The reported entry of Ethiopia into the Somalia miraa business has left traders in Kenya anxious about losing the lucrative market to their northern neighbours for good.
According to Somali media reports, the Ethiopian national carrier on Saturday delivered the first consignment of miraa, also known as khat, to the Aden Adde International Airport.
The developments has sent shock-waves among Kenyan traders, who have monopolised the Mogadishu market for ages.
Ethiopian khat dealers hold sway over the Hargeisa market, which Kenyan traders have failed to penetrate due to hefty taxes. Somali media reported that the federal government had cleared Ethiopia for khat trade even as the Kenyan stimulant remains illegal.
Nyambene Miraa Traders Association chairman Kimathi Munjuri said the Somali government has also beefed up security on its coastal waters to bar entry of Kenyan khat via the sea.
Maua Miraa Traders chairman Mohamed Quresh said the Somali government also gave a three-day notice to Kenyan traders who have been sneaking khat through Mandera, to end the business.
Mr Munjuri asked the Kenya government to engage in diplomatic talks to avert losing the prized Somalia market.
“If Somali consumers are allowed to get used to the Ethiopian variety of khat, we may lose the market forever. More than 50 boats have been deployed in the ocean to stop us from using the sea. Why has our government allowed Ethiopia to outwit us?” Mr Munjuri posed. “We’re aware that about 30 tonnes of khat was delivered to Mogadishu.”
He said farmers and traders were now fatigued by the seven-month-long ban as they were in financial crisis.
Air cargo operators, who have been ferrying Kenyan miraa to Mogadishu, are now contemplating relocating to Ethiopia where business is expected to boom, Mr Quresh said, adding, there are strict orders in Somalia to lock out Kenyan khat. “We’ve learnt that the Ethiopian khat is cheaper and the unsold produce can be returned to farmers.
“This is aimed at locking us out of the market in future. As things stand, only President Uhuru Kenyatta can save the local miraa trade,” Mr Quresh said.
He noted that the situation has been complicated by the elections in Somalia, whose president harbours a strong dislike for Kenya.
Speaking during his tour of Meru County last weekend, Deputy President William Ruto said the Ministry of Agriculture was under instructions to address all challenges facing the miraa trade.
The DP, however, steered clear of the Somalia debate. Last week, Agriculture Cabinet Secretary Peter Munya called for patience, saying, talks were ongoing.