Pubdate: Sat, 07 Sep 2013
Source: Kuwait Times (Kuwait)
Copyright: 2013 Kuwait Times Newspaper


LONDON: (AFP) When Britain bans the herbal stimulant khat, Mohamod 
Ahmed Mohamed will lose his livelihood. But he fears most for his 
small Somali community without the leaf that fuels its social life. 
"I can switch to another business but what about the youth, where are 
they going to go-the street, the mosque, to hard drugs?" he says at 
his khat warehouse near London's Heathrow airport. "You are taking 
away their freedom. Why target us? You will never find somebody 
falling over on the street or fighting from khat like they do when 
they are drunk."

Mohamed supplies khat to many of Britain's 100,000 Somalis, as well 
as to Ethiopians and Yemenis living here, for whom chewing the bushy 
shrub is as normal as going to the pub. His growing company takes 
more than UKP500,000 ($780,000, 580,000 euros) in monthly revenues 
from the stimulant, which provides a euphoric, alert sensation. But 
the forklift trucks moving hundreds of boxes of khat could soon be 
stilled after the British government announced it would ban khat, 
against the advice of its own experts.


News of the ban, which has yet to pass through parliament, came as a 
shock to the communities who chew khat in Britain. Khat, also called 
miraa, has been chewed for centuries in the Horn of Africa. Its 
psychoactive ingredients, cathinone and cathine, are similar to 
amphetamines but weaker, and can help chewers stay awake and 
talkative. "I chew on a Friday it's like going to the pub," said 
Mohamed. One of his workers chimed in: "It's not a drug. It's like 
eating a salad." Since khat must be chewed fresh, Mohamed's is a 
slick operation. Khat is flown to Heathrow from Kenya the day after 
it is picked; middlemen collect it from Mohamed to sell around the 
country and it can be in the mouths of chewers by evening.

For them, khat costs from UKP2.50 ($3.90, 2.90 euros) a bundle, each 
one wrapped in a banana leaf. Men chew khat in communal rooms called 
mafrishes, while some women chew at home. At a mafrish near Mohamed's 
warehouse, men chew and drink soft drinks, watch football and discuss 
events in Somalia and their jobs in London. "I don't go to 
nightclubs, I don't want to stay home. This is my place," said one 
23year-old chewer, who asked not to be named.

"People come here to talk about their problems. If they don't have a 
place for this, they will fall into the wrong hands," said the 
mafrish manager, who would only be identified as Fouad. He worries 
about young people turning to radical Islam, which he said was 
preached by some mosques in the area. In a few cases, British Muslims 
have travelled to Somalia to fight with the Al-Qaeda-linked militant 
group Al-Shebab. "Here is one place where we can talk to people who 
are turning radical. We can talk them around," said Fouad.

He dismissed reports that khat helps fund AlShebab, and the 
government's drug advisory group has also said such claims lack 
evidence. The group advised against banning khat, noting that in 
health terms, there was little evidence of risks other than a small 
number of reports associating it with liver disease. "If you're not 
banning it because of science, then why are you banning it?" said Ali 
Osman, 36. He urged interior minister Theresa May to try khat 
herself, "then she can ban it if she still wants to".

'Family breakdown'

Announcing the proposed ban on khat in July, the minister said 
Britain risked becoming a hub for smuggling to countries where khat 
is banned, such as in most of northern Europe. She cited its role in 
"health and social harms, such as low attainment and family 
breakdown". Social worker Abdi Mohamed says he sometimes works with 
khat abuse cases, including neglected children and men distanced from 
their families by too much time at the mafrish. But he also 
encounters families affected by alcohol and cannabis.

"We try to find out what the underlying problem is. The problem is 
not with the miraa, it's with the person," he said. Khat is not 
physically addictive, but some chewers become psychologically hooked. 
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MAP posted-by: Jay Bergstrom