Kenya’s attempt to dissuade the United Kingdom from banning miraa — a stimulant leaf — to save the livelihood of tens of thousands of farmers have suffered a major setback after Britain refused to budge on the matter.
Britain’s Home Secretary Theresa May said her decision to ban miraa was “finely balanced” and “the right one.”
“I have decided to make no change to my decision, and not to delay the introduction of the ban,” she said last month in her response to the Home Affairs Select Committee’s 2013 report, which urged the UK government to introduce a licensing system instead of a total ban.
Ms May said licensing the importation of (miraa) khat would not “address the public concerns about its prevalence in local communities.” Nor will it provide “the necessary and strongest response to tackle the risk of the UK being the single, regional trafficking hub for khat.”
Kenyan lawmakers, including members of the National Assembly’s ad hoc Select Committee on Miraa, met the Home Affairs Select Committee last year and urged them to investigate the implications of the ban on khat and delay a decision on the matter until further study had been undertaken.
But Ms May argued that “two active ingredients of the khat plant are controlled Class C drugs and are harmful,” and that allowing its sale in the UK will be “entirely inconsistent with” government’s wider approach to reduce all drug use in the country. Class C drugs include anabolic steroids, benzodiazepines, GHB and GBL and ketamine.
Kenya’s National Authority for the Campaign Against Alcohol and Drug Abuse (Nacada) estimates that Kenyan traders earn $60 million a year from the stimulant. Many European countries have banned miraa in recent years, such as Norway, Denmark and Netherlands.
An estimated 500,000 Kenyans depend on khat cultivation for their livelihood, although the Kenyan delegation told the UK parliamentary committee that many of these people make their living from domestic supply and consumption, which presumably would be unaffected by controls in the UK.
The committee also said that there is “no good evidence of medical or social harm” caused by khat’s consumption, a finding supported by a report by the Advisory Council on the misuse of drugs that also concluded that “khat has no direct causal link to adverse medical effects, other than a small number of reports of an association between khat use and significant liver toxicity.”
The UK is one of the top four importers of khat, along with Somalia, New Zealand and Japan.
In her July 3 statement last year, Ms May said the UK would ban khat to “protect vulnerable members of the communities and send a clear message to international partners and khat smugglers.”
Official figures in the UK show that the volume of khat imported into the country in the past eight years was between 2,500 and 2,800 tonnes, despite the population of Ethiopians, Somalis, Yemenis, Kenyans and Eritreans in UK — the main consumers — increasing by 18.4 per cent — a figure strongly indicating a decrease in khat prevalence.
In a sign of the dwindling number of users, khat imports between 2005 and 2011 have also dropped by 8.5 per cent.
There have also been calls to ban miraa in Kenya, with politicians from the northeastern part of the country voicing their concerns. Mandera Senator Billow Kerrow urged the government to “critically” look at “effects of this substance and either ban it or introduce stringent controls on its use.”