The Green Gold of Africa

The drug that fuels Somalia's misery

The Green Gold of Africa Most Somali men chew the Khat leaf, a natural amphetamine. And in Britain there is one man 90,000 chewers despise. This is the story of the Somali activist who virtually on his own, brought about the UK banning of the leaf. The doc charts the billion dollar global Khat industry, travelling to the heartlands of its production, the markets where hundreds of tons are sold daily and back to the campaign on the streets of London.

“We are demonstrating to ask the British government to ban khat in line with the rest of European countries, in line with the rest of the western world,” says Abukar Awale. Awale is a Somali refugee who lives in London. Since 2007 he has been campaigning across the United Kingdom to convince the British government to make khat illegal. The UK is the world’s second largest importer of khat and London is the main European hub for the trade of khat from the Horn of Africa. Awale believes that khat must be criminalised in the UK to stop worldwide supply chains. But so far he hasn‘t had much success. “We're not asking the British government to ban alcohol, we are asking simply [to ban] a drug that has devastated and destroyed my country.”

In Awoday, Ethiopia, one of the city’s main khat wholesale traders Mustafa Yuye boasts of the growth sparked by his business. “All the khat produced in the east of Ethiopia is brought here and traded to the rest of the world,” he says. From Awoday, Yuyu exports to the rest of Ethiopia and Somalia, including the refugee camps in the Somali desert. “We smuggle as far as to China and London. Today people are working in buildings I've built. The market has become huge.”

But in Somaliland, khat is feeding a vicious cycle of poverty and unemployment. For social worker Abdirisak Warsame, “khat is not causing the problem, it's adding fuel to the fire.” “This is a sort of chain,” explains Warsame. “[Many] people experienced the war. Now there is no war, the employment rate is very low and, you know, the poverty is high. So to let them forget all these experiences, they go to chew.” It’s a description that is all-too-familiar to Awale and other former addicts: “in the beginning it’s a bit of fun… But before I [knew], weeks and months and years passed and before I [knew], it was out of my control.”

But despite the costs to addicts’ physical and mental health, Somaliland officials are reluctant to regulate the sale and use of khat. “The good thing about it is the revenue we get from its trade”, explains Mustafa Achmed. “The khat companies are our best tax payers. The revenue is used for different purposes. For example, security it is given to the military. It is also used for development, the construction of roads and government buildings. The whole system is running thanks to this money.” “If we stop the khat, how would these people survive?” asks Adbulkarim Maggiore. “Then, it'd be better I kill them with a bullet. It'd be better.”

After ten years of campaigning, Abukar finally reaches his goal. The government of the United Kingdom bans all khat imports form the Horn of Africa and classes the plant as an illegal substance. “Let me tell you, if you think our fight is over because we won this battle in England, well, then you got it completely wrong”, he tells an audience gathered to celebrate his victory. He now plans to expand his campaign; his hopes to criminalise the trade of khat in his home country. “This victory is only the beginning! The streets of Somalia will be shaken by this earthquake.”


The Producers

Les Films Grains de Sable

Jean-Michel Carré founded Les Films Grain de Sable, a production company based on Maoist principles and dedicated to a criticism of what Michel Foucault called "the enclosing circles": schools, hospitals, factories and prisons. He is well known for his investigative films on Russia, namely The Putin System (2007) and Kursk (2004) and most recently his 3-part series titled China: The New Empire.

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