Here’s some news that should surprise nobody. UK Khat Ban Fails To Stop Contraband Imports. International efforts to suppress the trade in a psychoactive plant are failing to do so, but are jacking up the social costs of its use—which might be quite negligible if the stuff weren’t illegal. In this case, we’re talking about khat, the mildly stimulating leaf that is chewed socially in the Horn of Africa and its immigrant diaspora. It was sold openly at groceries and eateries in London’s African communities until Britain finally banned the stuff in of 2014, following the example of the United States (of course). At that time, it became a Class C substance under the UK Misuse of Drugs Act. By way of comparison, cannabis is in the more restrictive Class B—although between 2004 and 2008 pot was placed in Class C, and there is an initiative to have it removed from the classification system altogether.
Just like hashish continues to enter the UK after making its way from Morocco, khat is continuing to come in from the Horn—only now the importers are going to jail (when they get caught). The latest is a Coventry man who was busted last year when he brought what authorities claimed was £20,000 worth of the leaf into London on a flight from Zurich, having originally traveled from Nairobi, Kenya. Latvian immigrant Nauris Ennitis went before a judge this week, pleaded guilty, and was sentenced to 10 months in the slammer, according to the Coventry Telegraph.
The account says he (naively) declared the stuff to customs agents at the airport, and said he was being paid £1,000 to bring it in. The cloth-wrapped bundles of khat weighed a total of 35 kilos. Based on a bulk price of £180 a kilo, the consignment would have had a wholesale value of £6,300. But, inevitably, authorities decided it would have been divided into retail amounts of 100 grams, jacking up the estimated value. Sadly, Ennitis told the judge: “I knew it was illegal. The only reason I was doing it was because I had lost my previous property, and I needed to get a new property. I feel remorse about it. It was a bad thing to do.” Judge Andrew Lockhart QC in his comments called khat “an hallucinogenic drug”—despite the fact that it doesn’t cause hallucinations, and was as legal as tea in the United Kingdom until just four years ago.
And just in recent weeks, similar busts have been reported from other countries where khat has been outlawed, Officials seized more than 34 kilograms from a passenger on a flight from Nairobi at Istanbul’s Ataturk Airport on January 2, according to Turkey’s Hurriyet Daily News. In South Africa’s Limpopo province, police carried out coordinated raids, arresting nine and seizing “large quantities” of khat, the local Bosveld Review reported January 17. Customs agents in the Indonesian city of Batam arrested a woman for smuggling 55 kilograms of khat from Ethiopia, said the Jakarta Post January 11.
And the growing pressure on khat’s external markets is also exacerbating social tensions in the African production zones. At the time of the leaf’s banning by Britain in 2014, the move led to protests in Kenya, where most UK-bound khat was grown. The growing international stigma attached to the leaf is also providing authorities the usual excuse to criminalize protest movements. Last year, deadly unrest was reported from the khat production zones in Ethiopia. In October, security forces opened fire on protesters who had blocked roads near the town of Ambo in Ethiopia’s restive Oromia region, killing 10 and wounding 20 others. Although the protesters were demanding greater regional autonomy, the Addis Standard said Prime Minister Hailemariam Desalegn blamed a “black market in foreign currency,” “rampant contraband” and “the rush to monopolize khat trading” for the troubles in Oromia.
Final Hit: UK Khat Ban Fails To Stop Contraband Imports
Khat—also known in the Horn as jima, mira, qat, chat or cat—is a booming crop. Prohibition drives up the international price, while prices for traditional crops like coffee are depressed due to “free trade” economic policies. A rare New York Times story last July unhelpfully sensationalized about the “alarming” rise in khat use and cultivation in Ethiopia (without making much case that it is anything to be alarmed about). Ethiopia’s government is said to be afraid that widespread khat use among youth “could derail its plans to transform Ethiopia into a middle-income country in less than a decade”—yet no evidence is provided that khat-chewers are any less productive.
The article notes that up to 1.2 million acres of land are thought to be devoted to khat in Ethiopia—nearly three times more than two decades ago. High returns for the crop are cited: “That payoff, and the dwindling availability of land, has pushed thousands of farmers to switch to khat,” we are told. Fortunately, the article does note how economic pressures on Ethiopia’s small farmers have been worsened by rampant land-grabbing: “The changes have come as the government has pushed farmers off land that it has given to foreign investors in recent years.”
And, we submit, the land-grabbing and “free trade” policies are the problems that really need to be addressed. Scapegoating the only plant the peasants can survive on may help lubricate repression but will only increase the social pressures in the long run. “Khat madness” instead of reefer madness. Same shit, different plant.