H.E. Mr. Ampy Portos, Minister of the Interior of the Democratic Republic of Madagascar
On Monday last we met for the first time for the official opening of this Conference and we asked the question whether khat was harmful to health or not, whether the cultivation and consumption of it should be prohibited. Now, after four and a half days of discussions, are we any further advanced? I answer "yes", without any hesitation.
First of all I should like to emphasize that this conference has been of a very high standard, for among its participants there are deputy Ministers, researchers, scientists, and high-ranking officials from the various countries concerned.
During these four days we have heard a great number of points of view and we have exchanged our experiences. However, in spite of the seriousness and the wide-ranging debates, khat remains for us a plant open to question. By means of our discussions, sometimes passionate, we have been able to throw a little light on certain aspects of khat that are still obscure.
After having debated, at great length, the pharmacological and chemical aspects of khat and after having studied the possible systems of prevention against the use of khat, we have once more been obliged to recommend to the United Nations and WHO that they carry out additional research in order to determine clearly the medical and' social consequences of the use of khat among the populations of the countries concerned.
This does not mean to say that we have not taken a step forward. Certainly we have taken a step, and even two or three steps forward, but it is still not sufficient. We must dig deeper still. The analysis must be extended further so that each country can assume its responsibility with a full knowledge of the facts.
Indeed, during this conference, it has been demonstrated that cathinone is the most active constituent, more than cathine. Therefore, it is cathinone that could constitute a danger. However, cathinone is difficult to isolate and it disappears quickly in the presence of oxygen. It has also been maintained, either in the corridors or during the debates, that khat is a medicinal plant, that it contains vitamin C, that it could possibly be an anti-cancer product and that, once boiled, it loses its harmful constituents (cathinone and cathine) and becomes very consumable.
Methods of prevention and the policy of substitution of the cultivation of khat have also been explained and a film was even shown on this subject. This means that draconian measures are already being undertaken in certain countries.
In short, following up on the differing data and the clash of ideas or points of view, you have made some very wise recommendations, notably:
- to undertake additional studies and research;
- to commence straight away the substitution of crops in the regions where the harmful consequences are clearly manifested;
- to encourage bilateral or regional agreements for controlling the import and export of khat.
In our opinion, other recommendations could not have been made for, as I have said, khat remains a plant open to question, both from the medical and the socio-economic point of view.
Indeed, if we refer to the documents and the results of enquiries that are now in our possession, we can say that in the Yemen and at Djibouti 80 to 90% of adult men in the towns consume khat and 10% of women chew or burn khat. In these circumstances, how could one abruptly prohibit the consumption of khat if one does not have convincing and serious arguments to put forward, bearing in mind the sociological impact of the consumption of khat in these countries.
In Djibouti, in 1978, an attempt was made to enforce the prohibition of the import, the sale and the consumption of khat, but six months later the government had to go back on that decision, the consumption of khat being so ingrained in the customs of the country. To be sure, a certain number of "medical complications" were reported, particularly of the cardio-vascular kind, as well as "psychological anomalies". But that still does not seem sufficient.
And even France and England have made a report to the United Nations Commission on Narcotic Drugs declaring that khat is a drug. This has caused,a stir, of course. But, on the other hand, according to reports which have reached us, in Ethiopia peasants are now replacing coffee crops with plantations of khat, which are perhaps more profitable. In contrast to that, in Saudi Arabia the government is giving subsides to peasants who destroy their fields of khat and replace them with coffee plantations. In Somalia, the price of a bunch of khat is 150 Somali Shillings, i.e. 10 US Dollars or 3,500 FMG.
In short, khat remains a plant open to question. It is a "secular" plant, if one can use that term; it has been making its appearance for several centuries and it is anchored in the traditions of many countries. In the Yemen, for example, since the 13th century , it has been "the religious and temporal nobility" who have had the privilege of consuming khat. In later years it has spread to the population - in its entirety.
To pull out or uproot a secular plant or tree, a lot of strength, a lot of patience and a lot of resources are necessary.
Thus, our task is not simple. But these difficulties must not discourage us, rather the contrary.
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Insofar as Madagascar is concerned, the history of khat is linked to the Arab settlement in Madagascar: a consequence, therefore, of immigration
If you have the curiosity to glance through a book on the history of Madagascar, you will see that the first populations of Madagascar had come from outside. It is stated in these books on Madagascar History that: "Among others, the Arabs frequently visited the northeast of Madagascar with their dhows, coming by way of the eastern coasts of Africa (Mogadishu, Malindi, Sofala, ...) and the Comoro Islands, from the 8th century onwards, in consequence of the Muslim expansion, following upon the foundation of Islam".
They established warehouses in the Bay of Ampasindava in north-west Madagascar and in other localities on the north-west coast.
On the north-east coast of Madagascar, the first Arab immigration resulted in a commercial expansion and conflicts between sects. The Muslims and the Zaidites constituted the first wave which established itself at Vohemar,MTffe north-east of Madagascar, in the 10th and 11th centuries. The Sunnites arrived later.
I shall not venture to say that these Arabs brought khat with them in their dhows, although this could be very possible. But what one does observe at the present time is that it is in the regions where there is a high concentration of Arab and cross-bred populations that khat is planted and consumed.
If I have made this small incursion into history, it is in order to prepare you for the visit that you are going to pay to Ambilobe in the north-west of Madagascar, a visit that I hope will be feasible in spite of the problems of weather and means of transport, a visit that I hope you will find pleasant, relaxing and very instructive.
By way of conclusion, I should now once again like to express our most sincere thanks to all those who have contributed to the success of this conference. The Madagascar Revolutionary Authorities which have already staged two conferences on khat, will not spare any effort to get to the bottom of the question we have been debating at such great length. They will bring their total support to every action conducive to clarifying the harmful consequences of the mastication and consumption of khat and will willingly contribute to the taking of adequate measures to which our responsibilities give rise.
Representatives, Excellencies, Ladies and Gentlemen, I declare closed the Second International Conference on Khat.
I thank you.