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Khat Trade: Kenya’s political antics on Somalia continues

Friday November 25, 2022

By Abukar Awale Qaaddiid
A Somali trader takes khat, a mild narcotic drug meant for exports to Somalia. AFP SIMON MAINA/AFP/Getty Images

Throughout my campaign for a khat ban across Somalia, I have learnt that this has always been a complex struggle involving societal change, bilateral trade policy, political leadership and economic poverty. Not surprisingly, I have also learnt that our politics needs to be more mature to keep up with Kenya's political antics on Somalia. For several years, I have repeated that we cannot trust Kenya's government on trade and political agreements between Somalia and Kenya. 

Our politicians give Kenya the benefit of the doubt, but they always fail to keep their end of the bargain. For over two years, there has been a complete ban on khat trade between Somalia and Kenya, crippling Kenya's khat-dependent Meru County and causing political and economic upheaval in Kenya. This was one of the first times our economic trade bargaining powers were felt across Kenya's politics and economy. However, our political leaders have again fallen for Kenya's spell of political lip service.

In July 2022, Somalia's government, led by President Hassan Sheikh Mohamud, reached a new political and economic agreement to resume bilateral ties based on agreed commitments to restore khat trade, end political interference, and facilitate access for Somali citizens into Kenya. It might be a deja-vu again, but the ink has not even dried on the said agreement when Kenya broke it in letter and spirit. 

Kenya has stopped issuing all visas for Somali citizens entering Kenyan territory in the last month, creating a black market for visas operated by rogue visa traders in Somalia and Kenya. As a result, our citizens are forced to pay large sums of money, opening the door to exploitation and financial abuse.

Furthermore, this week at the United Nations Security Council meeting in New York, Kenya voted against Somalia's wishes to have the military arms embargo lifted along with other nations at a time when we are engaged in a war of survival with Alshabaab terrorists.

Under the above context, this demonstrates Kenya's long-standing failure to adhere to its political and economic agreements with Somalia. The resumption of Khat trade into Somalia has netted Kenya $30 million in the last three months. It is worth asking – what do we get in return? Damage to our society, financial flight from our economy and ingratitude from Kenya.

The lesson is clear here: Somalia must never trust khat trade policy with any Kenya's government, and our political class must learn quickly and improve political maturity. At the current juncture, we have lost a powerful political and economic bargaining chip for nothing at large. The only winners from this debacle are some unscrupulous drug dealers in our parliament and economy - at the expense of our society, economy and national interest by bilateral agreements. Another fundamental question is facing our government and our political leaders – who do they actually serve? On the face of it, our citizens are suffering at large at Kenya's airports, losing their hard-earned money, health and dignity.

After decades of instability and war, Somalia and its people want to put its long history of misery behind them. It is high time our government forge a new approach to governance by investing in human capital. The building blocks of good governance and a progressive future is an inevitability about fostering a vibrant, vigilant and outward-looking society for all. In this endeavour, Khat use/abuse has no place in this forward-looking and dynamic future.

It is becoming a returning chorus from me again - again - but a belligerent Kenyan government should not be trusted or rewarded at the expense of our children, mothers, businesses and society.
Abukar Awale Qaaddiid



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