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Saturday, August 8, 2015

Is the khat plant a cultural weed?


Khat (Somali qaat or jaad; Ethiopian chat) is a flowering plant native to tropical east Africa and the Arabian peninsula. It contains the alkaloid cathinone, an amphetamine-like stimulant which is said to cause both excitement and euphoria.
In 1980, WHO classified khat as a drug of abuse that can produce mild to moderate psychological dependence. It is a controlled/illegal substance in many countries but is legal for sale and production in many others.
In early 2009, a Nigerian was arrested at MIA while attempting to import khat into Malta.
During the weekend of October 3, 2009 a fight broke out at the ─Žal-Far open centre involving rival Somali tribe members. Subsequently, charges were brought against a number of individuals.
The Times of Malta (October 10, 2009) reported that the presiding magistrate was told that the fight had been sparked off by arguments between rival tribe members over “the recently legalised (narcotic) khat”.
Sometime in between the two incidents, the Maltese authorities had naively acquiesced to the legalisation of khat, in deference to the ‘cultural customs’ of Malta’s ever-growing illegal immigrant population.
Khat may have fuelled the violence featured in several incidents that made international news.
During the 1993 siege of Mogadishu, Somalis loyal to Mohammed Aideed, high on khat, battled the US military for many days. Four hundred Somalis, as well as 18 American servicemen, were killed.
Evidence suggests that it may be the narcotic of choice of suicide bombers and it (or its South African equivalent) must have induced in 5,000 Zulus a sense of invincibility at Rorke’s Drift and other battles in 1879 as they faced the superior British firepower.
Kenya is also a major producer, and the Kikuyu Mau Mau used khat to stimulate their resolve while taking their blood oath to fight the then British colonial regime. Likewise, khat may account for the audacity of Somali pirates.
When it comes to illegal immigration, Malta’s track record of enacting laws governing matters relating thereto, aside from being reactive, has been one of fits, starts, trial and error. This is pardonable considering that the government was ill-prepared for what was to come.
The Times of Malta (July 31) published details of the implementation of tighter controls on the use and distribution of khat. This action, brought about by the Justice Ministry, in collaboration with the Drugs Commissioner, is definitely a step in the right direction. Except that tolerance of this, or any other narcotic, for that matter, should be done away with.
Many in Malta would support a policy of zero tolerance. This would also make matters less complicated for law enforcement.
Ethnic, cultural and tribal differences have been more of a bane than a boon to the concept of regional harmony in Africa. There is no reason to believe things will be any different here, even with integration and assimilation.

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