The consumption of khat in French Somaliland

Abstract

Khat is not cultivated in French Somaliland, owing to climatic conditions, but it is grown in the neighbouring countries of Yemen and, in particular, Ethiopia, from which it is imported in large quantities. Khat is used only by the men, and as their sole method of consuming it is chewing the fresh leaf, it has to be imported almost entirely by air.

Details

Author: Kervingant
Pages: 42 to 42
Creation Date: 1959/01/01

The consumption of khat in French Somaliland

Dr. Kervingant

Khat is not cultivated in French Somaliland, owing to climatic conditions, but it is grown in the neighbouring countries of Yemen and, in particular, Ethiopia, from which it is imported in large quantities. Khat is used only by the men, and as their sole method of consuming it is chewing the fresh leaf, it has to be imported almost entirely by air.

I. M edical Aspects of the Consumption of Khat

Although extensive and systematic studies of the pharmacological and physiological, and even of the clinical aspects are lacking, it is doubtful whether the consumption of khat causes addiction in the same way as narcotics.

In the first place, cathine, the alkaloid which gives khat its characteristic properties, has been identified as an alkaloid related to ephedrine-orthedrine. According to the Botanical Laboratory at Bordeaux, the active principle is a tanninorthedrine complex, similar to the tannin-colative of the cola nut.

Secondly, clinical studies seem to indicate that the physiological effects of khat resemble rather those produced by the cola nut than those produced by the coca leaf. Accordingly, in the case of khat it is probably more correct to speak of habituation than of addiction.

It is estimated that there are about 3,000 khat-chewers in French Somaliland. Actually, the number of patients treated by the medical corps for complaints directly attributable to the use of khat is very small. In three years, only one case has been hospitalized for acute poisoning, and a few cases of intestinal disorders, constipation and frigidity have been treated each year in the dispensaries. All these disorders, even the most serious, are remedied promply by the withdrawal of khat, and there are no after-effects and no internal lesions.

Furthermore, the withdrawal, even if abrupt, does not cause any organic or psychological disturbances; this observation was confirmed at the time when khat was prohibited in the British Somaliland Protectorate, and is corroborated by experience during Ramadan, when the consumption of khat drops sharply. Chronic chewers have said that the withdrawal of khat inconveniences them for a few days, but that they feel no compelling craving for the product.

This seems to prove that the chronic use of khat has no serious direct physiological consequences for the individual, and that it does not result in lesions of the system comparable to those caused by alcoholism, for example.

II. Social Aspects

From the social point of view the question is of much greater importance, owing mainly to the cost of the product to the consumer.

It is imported by air; it is subject to export and import duties, and a brisk trade is done in it by middlemen, with the result that a packet of about 250 g of khat, worth about 10 fr CFS at the point of production, is sold to the consumer at between 150 and 250 fr.

Hence, it cannot be said that the cause is escapism due to extreme poverty, for the wage-earner will spend more than half his wage to satisfy his craving.

The money he spends in this way could be much more usefully employed in buying, goods which would enable him to live decently.

The Social consequences of khat consumption may be summarized as follows.

The use of khat causes loss of appetite, and the weakened system is an easy prey to every acute or chronic disease, of which khat is a predisposing cause. The consequent rise in morbidity is reflected in an increase in social assistance costs.

The worker's mental faculties are numbed; he loses his will to work and suffers from malnutrition, so that his efficiency is low.

The consumer loses interest in his family, which he is, in any case, no longer able to support. The family, too, suffers from malnutrition and also becomes liable to contract various deficiency diseases, or turns for its livelihood to begging, theft or prostitution.

From the genetic point of view, all these deficiencies cause a degeneration of the race; and as khat is said to be an anaphrodisiac, the birthrate may be affected.

Khat does not seem to influence delinquency to any great extent - a consequence of the release of violent instincts which is described by some observers. Most of the cases which come before the courts in connexion with khat are commercial, cases of debt being the most frequent.

III. Economic Aspects

Since khat is not grown in French Somaliland, the prohibition of its cultivation does not raise any economic problems.

The heavy import of the product from neighbouring countries means, however, that a considerable part of the income leaves the country. If this income were used inside the country, economic conditions would undoubtedly benefit, and at the same time the social conditions of the people would improve.

In conclusion, it may be said that the social and economic aspects of khat consumption seem to take precedence over the medical aspects of the plant's use. It is, in any case, desirable that it should be abolished, and for this purpose measures for the gradual prohibition of the use of khat will shortly be adopted in the territory.