Field and river

20th International Conference of Ethiopian Studies (ICES20)
Mekelle University, Ethiopia

"Regional and Global Ethiopia - Interconnections and Identities"
1-5 October, 2018

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ZERIHUN Mohammed, Forum for Social Studies, Ethiopia

The debate on the legal status of the cultivation, trading and consumption of khat is a hot topic in many countries. On the basis of the ‘scientific consensus’ they have reached and their socio-cultural setting, many countries have taken their own legal measures on khat. These range from free production, trading and consumption (e.g. Somalia, Djibouti, Kenya), to the other extreme of classifying the plant as a controlled substance (USA, Saudi Arabia, UK). In Ethiopia, the debate on khat has become a hot topic particularly in recent years following the significant rise in the volume of production and widespread consumption of khat in all parts of the country. Some groups, led by the media and social activists, are urging the government to take immediate action to restrict/ban the production and consumption of khat and ‘save’ the younger generation. Others, on the other hand, insist that the use of the plant is an age-old tradition in some cultural groups and should not be touched. Both sides present their ‘scientific’ evidence in advancing their positions. The ‘ban’ group overemphasises the health, social and economic impacts of khat on consumers, while ignoring its socio-cultural dimension and economic contribution to producers and traders. In so doing, they make khat use synonymous with khat abuse and condemn thousands of khat users as either victims of khat who need help to be ‘saved’ from its evil or ‘wicked’ people who have fallen into the trap of khat. On the other side, the opposite group emphasises the cultural/religious and economic dimension of khat and opposes any restriction on its use. This group stresses the economic contribution of khat, while understating its negative consequences. Both sides use ‘scientific’ evidence selectively to support their arguments and often fail to differentiate khat use from khat abuse in their analysis. It is also apparent that there are frequent religious, cultural and regional biases, whether explicit or implicit, in the debates on khat, which often hinder the emergence of a balanced view. The paper therefore reviews selected ‘scientific’ papers from both sides and reveals the missing link in the current debate on khat in Ethiopia.