Pubdate: Thu, 28 Aug 2014
Source: Independent  (UK)
Copyright: 2014 Independent Newspapers (UK) Ltd.
Author: Abdi Sheik
Page: 29


IN MOGADISHU - "The president has arrived, the president has 
arrived," chant youths in Mogadishu's Beerta Khaatka market, as armed 
men in trucks mounted with machine guns escort lorries with horns 
blaring through the throng.

The joking salutation is not for Somalia's president, but hails white 
sacks brimming with leafy sprouts of khat, the narcotic shrub chewed 
across the Horn of Africa and Yemen in a tradition dating back 
centuries, which has recently been banned in the UK.

The sight of young men with rifles slung over their shoulders and 
green stalks of khat dangling from their mouths is emblematic of the 
Somalia of recent decades, where Islamist rebels and warlords have 
fomented a culture of guns and violence.

Grown on plantations in the highlands of Kenya and Ethiopia, tons of 
khat, dubbed "the flower of paradise" by its users, are flown daily 
into Mogadishu, to be distributed to markets across Somalia.

Britain, whose large Somali community sustained a lucrative demand 
for the leaves, banned khat from July. This prohibition jolted the 
khat market, creating a supply glut in Somalia and pushing down 
prices, to the delight of the many connoisseurs of its amphetamine-like high.

"Those who exported to London have now made Mogadishu their khat 
hub," said Dahir Kassim, who works for a trader in the capital.

The price of the cheap Laari khat popular in the impoverished country 
has halved to about UKP6 per kg since Britain outlawed the stimulant.

Before the UK ban, Mohamed Khalif, a 27-yearold mason's assistant, 
could only afford to chew once a week. "Now I chew daily and my 
problems are over," said Mr Khalif, blissfully.

But khat exporters in Kenya, where the cash crop bolsters the local 
economy, say the UK ban has slashed their profits.

"Britain has made our khat business useless," said Nur Elmi, a khat 
trader in Nairobi. "They cannot afford to buy it all (in Somalia), so 
we sell it at throwaway prices," he said.
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MAP posted-by: Jay Bergstrom