An Open letter The Rt Hon Theresa May MP
by Abukar Awale ( Qaad diid)
Sunday, July 14, 2013
Dear Mrs May,
Somali community is singing your name!
On behalf of the Somali community in Britain that has campaigned long and hard banning of khat, I would like to take this opportunity to thank you for the courageous step you took last week in announcing it would be classified as a Class C substance under the Misuse of Drugs Act of 1971. I appreciate that this may have been a difficult step for you to have taken in the light of the Advisory Council for the Misuse of Drugs report of February this year, but as I'm sure you understand, Britain has been out of step with much of the international community for too long. As you correctly stated, the fact that the UK could become a hub for the trafficking of khat to other EU states where it is already illegal would make international efforts to adopt a coordinated approach to this problem practically impossible.
Since the announcement last week, we have witnessed a plethora of academics, scientists and so-called experts ridicule the ban, some even suggesting that it would be more appropriate to ban cats as the same arguments adopted in banning khat would perhaps apply. To me, this is nothing short of an insult to the very people whose lives have been ravaged by khat use and at a stroke,and belittles devastating effect it has had on our wider community. Perhaps their being displaced and detached from khat's terrible consequences would lead them to believe that they can objectively assess the problem. I wonder if their views would change if it was their father, brother, son or mother that was continuously being admitted to hospitals due to severe mental health problems caused by its excessive use. If these critics were able to witness the human cost of khat in the same way that my community is, perhaps they might see things somewhat differently.
I also note that in Meru, Kenya (where of course the main produce is khat) the local community there is purportedly up in arms at the impending banning of khat in the UK with some even going as far as suggesting that there should be consequences unless the UK government reverses its decision. Apparently there are fears of the impact it will have on the local farming community in Meru. Instead of cultivating drugs, I propose that they consider using the vast swathes of arable land for growing food in a region of the world where droughts in recent years have reached almost biblical proportions. Recently in Yemen, the authorities did the exact opposite and instead of using land earmarked for growing crops, they decided to grow khat and the well documented results were catastrophic.Moreover, while the community in Meru claim that khat is not a drug, I hasten to add that they themselves need to address the growing number of voices within Kenya itself,such as the National Authority for the Campaign of Drug Abuse, who are currently lobbying the Kenyan government to have khat classified as a drug which incidentally has been the position of the World Health Organisation going as far back as 1989. Hopefully, common sense will prevail in Kenya as it has in Britain.
As an ex-addict myself that has long campaigned against khat, I for one do not seek to criminalize or stigmatize khat users in any way shape or form but I strongly believe that the banning of it in Britain will lead to khat's diminished cultural acceptability at a time where it is already at an all time low in Somali tradition and culture. I also feel that khat has long been a barrier to our enhanced integration into British society. Of course, I do not claim that the problem will be eradicated altogether but it is my conviction that the positives will far outweigh the negatives once the ban is in effect. Frankly speaking, there are many things that the coalition government has done that our community would profoundly disagree with. But one must give credit where it is due and you would be hard pressed to find many in our community that would disagree with the ban. In your statement, you state that khat would be banned so that the government could "protect vulnerable members of our communities". This statement echoes my thoughts exactly and it goes without saying that you have also won over the hearts and minds of my community. I would therefore like to further reiterate my gratitude to you for protecting our community from the harmful effects of this evil drug.
Abukar Awale ( Qaad diid )
The Lead Anti-khat campaigner UK