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Balaa ya Wakenya: Mirungi (Khat) giving Canada sleepless nights!

Discussion in 'International Forum' started by Ab-Titchaz, Mar 10, 2012.

  1. Ab-Titchaz

    Ab-Titchaz Content Manager Staff Member

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    Mar 10, 2012
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    Known to induce euphoria - and a feeling of wakefulness in users - it is deeply ingrained in the cultures of Somalia, Ethiopia, Yemen, Kenya and Uganda


    By JEFF DAVIS jeffdavis.ottawa@gmail.com
    Posted Thursday, March 8 2012 at 17:01


    Canadian border authorities seize millions of dollars worth of an addictive drug known as "khat" at airports each year, but police services say the market is limited for a niche drug that isn't commonly available on the street.

    Most Canadians go their whole lives without hearing about the narcotic leaf, but within Canada's African diaspora there are many devotees of this ancient plant.

    Khat has been chewed in the Horn of Africa and the lands surrounding the Red Sea for thousands of years.

    Known to induce euphoria - and a feeling of wakefulness in users - it is deeply ingrained in the cultures of Somalia, Ethiopia, Yemen, Kenya and Uganda.

    Though it is legal in many African countries, in Canada khat is classified as a schedule four drug, which is lowest classification category for illegal drugs. Cocaine and heroin are schedule one, for example, while cannabis is schedule two.

    Jerry Jesso is chief of intelligence for the Canadian Border Services Agency and oversees drug interdiction programmes at ports of entry across Canada. Whereas 15 years ago there was no khat smuggling to speak of in Canada, these days it's a different story.

    "We seize khat probably two to three times per day, on average," he said. Khat comes in two predominant forms: twigs and leaves.

    The outer bark of the more potent twigs are stripped off with the teeth then chewed, while the milder leaves are chewed whole.

    Due to its bitter taste, khat is traditionally chewed into a paste with peanuts, resulting in a more palatable taste and texture. Nowadays, chewing gum is also used.

    The active ingredients in khat, whose scientific name is Catha Edulis, are cathinone and cathine.

    These are naturally occurring amphetamines, and the World Health Organisation says there are no medical uses for khat.

    A major producer of the world's khat is Kenya, where the plant's production is the basis for a vibrant export economy.

    Unlike other generally dry places near the Horn of Africa, the fertile volcanic soils of Mount Kenya receive enough rain to produce bumper crops year round.

    Every day, small planes stuffed with freshly cut khat from Kenya's Meru area fly directly to the United Kingdom, where tens of thousands of eager addicts are itching for their daily fix.

    "It's legal in the UK," Jesso said. "They'll ship it there, then break down shipment before reshipping it on to Canada."

    For khat smugglers, speed is the name of the game. After only five days, the narcotic potency of khat dissipates, meaning any delay in shipping puts the profits of exporters and importers in jeopardy.

    "They'll cut it, wrap it in banana leaves and wet it to try to keep it cool and maintain its freshness," said Jesso. "But within 72 hours that stuff gets real nasty, as it breaks down and starts to rot."

    A bundle of khat - a daily dose for an addict, but enough for a number of casual users - can be bought for Sh100 in Kenya. By the time it gets to Canada, however, the retail price goes as high as Sh5,000.

    Due to the volume that must be chewed to get high, Jesso said, khat is among the cheapest drugs out there on a per-gram basis. For this reason, smugglers have to move large quantities to turn a profit.

    "Twenty kilograms is worth less than $10,000 (approximately Sh830,000)," he said. "To make it worth their while they have to move large quantities of it."

    Smugglers use couriers to take large suitcases packed with khat into Canada.

    "The couriers can be anything from Canadian citizens to duped visitors who think it's legal to do what they're doing," he said. "In a lot of cases, it's UK nationals coming over."

    Many of these smugglers are caught by sniffer dogs, and sent home after a month in jail.

    CBSA spokesman Luc Labelle said that $55 million (about Sh4.5 billion) of khat have been seized in the past five years.

    "What we intercept does impact the supply on the street level," Jesso said. "And when we can impact the price of drugs on the street, we're doing a good job."

    Labelle said khat is most common in cities, particularly those with immigrant populations from Somalia, Ethiopia, Kenya, Eritrea and Uganda.

    "In Canada, areas with a large population from these countries, such as the Greater Toronto Area, tend to see higher usages," he said.

    Classified by WHO as a "drug of abuse," khat is highly addictive, and many hard-core users chew most of their waking hours.

    A stimulant, it disrupts regular sleeping patterns, keeping chewers up all night, sometimes for days at a time.

    The acidic leaves, furthermore, are corrosive and long-term use results in rotten teeth and infected gums.

    Lethargy and loss of appetite is also common side effects, as is damage to the digestive tract. But perhaps most disturbing is the khat's effects on the male reproductive system.

    Although new users may experience a rise in sexual desire and performance, long-term use is known to cause severe erectile dysfunction.

    Farah Aw-Osman, executive director of the Canadian Friends of Somalia, said that khat remains popular among a certain segment of the Somali community, who buy it from the UK.

    "Usually it goes to Europe, then they smuggle (it) here," he said. Khat addiction is a relatively minor issue in Canada compared to the UK, Aw-Osman said.

    Despite its legal status in the UK, he added, it has had negative social and economic effects on the Somali community there, mostly due to the lethargy experienced by addicts.

    "If you go to the UK, you see a lot of Somalis who went there 20 years ago, but haven't reached anywhere," he said. "They just chew khat all afternoon and night, then sleep all day."

    The negative side of khat is less apparent in Canada, Aw-Osman said, due to low usage rates and inconsistent supply.

    "In Canada it's only a few people who use it, mostly in Toronto, Ottawa and Edmonton," he said. "Sometimes they don't find it for one or two weeks."

    Aw-Osman said he's pleased to see that younger Somali-Canadians are not getting hooked on the narcotic leaf, and that most khat chewers are over the age of 30 or 40, and picked up the habit back home.

    "It's only the people who were addicted to khat from previous use in Somalia (who) are using it," he said. "The younger generation doesn't even know what khat is."

    Somali youth, interviewed in Ottawa by Postmedia News, said the younger Somali-Canadians were not interested in khat, and couldn't afford it even if they were.

    "That stuff is for old men," one said. "The youth don't chew it." Ottawa Police Staff Sgt Mike Laviolette said Khat is not a big problem in Ottawa.

    He said Ottawa police haven't encountered it on the streets in recent years, and have not made any arrests related to the drug in recent memory.

    The market for the drug in Canada is limited, said RCMP spokesman Sgt Greg Cox.

    "There is a small market for ‘khat' - primarily users are African nationals," he wrote in an email. "The shelf life for this product is quite limited and there is low value associated with it."

    RCMP couldn't provide information about the number of busts they made on khat smugglers or users, or what, if any, steps are being taken against the leaf.

    Ontario-based addictions expert Debbie Bang said khat is unique because there is only a very specific slice of the population that uses it.

    "The bottom line is this is not a huge issue for general population," she said.

    Bang said that within marginalised communities - such as those that use khat - unconventional policing methods are often more effective.

    The affected population knows much more about the cultural context in which khat is used, she said, and could provide valuable advice on how to treat addicts.

    "If this is a substance that's revered in its cultural context, you have to work with those that understand it and use it to know what the best approach would be," she said.

    "They'll probably need to see some leadership from the Somali group, that would raise this and bring it forward," she added.


    The twig giving Europe sleepless nights*- DN2*|nation.co.ke
     
  2. Straddler

    Straddler JF-Expert Member

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    "Erectile dysfunction"???:A S 13: :A S 13::A S 13:.....God Almighty..!!!!!
     
  3. zomba

    zomba JF-Expert Member

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    Hiyo picha mie denda linantoka, inabidi nipitie mitaa ya Pemba leo.
     
  4. YoungCorporate

    YoungCorporate JF-Expert Member

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    Mar 10, 2012
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    watu wame-build ma haooo sababu ya gomba. Mogokaa ni balaa....
     
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