DJIBOUTI CITY, 20 March 2021 – Trade in the drug, khat, is very popular and beneficial in the Horn of Africa, including in Djibouti where most traders are women.
Khat has proven to be crisis-proof judging from the COVID-19 lockdowns and slowdown in other economic activities.
Traders in khat have also risen to become their family’s main breadwinners.
Trade in the stimulant is estimated to account for around five percent of gross domestic product (GDP).
Since the beginning of the corona crisis, the economic importance of the khat trade has risen.
Much of the khat production delivered to consumers in Djibouti comes from Ethiopia.
Around 15 tons of the amphetamine-packed leaves are imported each day into Djibouti (about one million inhabitants) from Ethiopia (110 million inhabitants).
A limited quantity of the Horn of Africa khat output is produced in Somalia, but traded from the conflict-ridden country is much slower, more dangerous, and less profitable.
The khat trade in the Horn of Africa region has proven very resilient, including through civil wars in Yemen and Somalia.
Supplies have managed to be delivered on time despite the wars – an important factor in the drug – because the small, leathery green leaves start losing their effect around 24 hours after being harvested.
Estimates are that at least 15 percent of Djibouti’s tax revenues come from the khat trade.
Khat is not only a blessing to the economies of the Horn of Africa.
The World Bank estimates that the average “khatter” spends about seven hours a day – almost an entire day’s work time – chewing the narcotic leaves.
The economic losses, the social and health consequences, are believed to be enormous.
There are no current plans in Djibouti to ban the drug with import companies like SOGIK in Djibouti officially registered and a legitimate tax-paying enterprise. According to estimates, the government of Djibouti earns an estimated six euros per kilogram of khat.
The COVID-19 crisis has slowed Djibouti’s economic growth, with significant job losses, including at the port.
According to the African Development Bank (AfDB), unemployment was close to 40 percent in the country just before the start of the pandemic.
Djibouti has developed one of Africa’s most modern ports, offering services notably to landlocked Ethiopia.