By ABDULHAKIM SHERMAN
Meru Deputy Governor Raphael Muriungi has said the ban of miraa exports to Somalia could be a reaction to the planned repatriation of Somali refugees from the Dabaab refugee camp in the country.
Without elaborating Mr Muriungi asked the government to immediately intervene and restore miraa exports to Somalia.
“I suspect this miraa ban could be a reaction to the planned repatriation of Somali refugees, the presence of Kenya Defence Forces in Somalia and not the other reasons being advanced,” the Deputy Governor said without elaborating.
However, the Somali ambassador to Kenya Gamal Hassan, has said their government imposed a ban on miraa imports from Kenya because of a visit by Meru Governor Peter Munya to Somaliland.
Mr Hassan said he had “used the business to campaign for the breakup of the country,” he told the Daily Nation.
The ambassador said Mr Munya’s visit to Hargeisa in July had caused political pressure back in Somalia to have the trade stopped.
In May this year, President Hassan Sheik Mohamed told the BBC that the forced repatriation of Somali refugees from Dadaab refugee camp was not in the best interests of either Kenya or Somalia.
The Somalia president called for “a better way” to repatriate refugees from his country as Kenya insisted it wanted to close the camp over security concerns, saying terrorist attacks on its soil have been planned there.
In June, President Mohamud, visited the camp and said its planned closure could instead increase terrorist attacks.
But Mr Muriungi said the issue of international trade fell within the docket of the national government and specifically the Ministry of Foreign Affairs and International Trade and asked the government to take immediate action.
“The national government has been sleeping on the job because they have not taken any action yet miraa worth millions of dollars is lying at the airport and on farms since the Somalia government effected the ban,” he said.
The Deputy Governor said miraa is a perishable produce and miraa farmers are incurring losses running into millions of shillings daily due to the ban.
“I am asking the government to take some emergency action and also compensate the affected farmers as a lasting solution to this issue is being sought,” he added.
On Monday, the Somalia government suspended all flights transporting the commodity from Kenya to Mogadishu.
Speaking in Mogadishu on Monday, Somalia President Hassan Sheikh Mohamud said the trade and consumption of the stimulant had a “devastating” impact on Somalis and must be banned.
“We had a series of discussions and consultations and agreed to end the trade of the narcotic leaf,” Mr Mohamud said in June this year.
“We will first act by reducing its trade and finally put an end to it.”
His threat came to pass on Monday when the Somali Minister of Civil Aviation – Ali Ahmed Jangali – said that the country has decided to temporarily suspend all khat (miraa) imports to Somalia from Tuesday.
In a letter addressed to Miraa Cargo Operators, Mr Jangali said: “While considering special circumstances, Somali Civil Aviation and Meteorology Authority on behalf of the Federal Republic of Somalia is hereby informing all miraa cargo operators and anyone it may concern that miraa cargo flights and its operation into Somalia have been cancelled until further notice.”
The minister also said that any “violation on the Somali airspace and disregard of this notice will have consequences”.
Reacting to this move, Nyambene Miraa Traders Association expressed shock at the flights ban.
Group spokesman Kimathi Munjuri said the ban would bring the industry to its knees. He said about 12 cargo planes ferry miraa to Somalia every day.
“We saw this coming and advised the government to safeguard the market. The notice caught us by surprise because there was no warning. I don’t know what will happen to traders who have already ordered miraa to be delivered tomorrow (Tuesday),” Mr Munjuri said.
Meru Governor Peter Munya described the move by the Somali government as terrible.
He said the Somali miraa market was bigger than the domestic market and was the only key one left after the ban in UK and the Netherlands.
Mr Munya told the Daily Nation that the national government should move with speed and convince the Somali government to rescind the move to avoid impoverishing Meru residents especially in Nyambene.
“The move, if it stands, will completely kill the Nyambene economy,” he said on telephone.
The governor had visited Somaliland two months ago where he lobbied for the trade.
The leafy plant acts as a stimulant when chewed, making people talkative but can also cause confusion.
This move will worsen the already struggling sector following a similar ban by Britain in 2014, when it became the latest nation to formally outlaw the herbal stimulant.
In 2012, Netherlands, which was the biggest foreign market for miraa banned its sale, triggering an outcry from Kenyan traders.
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