KDF burn $250,000 Somalia-bound Khat in Lamu
NAIROBI, Kenya - A consignment of Khat worth $250,000 was on Tuesday intercepted by KDF along the shores of the Indian Ocean, in one of the major operations since the closure of major international airports in Kenya.
Troops from Kenya Navy intercepted two boats ferrying the consignment to Somalia, which is one of the biggest markets for the crop, considered as a mild stimulant by scientists.
The boats were seized at Barakuda, about 100 kilometers from Lamu island, which borders Somalia to the South West. Lamu is one of the regions that are frequently used by smugglers, authorities said.
Irungu Macharia, the Lamu County Commissioner, said the soldiers handed over sacks of Khat to the Kenya Coast Guard who ferried it to Manda Ras Kitau beach where it was torched.
“The culprits claimed they were transporting the herbs to Kiunga Town which is on the border of Lamu with Somalia. But we’re aware of their secret businesses of ferrying it into Somalia," he said.
"People should know that we have an active ban on miraa across Lamu County as we try to curb the spread of coronavirus to this region,” Macharia added.
According to the commissioner, trading of Khat, locally known as Miraa, will remain banned until Coronavirus pandemic subsides. Most counties in Kenya, especially in northeastern, have banned the crop due to the pandemic.
Mandera, Wajir, and Garissa where the consumption is high, imposed restrictions on the selling of the stimulant. However, the move triggered protests from local traders who earn a living through the crop.
Last week, police at Minjila, Garsen, Madogo and Witu roadblocks intercepted trucks that were ferrying Khat to Tana River and Lamu counties, Daily Nation reported.
Several sacks of the herb were seized and burnt to ashes as members of the public watched in a move calculated at discouraging the business during this period when the government is battling a pandemic.
Mohamed Abdulkadir, who is the chairperson of the Coast Interfaith Council of Clerics (CICC), said they fully support the war on miraa in Lamu.
“I am always sad when I see miraa and muguka traders and consumers openly flouting the existing ban...We support the government ban on the herb," he said.
Incidentally, Somalia also banned the importation of the stimulant, forcing many cargo planes from Kenya to return from Aden Adde International Airport. The ban, authorities said, would help curb the spread of the COVID-19.
So far, Somalia has reported only eight positive cases of Coronavirus. But in Kenya, positive cases hit 172 of Tuesday with already six succumbing. Only seven recoveries have been reported.
KDF teams usually survey the Indian Ocean waters, even with an ongoing dispute with Somalia which is currently at the International Court of Justice at the Hague. Khat is one of the major foreign exchange earners for Kenya.
In February, President Uhuru Kenyatta asked security forces to increase border surveillance, arguing that unscrupulous traders were taking advantage to smuggle contraband goods, whose proceeds are channeled to Al-Shabaab accounts.