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Handas: Muguka is ‘khat-walking’ on miraa with ‘kisungusungu mingi’


A man irrigates muguka (khat) crop using water from a pan in Gachuriri area of Mbeere South, Embu County. [Joseph Muchiri, Standard]

Although miraa chewers scoff at muguka, the new kid on the block is spreading like a weed and addicted broke youth are chewing into miraa’s traditional markets at the Coast, Nairobi and upcountry.

“Khat consumption in Kenya is said to be between 120 and 150 tonnes, and we estimate that about 10 tonnes of it is muguka,” Kimathi Munjuri, chairman of the giant Nyambene Miraa Farmers and Traders Association (Nyamita), told The Nairobian.

Munjuri explained that one of the reasons muguka is eating into the traditional miraa markets in Kenya is because it is ‘more affordable’, a pointer to the tough economic times facing traditional miraa chewers and an army of jobless and idle youth who are joining the ‘cud-chewing sector’.

Josphat Njue, the chairman of Embu County’s Mbeere Muguka Sacco, said its 740 members produce an average of 1,820 tonnes of muguka annually and that the bulk of the produce is ferried to Isiolo, Mombasa, Garissa, Eldoret, Kitui and Machakos.

“Mombasa is one of our main markets. A kilo costs between Sh200 and Sh300, but when the supply is low, the price can go up to Sh1,000,” said Njue, adding that prices drop during the rainy season because of increased production.

Muguka chewers like Elias Njiru say they prefer it to miraa because it has a different stimulating effect.

 “Muguka is loved here in Embu because it packs a potent punch. I have chewed both miraa and muguka and I can tell you for free that the muguka high is more gripping. Even sweeter, it costs much less than miraa,” he said.

But Dennis Murithi, a consumer of miraa, dismissed that assertion, arguing that the fact that miraa is an export crop proved it was the preferred product.

“Any consumer worth his salt will tell you there is a big gap between muguka and miraa. Just check how many people grow and consume it. Miraa has more class, no doubt. We have seen national leaders chewing miraa, but have you ever seen any serious person chewing muguka in public?” posed Murithi, a daily consumer of miraa.

Though young women from Meru who chew miraa were reluctant to be interviewed, some like Irene Kaimuri, a farmer-cum consumer, said she would never be caught dead chewing muguka.

“Miraa is a classier item, you just have to peel off the skin of the twigs and munch and the stimulating effect is almost immediate. It has a clean high, too,” said Kaimuri.

This perhaps explains why muguka is becoming popular among the youth who don’t have the patience for “clean highs”.

“Regular miraa is a mild stimulant that you have to chew for a long time before getting a respectable high. With muguka, a few leaves will have you singing like a bird,” says Husein Boru, a Mombasa-based old timer.

Boru explains that muguka is godsend for the poor in Mombasa because miraa used to be exclusively chewed by Arabs and Somalis who could afford the steep prices.

Of concern however is the combined use of potent muguka and other drugs.

 “You get an amazing and euphoric night-long sleep when you round off your chewing with a joint of hashish,” says Kangethe, a matatu driver.

But Majid who hangs around a muguka base and is an enthusiast of the stimulant says those who mix their muguka with alcohol and bhang give “respectable” chewers like himself a bad name.

“The handas (high) should be kept pure. All that is required is for you to take lots of water as muguka dehydrates your body, and maybe cigarettes if you smoke. Mixing muguka with alcohol and bhang makes you a druggie,” he says.

Others says that chang’aa is the ultimate elixir after you have chewed muguka.

“I usually get terrible nightmares if I don’t drink chang’aa after chewing muguka. My wife wakes me up in the middle of the night asking why I am curled in foetal position with my thumb in my mouth and crying like a baby,” reveals Makanaki who hangs around a base in Bamburi.

Besides cheap liquor and joints, muguka adherents are also known to indulge in hard drugs like unga (heroin or cocaine), meth, vichuri (injectables) and tablets (bugizi).

Traditional muguka chewers who claim to chew it only with a Cola drink, coffee and gum, now complain that their pastime has been heavily infiltrated by all sorts of drug addicts.

“Many go through the motions of chewing muguka while in actual fact they are already high on something else,” says Mustapha ‘Millionaire’ as they call him at the base.

Dr Jalab Ashraf warns that while muguka and miraa are dismissed as “mild stimulants”, chewers expose themselves to hallucinations, restlessness, schizophrenia, palpitation and suppressed appetites.

“Their immune system, along with their overall health, suffers as a result of food deprivation,” warns the doctor who practises in Mombasa.

Ashraf also warns that prolonged chewing of miraa and muguka causes gingivitis, mouth ulcers, dental carries, teeth discoloration, damaged kidneys along with a host of other physiological effects.

A 2013 survey commissioned by the National Authority for Campaign against Alcohol and Drug Abuse (Nacada) revealed that approximately 22 per of the respondents had on one occasion or other used money meant for buying food, paying fees or meeting other requirements at home or school to buy khat.

The survey also noted that dehydration, lack of sexual arousal, urinary incontinence and pain during sexual intercourse were reported by users.

“Long-term usage of khat leads to constriction of blood vessels supplying blood to the reproductive tract thereby causing inhibited urine flow, and in men, the inability to attain and sustain an erection.

“In women, the dehydrating effects of miraa dry the lining of the reproductive tract leading to pain and blistering during sexual intercourse,” noted the report.

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