Khat, a stimulant drug, is chewed by around 90,000 people in the east African and Yemeni communities in the UK. But now the Home Office is considering banning the substance. Jamal Osman finds out why.

In an industrial estate in Southall, west London, thousands of boxes full of khat are delivered every week. The drug begins its journey from the hills of Kenya and arrives in the UK four times a week. It then makes its way to the depot, where dealers buy the herbal high to supply customers across the UK. The fresh leaves are chewed to achieve a state of mild euphoria. It has a stimulant effect similar to that of amphetamines.

Britain is the only country in the west where the product remains legal. The khat business generates over £400m in revenue for the British economy, and the chancellor of the exchequer also picks up a tidy sum in VAT revenue.

Around 90,000 people from the east African and Yemeni communities in the UK use it, especially the Somali community. But a Home Office report, which will be published on Wednesday, is to recommend regulating the product, and a ban is expected to follow later.

Not far from the depot in Southall lies Number 15, the best-known khat house in the country. Traditionally known as marfash, the khat house is open from midday till the early morning hours. Men sit around chewing the green leaf.

A little buzz

Mahdi Jama, a regular chewer in the marfash, cannot understand why anyone would bother people like him as the plant has been used for centuries by his community.

“It’s like vegetable but it gives a little bit buzz,” he said.

“It’s like saying we’ll ban alcohol because there are people who are alcoholic.”

However, anti-khat campaigners say it “is destroying the whole community”, causing health problems, unemployment and family breakdown. In particular, they are concerned about the spread of khat use among the younger generation, where the attitude is: “If it’s legal, it must be safe to consume it.”

Led by Abukar Awale, a former addict himself, the activists feel they are ever closer to achieving their objectives. It has been a long journey, however, and they have been trying to convince successive governments to listen.

The campaign started seven years ago with weekly visits to local khat houses. Once a week, the activists distribute leaflets with information about the harmful effects of the drug. Most people support them, but occasionally they get into arguments with khat-chewers who do not welcome their message. To reach more people, Abukar Awale started his own television show: Check Before You Chew. It is a phone-in programme where the viewers share their experience of khat use on one of the Somali satellite stations.

They then started attending local government meetings to influence key decision makers. As a result, some local authorities with a sizeable Somali population, such as Hillingdon, called for the regulation of khat to “give local authorities, the police and government agencies greater powers to control its importation, sale and use”.

Ban on khat

During the last election, the activists met politicians, offering them community votes. In return, they wanted their support for the ban on khat. Some politicians accepted the offer and supported the mission. Sayeeda Warsi, minister for faith and communities, announced that “a future Conservative government would legislate to make khat a classified drug.”

But the activists kept the pressure on the authorities. Playing the discrimination card, they accused the government of not taking the issue seriously since “it was not affecting real Brits”.

In 2010, when “meow-meow” – or mephedrone – was banned following the deaths of a number of young people in the UK, the anti-khat campaigners jumped on the bandwagon. They wanted to exploit the links between khat and mephedrone. Mephedrone is a synthetic substance based on the cathinone compounds found in the khat plant. They argued that since khat is widely available in the UK, people will find ways of producing meow-meow.

Last year, counter-terrorism officers working with their American counterparts arrested seven individuals across the UK. The group – all of them khat traders – were suspected of channelling the proceeds of an alleged smuggling enterprise to al-Qaeda-linked Islamists in Somalia.

And last month, those pushing for a ban organised a demonstration outside Downing Street: pray for a ban. It was about praying to a superior power, God, who could simply tell David Cameron to ban khat. If the report calls for tougher control on khat, the activists will believe their prayers have been partially answered.

But Abukar Awale and his friends will not accept anything other than an all-out ban.

“We will challenge any other decision,” he said.

“For the government, it’s not about how harmful this product is, it’s who is using it – and that is discrimination. Our lawyers have been preparing for this, and we will take legal action within the next three months.”

Back in the khat house in Southall, the message from the chewers is defiant. They say they “are just going to carry on chewing what ever happens”.

Source:Channel 4 news



  1. I give my vote to ban this ugly drug; It is so disgusting to see people chewing its leafs.
    It is loathing to see some teenagers run around with their mouth full of khat, ekh!

  2. why ban qat? yea sure it gives you side effects so what? If the UK wants to ban qat then they should also ban the sale of alcohol which is more dangerous than qat.

    I usually get my fresh qat from the lounge in willesden (London) and jam all night chewing with a coke.

    Those who are in favour of banning khat are the somali woman who are mad because they are being chased by Jareer men all the time rather than a somali lol.

    • the only somali women chased by jareer are darood women. So far i have seen 3 darood women in north London who have Jamaican boyfriends

      • listen kaboon pse stop discriminating between the Somali Women. Shame on you idiot.

        • Mohamed cheers, you confused idiot. Half of the time the trash that comes out of your mouth does not make sense.

  3. May Allah save our young people, from this disgusting evil drug. This horrible leaf has no benefit for our people, other than distruction, I definitely give my vote to ban it.

    • I do understand that a lot of people are badly effected by it, I am not supporting khat but it would be a mistake to criminalise thousands of people and give police in uk powers to harass the hole if we don’t have enough problems with terrorism labelling. If they could tax it more thus making it more expensive it would at lease but it out of the reach of the younger somalis.

  4. Folks, am not a fan of this Khat stuff, but as long as it's not as dangerous as Alcohol
    and other more dangerous drugs and also generates revenues in Kenya and UK treasury,
    I would rather stay neutral and refrain from engaging active or passive critics. One thing is for sure,
    the Khat users would find ways to keep in touch with their habits just like the illegal smugglers
    of anything vices and pros what have you????

  5. Watch this short film about how khat destroys the Somali society. To hell with revenue, I think it is doing more harm then good but the only disadvantage of banning is that a lot of Somali men will be in trouble by the law for dealing with khat but I still vote it to be BANNED.

    Somali society is low in the UK and part of it is due to unhealthy family relation and not investing in our children's future. —-> I feel sorry this victim of khat addict thou

  6. Khat should be banned everywhere under the sun.

    Khat causes mental illnesses including paranoia , mania and schizophrenia. It increases the rate of the blood pressure and pulse of the user, causes inflammation of esophagus, gastric tract and constipation. Khat users also experience difficulty urinating and adverse effects related to birth and reproductive system. More seriously Khat causes cancerous tumours of the mouth and tongue as well as serious dental disease see here

    Economically, great wealth is spent by the poor Somalis from Liboi to Djibouti per year which goes to the coffers of Khat producing countries such as Ethiopia, Yemen and Kenya. Somalia does not grow Khat and does not sell anything to these countries in return to balance its trade surplus with them. Khat users also waste 100s of millions of man hours as they idly sit in the mafrashs instead of being productive.

    Khat has a destructive impact on those societies that use it. It only enriches producing countries on our people’s expense. The sooner the Somali people address the bad effects of Khat on its society very seriously the better.

  7. Before all of you say let's band. Ask how is it working the banned Canada and U.S.A currently has on khat and Is it stopping anyone no' so this addiction has more to do personal responsibility than anything government can come up with it and I for one do not believe criminalizing is the answer.

  8. @amal

    you can't just ban roughly 500 hundred years of culture. Qat is part of us, our regular life most somalis youths in UK don't even chew Qat they into shisha session or weed.

    Qat doesn't destroy families lol its a rumor spread by bunch of jalabeeb wearing somali woman from Finsbury Park. In fact Qat brings families together in order to spend more quality.

    There's tons of worst stuff than qat that are legal in UK for example alcohol, cigarette even shisha.

    Those shisha joints in harlesden, camden and edgware road in friday and saturday nights which is packed and crowded with somali girls who think shisha is harmless. They so naive they don't know what they're getting into. You can have breast cancer through shisha in fact research by the World Health Organization has shown an average pipe smoking session of around an hour is equivalent to smoking up to 200 cigarettes.

    Do you know how many people die of alcohol in the UK alone?
    Each year 20,000 people die prematurely from alcohol, alcohol abuse, drink driving, heart disease etc.

  9. Statistically Somalis are the most unproductive citizens in the UK due to the effects of khat usage among them, yet British politicians oftenly turn a blind eye on the issues because they don't simply care..or perhaps they think as long as those African are being doped up on khat the majority of their young generations won't be able to compete with the Brits in higher education and subsequently at the workplaces.

    It's time the UK government applies the same set of rules for all it's citizens and legislate to ban this destructive substance as soon as possible, otherwise, if Brits continue to drag their feet in banning khat from England it might seen as a systematic way of destroying somalis in Britain in a discrete fashion.

  10. This drug should be banned outright everywhere but will the British government ban it since its only destroying Somalis? Am always hopeful but I doubted they will any time soon!

  11. Poor black communities are policed disproportionately enough as it is. The last thing the somali community needs is another reason for the police to target them, driving a bigger wedge against our community's trust of the police.