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Kenya needs sober dialogue on muguka

Tuesday, June 4th, 2024 06:00 | By
Stranded Muguka traders at Marikani area where the trucks offloaded the nearly decomposing product after being denied entry to the Port city of Mombasa at Bonje Cess collection point.
Stranded Muguka traders at Marikani area where the trucks offloaded the nearly decomposing product after being denied entry to the Port city of Mombasa at Bonje Cess collection point. PHOTO/Reuben Mwambingu

A debate is raging over the sale and consumption of muguka, a stimulant that is considered a cash crop in some parts of Kenya and a harmful drug in others.

The issue calls for a sober national dialogue. Though President William Ruto has affirmed that  muguka is a crop recognised by parliamentary legislation and any order barring its use is null and void, leaders from some parts of the country are loudly lamenting the negative side effects that its consumption has on consumers.

To the three counties of Tharaka Nithi, Meru and Embu that produce the crop in abundance, the muguka value chain contributes billions of shillings annually to their economies. Embu alone is said to rake in at least Sh22 billion annually from the crop. Official data from the Kenya National Bureau of Statistics shows that at least 65,000 farmers in Embu engage in ‘muguka’ farming, and the number is increasing.

Coast counties are the largest markets for the product, which is estimated to contribute about Sh1 million to the Mombasa economy per day on transport levies. But leaders from Mombasa, Kilifi and Lamu are up in arms against the crop on the grounds that it has several adverse effects that include health, addiction and loss of sexual libido in men.

In Kwale, instead of banning muguka, the governor has taken the route of imposing heavier taxation in a bid to discourage the transportation, sale and consumption of the stimulant in her county.

A study by the Kenya Medical Research Institute in 2021 revealed a troubling correlation between frequent ‘muguka’ use and the development of psychotic symptoms. Muguka users experienced increased instances of hallucinations, paranoia and other mental health issues.

The World Health Organisation has also expressed concern about the health impacts of muguka. In a 2020 report, it said consumption of the stimulant can lead to insomnia, an increased heart rate, and a high potential for addiction.

Though muguka is transported, sold and consumed under a national government policy, we need a national dialogue on it that brings together policymakers, scientists and researchers, politicians and members of the public. Only through that process can a practicable solution be found.

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