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UK MPs back Kenyan bid to overturn ban on miraa sale

COUNTIES
By By ALPHONCE SHIUNDU | November 30th 2013
UK MPs back Kenyan bid to overturn ban on miraa sale.

By ALPHONCE SHIUNDU

Kenya: British MPs turned the tables on their Home Affairs Secretary Theresa May when they told her that it was wrong for her to propose the ban on miraa.  They upbraided May for making “such an important decision” without “evidence or consultation”.

The British lawmakers appear to have been swayed by the plea of the Kenyan MPs who met them, that, if the ban went through, then, the UK-Kenya relations would be “damaged”.

The Home Affairs Committee was furious that May had ignored Kenya’s place in its ties to the United Kingdom when she made the decision.

“Considering the importance and investment in our partnership with Kenya as a means to combat terrorism, and the links between poverty and radicalisation, this lack of consultation is particularly concerning,” reads the report released late Thursday to the House of Commons.

Ahead of the publication of the report, Kenyan MPs told their British counterparts that even though the ban is live in countries such as Netherlands, Denmark, Norway, and Sweden, a ban in Britain “is more likely be seen as a betrayal given the longstanding social, cultural, economic and military links between the two countries.”

“The delegation argued that the resentment and disaffection that would arise from a growth in unemployment due to a reduced demand for khat from the UK could potentially lead to more young men formerly employed directly or indirectly by the trade joining al-Shabaab,” the Home Affairs Committee report noted.

The verdict came as good news to Meru County, whose leaders have been camping in London, the British capital, lobbying to have the ban reviewed.

Kenyan MPs have launched a twin assault — in London courts and in the House of Commons — to have the proposed ban on miraa reviewed.

Kiraitu Murungi, the Meru Senator who leads eight MPs who sit in the ad hoc committee of Parliament looking at the ban, welcomed the British MPs’ report as “a major victory for miraa farmers” especially those in his county who depend on the crop for their livelihood.

“Their decision concurs with what we have always argued — that the decision to ban miraa was not based on any scientific or legal grounds. It was a unilateral decision,” Murungi told the Standard on Saturday early Friday as soon as he got the news.

The Meru senator, together with Florence Kajuju, the chairperson of the ad hoc committee on miraa, are set to testify in a UK court on a case they filed to have the proposed ban reviewed.

Unregulated trade

“We decided to petition the House of Commons, and even challenge the decision in court, because we knew that if any authority gave us a hearing, they would reason with us,” said Murungi.

In their report, the British MPs said there was no scientific basis for proposing the ban, other than fears that the United Kingdom was likely to become a hub for international smuggling of miraa into the rest of Europe where the stimulant is banned.

The UK MPs said the Advisory Council on the Misuse of Drugs had “conducted a thorough review of the evidence and concluded that no social or medical harm resulted from the use of Khat”.

“There is the clear potential for the introduction of controls on khat in the UK to have a detrimental impact on the economy of Kenya, particularly in Meru, where khat cultivation is a major industry. This would not, in and of itself, be a good reason for rejecting a ban on a drug which was proven to be harmful, but in this case there is no good evidence of medical or social harm,” the MPs noted in their report.

The British lawmakers added that a ban on miraa was likely to spawn crime among the consumers of the stimulant within the UK.

The worry for the lawmakers is that many of those who consume the stimulant are mainly from Kenya, Somalia, Yemen and Ethiopia, and if the ban took effect, then, they are likely to be driven underground, into crime.

“It is wrong to place legal importers in the impossible position of choosing between a life of potential hardship or one of crime. The best solution is the introduction of a licensing system for importers as a middle way between unregulated trade and an outright ban,” said Keith Vaz, the chairman of the Home Affairs Committee.

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