Farmers and traders cry foul after 'muguka' ban imposed, users arrested

John Njeru at his muguka farmer in Mbeere South, Embu County. Mombasa and Kilifi counties have banned the sale and use of the produce in the counties. [File, Standard]

Miraa and muguka farmers are facing a bleak future as leaders from the Coast intensified the campaign against the drug, with police arresting 12 traders.

Barely a day after Mombasa County banned muguka, Kilifi Governor Gideon Mung'aro also issued a ban on the stimulant and vowed to crack down on its sale.

On Friday, 12 traders were nabbed and an estimated 25 tonnes of muguka of unknown value was confiscated in Mombasa as a ban on the stimulant took effect.

At Changamwe along the Nairobi-Mombasa highway, transporters and traders engaged law enforcers in a cat-and-mouse chase as they tried to sneak the product into the city.

Meanwhile, traders and consumers of muguka and miraa held protests against the ban as police officers distanced themselves from the issue.

“I am not aware of the ban on muguka. I am on leave but no police officer is involved in the crackdown,” said Coast traffic boss George Kashimiri.

The ban on muguka - the leaves of the Catha Edulis tree which are chewed as a stimulant - ignited mixed reactions at the Coast, with proponents hailing it as a big win in the war on drug abuse.

“We have arrested 12 people and confiscated a lorry full of muguka, 12 bags in Miritini and Mwakirunge. The products will be set ablaze,” said Charles Changawa.

Mr Changawa, who is Mombasa County Deputy Director in charge of the inspectorate, said the suspects were released on a Sh5,000 bail and will be arraigned in court on Monday.

“The product confiscated will be set ablaze by the governor today (Friday) evening. This is a big win in the war on drugs and substance abuse,” he said.

In neighbouring Kilifi, Mung’aro issued an executive order on Friday to prohibit the sale, transportation, and consumption of muguka in the county.

Through the order, Mung’aro issued a ban on entry, transportation, distribution, sale and use of muguka and its products within the county boundaries.

“In exercise of the powers conferred in Section 30(2)(1) of the County Government Act and all other enabling laws of Kenya, I, Gideon Mung'aro, Governor of Kilifi County, hereby order and direct as follows. That there be a total prohibition on entry, transportation, distribution, sale, and use of muguka and its products within Kilifi County,” it read.

In Kwale County, political leaders and locals proposed an increase in the cess on muguka from Sh10,000 to Sh100,000 per lorry entering the county to counter their excessive use.

Speaking during public participation on the Kwale County Finance Bill 2024 in Mwereni ward in Lunga Lunga yesterday, residents said the stimulant was ruining the youth.

“Many youths spend many hours chewing the stimulant and even neglecting families and work. We demand the cess to be raised from Sh10,000 to Sh100,000," said Philip Mabuti, a resident.

Nyamawi Ndeje and Harbert Kutsonga supported the proposal, saying if the business is not regulated, the fertility rate might reduce drastically in coming years, as couples neglect one another as they concentrate on chewing the stimulants.

Kwale County Budget Committee Chairman Manza Beja said the county government will ensure all views are considered before the bill becomes a law. 

Meanwhile, critics have termed the decision by Governors Abdulswamad Nassir (Mombasa) and Mung'aro (Kilifi) as a “populist move that would hurt the county’s economy”.

Embu Governor Cecily Mbarire, Meru Senator Kathuri Murungi, and Deputy Governor Mutuma M’ethingia met Nassir last week in an attempt to defend the trade of the stimulant.

Meanwhile, miraa traders and leaders from Meru are rushing to formulate regulations that would remove miraa from the list of the Narcotics and Psychotropic Substances Act. 

By Marion Kithi, Ishaq Jumbe and Patrick Beja