Kenyan khat traders declare a stand for patriotism over profits and say they are ready to lose their ‘last’ market

Somalia remains Kenya’s key miraa market, taking in about 50 tonnes of the commodity daily, valued at more than Sh100 million ($1 million), according to Kenya National Bureau of Statistics.

With the ongoing diplomatic spat between Kenya and Somalia, the miraa traders could, however, lose 90 per cent of the market.

Kenyan President Uhuru Kenyatta together with Somalia President Mohamed Abdulahi Farmajo at a past  event.
Kenyan President Uhuru Kenyatta together with Somalia President Mohamed Abdulahi Farmajo at a past event.

On Saturday, Kenya recalled its ambassador to Mogadishu, Lucas Tumbo, and ordered Somalia envoy in Nairobi, Mohammed Muhamud, to leave after an alleged auction of oil and gas blocks in maritime territorial areas claimed by both countries.

Foreign Affairs Permanent Secretary, Macharia Kamau said the alleged auction took place in London on February 7. The dispute pending before the International Court of Justice in the Netherlands.

Miraa traders in Kenya have since joined the diplomatic spat and sided with the national government and say they are ready to lose the Somalia market, stating they cannot trade the country’s sovereignty for miraa sales.

Oil and gas blocks in maritime territorial areas claimed by both Kenya and Somalia
Oil and gas blocks in maritime territorial areas claimed by both Kenya and Somalia

In a statement yesterday, Nyambene Miraa Traders Association said Somalia was riding on miraa traders’ welfare to blackmail Kenya.

Miraa is the soft underbelly targeted by Somalia whenever it wants to seek attention from Kenya. We should be bracing for the worst,”spokesman Kimathi Munjuri said.

The association added that business had become difficult over the last two months after Puntland raised taxes while Mogadishu has opted for cheaper imports from Ethiopia.

“As it is, we are exporting minimally to Puntland after President Said Abdullahi Deni piled on us a tax of Sh500 per kilogramme of miraa,”Munjuri said.

A Somali trader.
A Somali trader.

In February 2017, miraa traders suspended exports to Somalia after the country introduced punitive tax measures. Mogadishu increased the tax on the product from Sh309 to Sh360.5 per kilo of khat, leading to a four-day boycott by Kenyan miraa exporters.

The decision was, however, rescinded and the tax dropped to Sh247 after intervention by the Kenyan government.

The union has also asked the government to suspend diplomatic relations with Britain, Norway and Ireland who have blocked miraa from Kenya.

A woman and her daughter tie miraa into small bundles in Mogadishu
A woman and her daughter tie miraa into small bundles in Mogadishu

Somalia is now the only remaining viable international market for Kenya’s khat after Europe pulled the rug from under Kenya’s feet

In 2015, the UK banned miraa export after classifying the commodity as a class C drug. Until then, the UK was one of the biggest markets and was absorbing 15 per cent of Kenya’s khat export.

Miraa has since seen Mogadishu emerge to be among five main export markets for Kenya in Africa.

Somali khat market
Somali khat market

Export data at the Central Bank for the four months between July and November shows Kenya exported goods worth Sh6.13 billion to Somalia.

Somalia was fifth after Uganda, Tanzania, Egypt and Rwanda. The main Kenyan export to Somalia is khat which accounts for up to 90 per cent of the goods to Somalia.

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