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Follow UK, US and clearly define status of muguka

Wednesday, June 5th, 2024 00:30 | By
Stranded muguka traders at Marikani area where the trucks offloaded the nearly decomposing stock after being denied entry to the port city of Mombasa at Bonje Cess collection point. PHOTO/Reuben Mwambingu
Stranded muguka traders at Marikani area where the trucks offloaded the nearly decomposing stock after being denied entry to the port city of Mombasa at Bonje Cess collection point. PHOTO/Reuben Mwambingu

Muguka and sister miraa are quasi-legal commodities that have frequently walked in and out of legal status depending on location. In Meru, Embu, Marsabit and Mandera the khat family is considered a legal, non-harmful aphrodisiac vegetable. In Mombasa right now, it is considered a dangerous killer drug, with the common khat psychosis narrative going around it.

When it comes to ‘jaba’, as it is popularly known (though I am not a chewer), I am getting all confused, not knowing what to believe.

The uproar khat has caused in traditional news outlets and on social media is no small talk. Truth be told, we have seen horrifying documentaries on substance abuse in Mombasa, such as heroin, mandrax and marijuana addiction, that leave us with a chilling effect. So the people saying that the ban on muguka in Mombasa is economic sabotage have a sense of truth. Muguka is not nearly as dangerous as other drugs whose puffs are a first-class direct ticket to the zombie world.

Streets are dotted with muguka/miraa shops. A five-minute stroll in many towns in Kenya, and one cannot fail to see the jaba baze(s). The sale of groundnuts, a bottle of soda and khat are common. Behind this vibrant business is the fact that people have been made to believe that it is an affordable stimulant, easily accessible and with high aphrodisiac effects. Confessions from users confirm that people can use these substances and still be able to bear ten children and more.

However, listening to the anti-drug abuse agency NACADA, now backed by coastal counties, the khat family of drugs are linked to impotence, cause bonafide psychosis and are categorised under the ‘war on drugs’ rhetoric. The strong approval on one end and the strong disapproval on the other further complicates the categorisation of this substance by the counties involved.

If our current economic hard times are anything to go by, then the muguka family should be categorised like other cash crops, more like coffee and tea that earn billions of revenue for Kenya. If, however, they are categorised as hard drugs, then the necessary measures employed in the war against drugs should be enforced.

Bringing this matter into perspective, counties like Embu and Meru make a whopping Sh3.63 billion annually, a whole Sh302 million a month, from the sale of this substance. This product is a whole value chain, creating jobs and sustaining millions of families in the areas the commodity is grown.

On the flip side, the coastal region is crying because of the effects the product has on the families of users. So, what can an observer learn from all the talk about the miraa family? Just in case one is thinking about starting a business, does the sale of khat hold potential?

Communities in Kenya are confused because our understanding of the health effects of the frequent use of muguka are still unsettled. So this is the opportune time to clear the air on what exactly are the effects of the khat family. If it is a drug, then government officials should come out clearly on its effects and ban it altogether, as the United States did. If the commodity is a mild stimulant and safe for use, then as a country we should endorse it, as the United Kingdom did.

Differences between counties, especially on trade and economic exchanges, are not to be taken lightly. Proper communication on this dime-a-dozen yet lucrative plant should happen succinctly, lest the situation is taken to other unnecessary levels. As proper communication happens, what lingers in the minds of people like me is this: Is the rhetoric on muguka a game of cards on economies or a game changer with regard to people’s lives?

- The writer is a social communicator

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