Sunday, July 23, 2017

The Land of The Cool Khat


In Ethiopia there is not much to do. The government is trying to change that and rebuild the economy of Ethiopia. The government has one serious quandary, the growing and selling of khat is one of the major sources of revenue. The government also sees khat as an impediment ot its efforts to revitalize the country.
The country’s government, which rules the economy with a tight grip, is worried that the habit could derail its plans to transform Ethiopia into a middle-income country in less than a decade ― a national undertaking that will require an army of young, capable workers, it says.

Khat is legal and remains so mainly because it is a big source of revenue for the government. But there are mounting concerns about its widespread use.

As many as 1.2 million acres of land are thought to be devoted to khat, nearly three times more than two decades ago. And the amount of money khat generates per acre surpasses all other crops, including coffee, Ethiopia’s biggest export, said Gessesse Dessie, a researcher at the African Studies Center Leiden at Leiden University.

That payoff, and the dwindling availability of land, has pushed thousands of farmers to switch to khat, he said. The changes have come as the government has pushed farmers off land that it has given to foreign investors in recent years.

Often associated with famine and marathon runners, Ethiopia is trying to change its global image by engineering a fast-growing economy, hoping to mimic Asian nations like China. It has poured billions of dollars into industrial parks, roads, railways, airports and other infrastructure projects, including Africa’s largest dam.

In cities across the country, skyscrapers grow like mushrooms, and along with them, dance clubs, restaurants and luxury resorts. According to government statistics, the country’s economy has been growing at a 10 percent clip for more than a decade.

But for all the fanfare surrounding what is often described as Ethiopia’s economic miracle, its effects are often not felt by the country’s young people, who make up about 70 percent of the nation’s 100 million people. There simply are not enough jobs, young people complain, often expressing doubt over the government’s growth figures.

It is because of this lack of jobs, many say, that they take up khat in the first place ― to kill time.

“It’s a huge problem,” said Shidigaf Haile, a public prosecutor in Gonder, a city in northern Ethiopia, which was rocked by violent protests last year, mainly by young people over the absence of jobs.

More than half of the city’s youth now chew khat, Mr. Shidigaf said. Many gather in khat dens away from prying eyes.

“It’s because there is a lack of work,” he added, saying there were numerous cases of people who were so dependent on the leaves, sold in packs, that they turned to petty crime. The government recognizes the problem, he said, but so far it has not been tackled directly.

“It’s bad for Ethiopia’s economic development because they become lazy, unproductive, and their health will be affected,” he said.
What to do? Khat is too deep in the economy and daily life of the country to easily root it out and its widespread use is hindering efforts to provide an alternative to chewing khat.Ethiopia is really caught between a rock and a hard place.

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