Excerpt : MIRAA

Friday, May 1, 2020

The plan by the UK government to ban miraa has angered farmers in Meru and their political leaders who are urging the government to forestall the action by the UK government. They have critisized the UK action, saying it will destroy their economic livelihood. They also argued that miraa is not a drug and that the British action is politically motivated. Locally, Nacada's attempt to introduce  controls in the use of miraa (khat) has also met with stiff resistance from the same quarters. The Meru leaders rubbish any attempt to relate miraa to substance abuse and liken the leaves to a stimulant such as coffee. UK proposes the ban because of health and social effects of miraa on its citizens who consume it.

North Eastern Province (NEP) and my Somali community in particular are major users of  khat in Kenya. In Europe too, Somalis are the main users. It is estimated that nearly 50 vehicles ferrying miraa leave the Meru region every morning, with more than a half of them heading into Nortn Eastern. Each vehicle carries nearly two tons, valued at about shs 5 million. In North Eastern alone, we spend nearly shs 100 million daily on the stuff. In Nairobi and other parts of the country, the figure is even higher. Exports to UK alone earned approximately $60 million annually for traders from Kenya. According to a survey by NACADA, NEP consumes over 36% of the production but their actual consumption is much higher because most of the trade in miraa is informal and not recorded. Meru consumes less than 10%.

Miraa, scientifically referred to as catha edulis, contains cathine and cathinone elements, both of which are Class C drugs in the UK and cause psychosis effects similar to those of amphitamines. According to a research on the adverse effects of the product by UK psychiatrists Glenice Cox and Hagen Rampes, the effects of long term intoxication with khat includes impairment of mental health, leading to mental disorders and mental deterioration. Apart from its psychotic effects, miraa is also held to be carcinogenic. A university of Sana'a, Yemen, study also revealed that it causes functional mood disorders. WHO lists it as a 'dependence' causing product. Our own NACADA states that it affects the liver and induces ulcer among other things.

Most consumers chew miraa for nearly 10 hours and get into a state of permanent intoxication. according to Cox and Rampes, it causes emotional instability, tension and irritability after a 2-hour session, and later leads to low, depressive mood, sluggishness and agitation. After the chewing session, it ends in insomnia, numbness, lack of concentration and hallucinations. But for the long term users, it creates schizopphrenia and depression, delusions, fear, thought aleination and aggressive behaviour. A UK home office survey also revealed that 60% of khat users also smoked ciggarretes and 6% also used illicit drugs. A similar survey in Kenya in 1987 on 100 general hospital outpatients showed that 29 chewed miraa, and of these 20 also drank alcohol. In most parts of North Eastern, chewers usually combine it with other abuse drugs such as mandrax to raise their intoxication.

Nearly a third of NEP residents use miraa. It has destroyed economic livelihoods because of decreased productivity and ill health associated with this stuff. It is associated with increased prostitution and HIV among women, high dropouts in schools and nearly one in three divorces in the region. Family lives have been destroyed because of neglect, dissipation of income and inappropriate behaviour. Nearly a half of all the wages is spent on miraa. Miraa is not simple tea or coffee. It is a dangerous drug!

It's time the government critically looks at the destating effects of this substance and either bans it or introduces stringent controls on its use. Clearly, its socio-economic destru tion of lives among the consuming communities far outweighs the  concerns of the farmers in Meru who can diversify to horticulture farming.  It is time to act.

Leave a comment