. Better late than never as far as I was concerned. Following several threats on my life, being personally attacked in broad daylight and endless smears on my name and character, we achieved what many though was impossible. Looking back, if you were to ask me if would go through it all again, I would do so in a heartbeat.
Besides all that, I was simply overjoyed that the British Prime Minister and Home Secretary took the bold step in banning khat, thereby protecting a vulnerable immigrant community here in Britain from the terrible effects of khat use and abuse. This is the very least you would expect from leaders with a sense of duty of care towards its citizens, especially in parts of the world where khat is more commonly consumed. Or so I thought….
Conversely, The 13th of September 2016 will also be a date indelibly imprinted in my memory but for all the wrong reasons. A few days previously, it transpired that the Somali President, Hassan Sheikh Mohamud decided to put a temporary ban on khat being imported from Kenya to Somalia, allegedly as a retaliatory move based on his suspicion that Somalia’s regional neighbours would be supporting a rival candidate against him in forthcoming presidential elections.
For the few days that khat was banned, the financial impact on the khat / drug farming community in Meru was unprecedented, with reports of the local economy coming to a standstill as of course Somalia is one of the few remaining lucrative export markets for khat. Alarmed at the development, this precipitated an official visit to Mogadishu by President Kenyatta to attempt to convince President Mohamud to reverse the ban, in which of course Kenyatta proved successful, albeit under the auspices of an IGAD-led regional conference. Put simply, Kenyatta went out of his way to ensure that the commercial interests of the Meru constituents (a small town in Kenya) were met whereas his Somali counterpart put the well being of his all Somalis a distant second to his own personal and political ambitions.
Was this a dereliction of duty on his part or would he in fact be better off running for office in Kenya, more specifically in Meru? Somali civil, religious and wider society are all in agreement that the use of khat is something prohibited in Islam as an intoxicant but Mohamud seems to be saying the opposite, seeing it fit to use khat as a political football or a trump card as and when it suits his personal ends. (It should also be noted that Mohamud’s tenure as president officially expired on 10th September 2016 so one could argue that any presidential decree issued on or after that date should be declared null and void) But the bald facts show that Kenyatta is more concerned for the well being of Kenyans than Mohamud is for Somalis.
The irony of Kenyatta overseeing khat being regulated in predominantly kikuyu-inhabited areas of Kenya while seeking unfettered distribution in neighbouring Somalia further illustrates this point. In fact, one could also argue that the 2014 UK Khat ban demonstrates that David Cameron and Theresa May as former UK PM and Home Secretary respectively have proven to be more concerned for plight of Somalis than His Excellency President Hassan Sheikh Mohamud of Somalia. Let that sink in for a moment.
In light of these recent events, and the well documented devastation that this drug has wrought on Somalia and beyond, the time has come for every individual with aspirations of running for political office to state what their policy towards khat will be, whether that be Somalia, Somaliland, Puntland, Djibouti, NFD or Western Ethiopia.
There has clearly been a groundswell of opinion from large sections of Somali society demanding that enough is enough and that khat should be banned altogether. Unfortunately, the Somalis have been suffering from a longstanding failure of leadership from the’ leaders’ of all of the aforementioned regions who are more concerned with placating their paymasters in Kenya and Ethiopia than attending to the needs of the people whose wellbeing they themselves have sworn on Almighty God’s name to protect.
I hereby urge all serving and prospective Somali leaders to clarify that they will ban khat in the areas under their jurisdiction and I call on them to sign a cast iron pledge to this effect, in line with the wishes of the overwhelming majority of people residing in all Somali territories. Failure to do will be a confirmation of their contentment with the status quo, where Kenyan khat farmers / drug dealers have enriched themselves at the expense of Somali khat addicts who will continue to be treated with contempt as cannon fodder and unsuspecting pawns, grazing obliviously like cattle at untold expense. It is sincerely hoped that at least one individual will emerge with the necessary backbone, conviction and foresight and that leader, irrespective of which Somali territory he or she may emanate from, will provide the leadership that like-minded Somalis will seek to translate the near unanimously held desire of eradicating the scourge of this drug from our society altogether.
Abukar Awale ( Qaaddiid
The lead Anti-khat campainer