Field and river

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

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

ICES20 logo

Use the "back" button of your browser to return to the list of abstracts.



ZERIHUN Mohammed, Forum for Social Studies (FSS), Ethiopia
MELAT Gezahegn, Forum for Social Studies (FSS), Ethiopia

Paper presenters:

DANIEL Megersa; Gianmarco SALVATI; Jonathan BAKER; GOITOM Abera; TESFAYE Girma Legesse;
ZEWDU Jima Takle; TILAHUN Tefera; MAMO Hebo; YERASWORK Admassie; YIMENU Yitayih Abyu;
GESSESSE Dessie; ZERIHUN Girma; SHEGAW Friew Admasu; YOHANNES GebreMichael;
Till Jakob Frederik TROJER; ZERIHUN Mohammed; GIRMA Negash Ture

Ch’at (khat), scientifically known as, Catha edulis, is a mild stimulant ever-green plant native to Horn of Africa and the in recent years, improvement in transportation have increased the global distribution of this ‘commodity’, and, as a result, chat is exported to and consumed in almost all parts of the globe.

In Ethiopia, historical evidences indicted that the production and consumption of ch’at goes as back as the 14th century. However, until recent decades its production was limited to specific regions with highly localized market. Consumption of ch’at was also mostly restricted to specific social groups mainly used for religious/cultural purposes.

In recent years ch’at production, marketing and consumption has significantly expanded in the country; and regions that had strong anti-ch’at social and religious ethos before has become the major ch’at producing areas. Official government data indicates that in 2014 about a quarter of a million hectares of farmland was covered by ch’at and over 3 million farmers were engaged in ch’at production. Moreover, ch’at is transformed to a lucrative export commodity generating substantial amount of foreign exchange in the international market. In 2014/15, Ethiopia has exported nearly 50,000 tons of ch’at and generated more than 272 million USD.

The expansion of the ‘culture’ of ch’at consumption is associated with some socio-economic and health problems. The high cost of ch’at and its implication on household economic wellbeing, idleness and loss of productivity, the high likelihood of chat chewers to be exposed and abuse of other drugs are some of the socio-economic problems associated with ch’at use. There are scientific researches that show chat related health problems ranging from constipation to mental illness.

Because of the above facts, it is possible to argue that ch’at is the most controversial plant caught between being a ‘blessed’ commodity that gives a ‘living’ and ‘pleasure’ for millions; and a ‘curse’ spreading as a wildfire and crippling the energy, morale and faculty of the youth. To make matters worse, the country lacks any policy or regulation that regulate its production, marketing and consumption.

The proposed panel will attract papers that analyze the social, cultural, economic and political aspects of ch’at production, marketing and consumption and its implications on the overall development of the country. This panel welcomes papers that look at both positive and negative impacts of ch'at.



DANIEL Megersa, Mifas medical and scientific groups

Khat law and policy are currently a mix of cautious politics and limited evidence and analysis. This is coupled with strident and contested interpretations, both of the causes of the problems and of the effects of the policies. In fact, for as long as there has been Khat law and policy, there have been gaps in the evidence as well as uncertainty about how to understand and act on the evidence that policy-makers do have, so they are regularly placed in a difficult position when the issue of Khat is considered. The dramatic changes following the commodification of khat for producers and consumers alike have thrown up challenges in the field of public health and public safety that need to be carefully examined. There has therefore been a shift from a culturally integrated and moderate level of khat use, to an individualistic, hedonistic pattern. Over the last three decades, khat has become a major source of employment, income and revenue in producing areas of Ethiopia. Given its resistance to drought and low labor requirements, it is now an attractive choice for producers and people within the khat industry, on the one hand, and an issue of concern for its impact on the health, socioeconomic well-being and psychology of its ever-increasing population of consumers, on the other hand. As a result, there is no clear policy on the crop which continues to bless the nation. The regulation of khat remains hotly disputed in different producer and consumer countries, with measures ranging from banning, to customary restrictions, two approaches based on harm reduction and education. It would be useful to know what policies and interventions will help to tackle the problems associated with Khat use, yet the debate on how to address the challenges of this crop is polarized, with an added emotional and moral component that is not found in most other policy areas. This paper seeks to present the extent and nature of khat use and the problems, challenges and factors associated with it. It describes current policy responses and potential barriers to policy making and delivery, and argues the need for a fresh approach to Khat law and policy. It explores how policies and interventions could be improved using a range of methods such as semi-directive interviews, systematic study visits, academic research and and analysis of secondary sources. It presents conclusions and recommendations based on the challenges identified and alternative ways of approaching khat law and policy for the future.



Gianmarco SALVATI, University of Naples

This abstract is based on research carried out in Mekelle, capital city of the Federal Region of Tigray, and deals with the interconnections between the use of ch’at (a mild stimulant endemic plant in the Horn of Africa), unemployment and hope among urban youth. In recent years, the use and consumption of this stimulant has grown widely in Ethiopia and it has become a common aspect of the everyday life of young people, who mostly start chewing it when they join college and university. This phenomenon is related to one of the main properties commonly attributed to the plant, its capacity to enhance concentration and attention. As most student consumers say, it is useful to have better focus and attention when studying. Ch’at chewing is also a very common leisure activity, a sociable practice that enhances enjoyment because of the plant’s capacity to stimulate self-confidence, well-being and optimism. My research revealed that in most cases these young men are either unemployed or with no fixed employment. A common account was that they became addicted because chewing ch’at was the only way to pass time, to avoid stress and feel hope for the future. The aim of this paper is to explore the main reasons behind the high consumption of ch’at among young men and to shed light on the connections between ch’at use and socio-economic factors.



Jonathan BAKER, Department of Global Development and Planning, Faculty of Social Sciences, University of Agder, Norway.
GOITOM Abera, Assistant Professor, College of Business & Economics, Mekelle University, Ethiopia

Over the past few decades there has been an ongoing conceptual and theoretical discourse as to whether small towns can act as catalysts for rural change and how the expansion of drug cultivation such as khat (Catha edulis) can be situated within a development debate. The presentation will attempt to highlight some elements of this interplay with particular emphasis on khat and development in north-eastern Ethiopia. In 2003 fieldwork was conducted in Kemise, the capital town of the Dewa Chefa woreda in the Oromiya Zone of north-eastern Ethiopia in the Amhara Region. In addition, four rural kebele within the woreda were investigated to assess the kinds of links they had with Kemise. The most isolated and marginalised kebele was Ourene Selama which was also the location of a small urban kebele, Bora. In 2003, Bora was a small isolated and non-dynamic place (with a population of less than 1000), a police station, a small weekly market, and a health centre. The town lacked electricity. However, in 2013, Bora had changed quite significantly as a consequence of administrative upgrading to a woreda town, greater improved connectivity (road improvements, particularly to Kemise) a link to the electricity grid and the erection of a mobile phone mast, among other improvements. In 2013, surveys were conducted using a mixed-methods approach of rural and urban households. The results from 24-farm households drawn from two rural kebele within the woreda producing khat were surprising. Most farmers stated that the adoption of khat had greatly increased their incomes and quality of life. The main drivers of this buoyant rural and urban economy appear to the role of the state in the creation of the new woreda, greatly improved connectivity in road communications (essential in transporting khat very rapidly to market because of its perishability), the link to the electricity grid and the erection of the mobile phone mast.



TESFAYE Girma Legesse, Department of Nutrition Saint Paul’s Hospital Millennium Medical College, Addis Ababa, Ethiopia.
ZEWDU Jima Takle, Department of Physiology Saint Paul’s Hospital Millennium Medical College, Addis Ababa, Ethiopia.
MEASHO G/selassie Best, Department of Health Service Management Institute of Public Health, University of Gondar, Gondar, Ethiopia

Though the community is chewing ch'at for multiple reasons, it has a huge public health impact on mental, physical and social well-being. A community-based comparative cross-sectional study was conducted from March to June, 2015. Cluster sampling and systematic random sampling techniques were used for ch'at chewers and non-ch'at chewers respectively. The data was collected by using an interview administered questionnaire, an in-depth interview-based questionnaire and weight-scale measurement. The study revealed a total of 55(21.48%) underweight and 41(16.00%) overweight ch'at chewers, but only 31(12.5%) underweight and 45(18.10%) overweight non-ch'at chewers. Ch'at chewers were 1.994 times more likely to be underweight. Ch'at chewers who had animal and animal products daily as their main meal were 0.218 times less likely to be underweight; while 5.15 times more likely to be overweight. Ch'at chewers who drank 8 glasses of water per khat chewing session were 0.180 times less likely to be underweight and 0.234 times less likely to be overweight. Ch'at chewers who did not use chabsy were 2.530 times more likely to be underweight. The odds of being underweight of those who chewed ch'at for the length of less than 3 years was 1.3% times less likely. Being underweight and overweight are public nutritional status problems of both ch'at chewers and non-ch'at chewers in which ch'at users are mostly affected by being underweight. Ch'at chewing patterns and meal patterns, including the amount of fluid consumed per chewing session and chabsy are factors that affect the nutritional status of ch'at chewers. Shortening the length of ch'at chewing years, increasing the amount of fluid intake to more than 8 glasses per session, taking a minimal amount of chabsy, and dietary management with nutritionist advice should be actions taken to mitigate the nutritional status problems of ch'at chewers.



TILAHUN Tefera, Haramaya University, Ethiopia
MAMO Hebo, Addis Ababa University, Ethiopia
HIRUT Terefe, Addis Ababa University, Ethiopia

The general objective of this article is to explore the introduction and expansion of jimaa cultivation on the Lake Harmaya-Tiniqe Watershed as well as the existing challenges of its production. Data for this article were gathered in 2013 and 2014 as part of my PhD fieldwork. The data were predominantly collected through qualitative methods, but these were substantiated with quantitative data. In the 16th century, Alla and Nolei Oromo inhabited Lake Haramaya-Tiniqe Watershed as pastoralists. Gradually, through their contact with sedentary Harari agriculturalists, some sections of the Oromo abandoned pastoralism and began sedentary agriculture. However, the turning point in their conversion to sedentary agriculture came in the last quarter of the 19th century when Egypt occupied the area in 1875. From the Egyptian period (1875-1885) to 1973, most of the land on the watershed was used for cereal cultivation. On the basis of historical accounts, Ezekiel (1997:75) argued that either Ethiopia or Yemen might be the origin of jimaa. However, according to informants, jimaa was initially introduced to the city of Harar from Yemen and spread over time from the city into the surrounding Oromo communities. The Harari people largely practised sedentary agriculture. However, after the Oromo settled in the environs of Harar, the Harari increased their practice of business, though still continuing their agricultural activities (Yusuf, 2002: 381, 382). They were known in particular for jimaa cultivation. Harari jimaa plantation owners employed kuulii/day labourers from surrounding Oromo communities to work on their jimaa land (Waldron, 1984: 10). As indicated by the remote sensing data, jimaa cultivation is the prominent livelihood strategy of Alla and Nolei Oromo on the Lake Haramaya-Tiniqei Watershed, followed by cereal and vegetable cultivation. However, the main livelihood strategies of households are challenged by the scarcity of water, rainfall and land, as well as by amadaay/frost. Finally, in terms of food security, households were better placed when they predominantly cultivated cereals than they are at present. On the other hand, with regard to access to goods such as drinking water, education, health care, and transportation services, they are better off producing jimaa as their main cash crop.



YERASWORK Admassie, Forum for Social Studies

In these opening decades of the 21st Century, Ethiopia is experiencing a veritable deluge from a small shrub plant that is exponentially invading its agricultural lands and the minds of its people. Ch’at production has surged, increasing its cultivation area by 160% and its production volume by 243% over the past 5 years. Ch’at has also become prominent in both the country’s domestic and foreign trade, to the extent that the Growth and Transformation Plan-II foresees the value of annual exports of ch’at growing from 272.4 million USD in 2014/15 to 650.8 million USD in 2019/20. Its domestic consumption, too, has skyrocketed over the same period, with 27.6% of all men and 11.0% of all women aged 15-49 reporting having chewed ch’at in 2011. Despite these figures, government intervention regarding ch’at is minimal. In view of this, research on the socioeconomic impacts of the practice and on possible measures to reverse the trend is absolutely necessary. The aim of the qualitative study whose findings are reported in this paper was to explore the socioeconomic impacts of ch’at through the perceptions of various categories of the populations of Harar and Assosa Cities and of the Federal-level authorities, by means of in-depth interviews, focus-group-discussions/interviews, and field observations. By generating primary data in these ways and analyzing them together with the available secondary information, the study identified: (a) trends in ch’at consumption and addiction; (b) the impacts of ch’at on family life and family economy, women and children, physical, mental and reproductive health, education and educational institutions, crime and its correction, and civil service delivery; and (c) assessed interventions being advanced by various actors to reverse the current trend. Furthermore, having established the total absence of any policy framework on ch’at, and having weighed the various alternative policy options, the paper argues for the institution of a regulatory framework governing the production, marketing, and consumption of ch’at. It argues that such a framework is both necessary and feasible as a way out of the current quagmire, and proceeds to present its main outlines.



YIMENU Yitayih Abyu, Bahirdar Health Science College, Ethiopia

Khat abuse is an important public health problem and one of the major causes of disability worldwide. Khat use and criminal behavior are closely related, and a large proportion of khat users commit crimes. However, little is known about khat abuse among prisoners in Ethiopia.The objective of this paper is to assess khat abuse and associated factors among prisoners in Jimma correctional institution. An institution-based cross-sectional study design was used to collect data from a total of 336 prisoners. A systematic random sampling technique was used to select the study participants. A number of tests – drug abuse screening test, alcohol use disorder identification test, Fagerstrom test for nicotine dependence, psychopathy checklist: screening version, life event checklist and Oslo-3 item scale – were used to assess khat abuse, alcohol use disorder, nicotine dependence, psychopathy, adverse traumatic life event and social support respectively. Also, a structured questionnaire administered by an interviewer was used to collect data on sociodemographic and criminal history. Data was entered to epidata version 3.1 and analyzed using Statistical Package for Social Science version 21. Bivariate and multivariable logistic regression models were used during data analysis. Variables with p-value of less than 0.05 in the final fitting model were declared to be significantly associated with the outcome variable. The prevalence of khat abuse was 41.9%. Among prisoners with khat abuse, the most common causes of imprisonment were assault (34.8%, n=48) and theft (27.5%, n=38). Poor social support (AOR: 2.28, 95% CI =1.11, 4.67), psychopathy (AOR: 3.00, 95%CI= 1.71, 7.67), having a family history of substance use (AOR: 2.50, 95%=1.45, 4.31), suicidal ideation and attempted suicide (AOR: 2.26, 95% CI=1.23-4.17) and alcohol use disorder (AOR: 7.78, 95% CI= 4.16-14.53) were factors significantly associated with khat abuse. Khat abuse among prisoners was found to be high. Increased morbidity and the unpleasant psychosocial consequences and the strong interest among prisoners in obtaining treatment for khat abuse suggest a need for the establishment of prison-based treatment in Jimma correctional institution.



GESSESSE Dessie, Independent researcher

The cultivation of Khat (Catha edulis) is expanding to cover significant areas of agricultural and natural land to meet the ever-increasing demand for the psychotropic leaf from the growing number of consumers in Ethiopia and elsewhere. The contribution of khat to Ethiopia’s national economy, its impact on landscape dynamics and its importance as a source of livelihood for producers, are undeniable. At the same time, Khat’s psychotropic characteristics are blamed for causing consumers physical and mental damage. The emphasis in the national debate about Khat has been on the health of users and its sociocultural impact. Despite the fact that Khat is an agent of change in landscape dynamics, agricultural production and livelihoods, the effect of its expansion on farming landscapes has received little scholarly attention. The changes reflect the ways in which the entire Khat production and supply chain operates on producers and consumers. This paper assesses the sustainability of Ethiopia’s socio-ecological landscapes in the light of the expansion of Khat production. Sustainable landscapes balance economic, social, ecological objectives in a context of conflict over the spatial, temporal and governance objectives of land-use. Moreover, given limited per capita land availability, smallholder farmers in Ethiopia need to maintain a balance in the growing of food, wood and psychotropic crops. The expansion of Khat cultivation affects two spatial categories: 1) existing farmland, replacing established land uses and 2) new, previously uncultivated land. Cultivation on existing farmland affects the production of food and other agricultural products. When Khat takes over natural landscapes, ecologically significant areas become degraded and land that could otherwise be used to grow agricultural products is lost. In the case of farmland replacement, crops that are not of high priority for subsistence and that bring limited economic return are targeted. In the natural landscape, Khat cultivation requires the claiming of forest land, bush/shrub land, riverbanks and steep slopes. The paper argues that sustainable landscapes are affected by the wide-reaching environmental, economic and cultural ramifications of farmers’ decisions to produce Khat. Societal attempts to restrict the growth of a controversial crop like Khat govern the sustainability of socio-ecological landscapes.



ZERIHUN Girma, Haramaya University, Ethiopia

Khat, chat or qat (Catha Edulis) is a chewable green leaf that produces an effect of stimulation and euphoria and can lead to addiction with extensive use. This study investigates the impact of khat culture on the living standards of user households. There are heated discussions among scholars on whether khat has an impact on living standards. Inspired by these debates, the researcher explores the culture of khat in its ‘homeland’, Harar. Khat culture includes a ceremonial practice performed before, during, and after chewing. In Harar, khat culture has permeated the local economy, and the social, political and spiritual spheres. To assess how khat culture affects household living standards, the researcher compares the living standard of chewers and non-chewers. Both qualitative and quantitative approaches were used in the study. A cluster sampling method was used to identify respondents. The data was gathered through an interview schedule, in-depth interviews and non-participant observation. The data from the interview schedule was grouped, tabulated and analysed using SPSS. The open-ended data from the in-depth interviews were coded, organized and interpreted thematically. The study revealed that khat has a major impact on the living standards of user households. It was found that chewers and non-chewers differ in their ownership of domestic equipment and accommodation. There are also great differences in the quality and safety of homes. In addition, huge variations were found in the work culture and time management of chewers and non-chewers. Khat also affects the household budget (income and expenditure) and household wellbeing. On average, chewers spent 3.75 hours a day chewing khat. Average monthly spending on khat is 1800 birr, making a total of 21,600 birr per year. The data from interviews with key informants show that women are the main victims of the negative impacts of khat culture. The study concludes that khat culture negatively affects user households. It recommends that concerned bodies should not underestimate the impact of khat culture, but should also not take hasty measures to eradicate it; a step-by-step approach to eliminating khat is needed.



SHEGAW Friew Admasu, Arba Minch University, Ethiopia

This study places particular emphasis on the emergence of a new culture of khat consumption in the Merkato area of Addis Ababa. It also examines the vulnerability to poor health of street khat chewers. Both secondary and primary sources were consulted in the research. In-depth interviews, FGDs and personal observations were employed to gather the primary data. Thematic and comparative methods were used to analyse the collected data. This study found that in parallel with the geographical spread of khat use, profound changes are also occurring in the traditional patterns of use. Khat consumption has moved from traditional contexts into a new urban and commercial environment. Socially, there has been a rise in consumption amongst those for whom it was viewed as culturally inappropriate. In the Merkato area of Addis Ababa, the streets and the verandas overlooking the streets are strewn with khat leaves and twigs. Buying and carrying bundles of khat leaves and chewing on the streets both in groups and individually has become a part of everyday street life. Though a recent development, street khat chewing has become a fast-growing subculture that has entered the lives of vulnerable groups for whom custom no longer provides protection against the adverse consequences of problematic use. This study reveals that the effect of khat is not the same for everyone and everywhere. The effects are the outcome of complex and multifaceted processes that are determined by the nature of khat (drug), by the personal characteristics of the chewers (set) and the social and physical environment (setting). In particular, factors such as the quality and quantity of khat and food they consume, supplements consumed during chewing, the previous health status of the chewers, the place of consumption and the nature of the social capital, determine the vulnerability of khat chewers to adverse health consequences. In consequence, any intervention intended to address khat induced health problems needs to look at who, what, where, when, how often, how much, why and how, in order to minimise risks.



YOHANNES GebreMichael, Addis Ababa University, Ethiopia

Despite the widespread awareness initiatives focussing on health and socio-economic negative impacts of Khat chewing among the young generation, the practice persists - with a possible rise - in schools and higher education. One of the fundamental research gaps is limited understanding of the pull factors and developing an alternative strategy to divert the demand currently met by Khat. Accordingly, this case study considers about 160 social science students from different departments of Addis Ababa University main campus in regards to their Khat consumption practices. The average of Khat chewers is about 29% for male and less than 2% for female; similarly, observations of social sciences dormitories have shown about 60% of the rooms as accommodating male chewers. Moreover, about 50% of the chewers have started chewing at high school level. Taken together, this study finds universities as tentative hotspots of chewing of Khat, and highlights its strong interface with schools. Regarding the pull factors for the chewing of Khat it is underlined that the university teaching and learning methods such as modular subjects, term papers, handouts and exam types are triggering students to chew Khat to remain alert working for longer hours. Group chewing is also serving as a means of networking, socialization and relaxation. Surprisingly, most of the chewers record achieving better academic performance. The study highlights and emphasizes both the causes of the demands for Khat as well as urging for changes in approaches to teaching and learning, creating an enabling environment for socialization and relaxation in both the school and universities rather than a simple condemnation of Khat.



Till Jakob Frederik TROJER, PhD Candidate in Anthropology and Sociology at the School of Oriental and African Studies (SOAS), London, United Kingdom

I started chewing ch’at as an exchange student at Addis Ababa University in 2010/11 (eight month). Since then I have returned multiply times for longer stays to Ethiopia 2012 as an intern for German organisation (three month) and in 2014/15 as exchange student at Mekelle University (seven month). Currently, August 2017 to September 2018, I’m conducting my PhD research in Anthropology and Sociology in North-Eastern Ethiopia. During my time in Ethiopia I have been a regular consumer of ch’at and have chewed with different people, ranging from high-profile Ethiopian business man and politicians to the local street dweller. I chewed alone to study or together with friends, sometimes strangers, of different gender, age, social, religious and ethnic background. I chewed in the back rooms of small shops, hotels and guest houses, minibuses, homes, on the street, in private rooms and places where people engaged in illegal gambling, smoked shisha and watch pornography while chewing. This presentation is purely based on personal observations and own experiences of chewing ch’at as foreigner (ferenji) in Ethiopia. By applying Edmund Husserl’s phenomenological reduction, I explore the effects and the impact of märqana on the perception of the self. This is an honest, self-experimental reflection on the positive and negative consequences of “highness”. Specifically, I will focus on the deep abyss between who I presume to be and what märqana makes me think who I am. This conflict of the self-image will be analysed on the background of anthropological studies of choice, identity and personhood as well as philosophical and phenomenological theories of the self-state.



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.



GIRMA Negash Ture, Department of History, Addis Ababa University, Ethiopia

This study looks at the institutional evolution, performance and constraints of the institutions and structures that govern the khat trade in Ethiopia. Through a comparative analysis of the trading systems at two major khat trading centers, Aweday and Wondo Genet, it explores the key institutions, structure and economic principles underpinning the khat business in Ethiopia. The study seeks to document the development of some key features in the running of the khat business and the various work processes that have kept the industry in Ethiopia vibrant. The issues exhaustively explored in this study include, among others, the institutional evolution of the khat trading system and the role of the state in the khat trade. The fact that khat traders operate in a risky and unsettled business environment makes trade relationships and the structure of trade highly uncertain and demands continuous renegotiation of the terms of engagement. I argue in this paper that decentralization and autonomy are the hallmarks of the main khat trading systems in Ethiopia. Khat trade in the Ethiopian context has inadvertently espoused, and been guided by, principles and/or approaches that can best be characterized as neoliberal. Some of the fundamentals of this economic approach, such as the reliance on market mechanisms, the individualist rationale, the deregulated market, the profit maximizing entrepreneur, are active forces that shape the modus operandi of the khat value chain in Ethiopia. I will also show that the khat economy in the Ethiopian context is not state-driven and less of a standardized economic undertaking. Rather, the khat business has for a long time been run by an agglomeration of small local firms and to some extent foreign-based business groups. Some of the data required for this study have been collected over the past three years in frequent field trips to both study sites in eastern and southern Ethiopia. In adition, my familiarity with the issue as well as with the local people and local circumstances are my key assets when collecting oral data.