Kenyan traders of khat, a stimulant that’s banned in the U.S. and European countries, called for the expulsion of British troops and farmers and a boycott of U.K. products because of a planned ban on trade in the leaves.
U.K. Home Secretary Theresa May told parliament on July 3 that khat will be categorized as a Class C drug, leading to jail terms of as long as two years for possession and 14 years for dealing in it. Most European Union states and Group of Eight countries control the drug, which means the U.K. risks emerging as a hub in onward trafficking of the narcotic, May said.
“This is an economic war against Meru people and we will use all means within our disposal to protect our interest,” Japheth Muroko, chairman of Kenya’s Global Miraa Industry Dealers Network, said by phone from Meru town, about 226 kilometers (140 miles) northeast of the capital, Nairobi.
Annual sales of khat, a leafy plant which is classified as a horticulture product in Kenya, stand at about 1.6 billion shillings ($18.4 million), which is expanding at an average of about 10 percent a year, according to Nancy Mburu, an officer with the state-run Horticultural Crops Development Authority.
The declaration by the traders, dubbed Athiru Gaiti, after the village in central Kenya’s Meru county where it was agreed, demanded that Kenyan businesses stop selling items such as Jaguar Land Rover Automotive Plc’s sport-utility vehicles and parts manufactured by the Gaydon, England-based company. It also wants the Kenyan government to evict U.K. farmers with large-scale operations in the country and to close army-training camps used by the British, Kenya’s former colonial power until independence in 1963.
The declaration will be presented to the county government for debate and possible adoption, George Kariunga, a local representative on the elected body, said in an interview.
The ban “is a hot potato issue in Meru politics and the region is united in addressing threats to the ban of the multi-billion shilling miraa industry,” said Kariunga.
Khat is known as miraa in East Africa where, along with the Arabian Peninsula, the plant is a native species and used as part of cultural tradition in many social situations, according to the U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration.
Thousands of protesters gathered in Meru county earlier this month to denounce the ban, according to K24 TV, a closely held Kenyan broadcaster.
Meru is a fertile growing region, producing crops including tea and coffee in addition to khat. The leaves are chewed and release an amphetamine-like substance that gives users a feeling of mild euphoria. Use of the substance can have adverse effects including manic behavior, paranoia, hallucinations and hyperactivity, according to the DEA.