Saturday, October 23, 2010

Interview about Khat with Paul Cochrane

All Treatment 

The following interview about Khat with Paul Cochrane discusses various issues surrounding Khat consumption and culture. Paul Cochrane is a journalist based in Beirut, Lebanon, covering the Middle East and the Horn of Africa. Paul encountered and experienced Khat cultures first-hand through his travel in the Middle East. Paul's opinion and testimony do not endorse any particular treatment center.
Thank you for allowing me to interview you today. Can tell me a little bit about yourself? How do you first come to learn of Khat?

I first came across khat when reading Yemen: Travels in Dictionary Land by Tim Mackintosh-Smith. An avid khat chewer, Mackintosh-Smith brings up khat and its popularity in Yemen. I further encountered khat when studying for my Masters in Middle Eastern Studies at the American University of Beirut. Khat is a significant problem in Yemen, having a major impact on the economy, with an estimated 50% of Yemenis income going to acquire khat. Yemen is exceedingly poor, the poorest country in the Middle East and North Africa, so khat addiction clearly has an impact on spending, on children, nutrition and so on. Furthermore, it is putting immense stress on water resources. Khat is very water intensive to cultivate, and Yemen has water shortages, while cultivating khat means that other crops are not grown.

2. How and at what point during the course of your traveling did you first come to encounter Khat?
I first encountered and tried khat in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia in 2008. I had met some young Ethiopians at a coffee shop, and they invited me to a small room above the cafe to chew khat. I was interested to do so as I wanted to write an article about khat in Ethiopia (see During my travels there, I went to Harar, a major khat centre 10 hours drive from the capital, where I went to khat markets, visited khat farms, met dealers, distributors and rode delivery trucks.

3. As an organic drug, how is it generally produced and consumed?
Khat is a unique drug in that it has to be consumed within 24 hrs. It consists of cathinone and cathine, and it is the cathinone that produces stimulatory effects, 10 times more potent than cathine. As khat only has its effect within that time frame, it is a highly organized process from picking to sorting to delivering it in time to users - who want it as fresh as it can be. Apparently a pharmaceutical company in Kenya is working on trying to turn khat into a pill that would essentially freeze the khat's stimulatory properties. If this was developed, it would revolutionize the khat trade.
Khat is grown in fields, needing plenty of water, and the bushes grow pretty high, above head height. It is harvested very early in the morning, taken to a market where it is sorted - usually by women - into bundles according to its quality. Good khat is very expensive. It is then transported to markets in towns for people to buy, or placed on Isuzi flat bed trucks that drive at breakneck speed - hence the nickname "Al Qaeda trucks," as in the suicidal recklessness of the drivers - to airports or ports where it is then transported to neighbouring countries: Djibouti, Yemen, Uganda in particular, while also to Europe where it is not illegal and there is a sizeable East Africa/Yemeni expatriate populace, such as in London. In terms of consumption, it is a very sociable practice. Around midday, men - although women do take it - gather together, in rooms, on the street, in houses etc. and sit around plucking the leaves, a few millimetres under the stem. The leaves are then rolled into a ball in the hand, then put under the cheek and chewed. In Ethiopia, the khat is swallowed. In Yemen they spit it out. As it is quite bitter, people take it with peanuts and a soft drink. As khat sets in, after about 20 minutes, you get what is called in Amharic (the Ethiopian language) "merkhana" - high - and then you start talking avidly, music gets more intense. After a few hours you start getting introspective, which is when the group usually breaks up and people go their separate ways. It is a stimulant though, so some take it to study, read, write. It is hard to get to sleep though, so some people drink alcohol or smoke hashish to put them to sleep.

4. Khat is popular amongst many Middle Eastern and East African countries such as Ethiopia, and Yemen, from your personal traveling experience can you tell us about the general Ethiopian perception of Khat?
Khat, or chat as they call it in Ethiopia, is very widely consumed and has been done so for hundreds of years. Less though in the capital where it is not grown. It is popular with people from the north, and around Harar and Dire Dawar, in the east near the Somali border. In these areas there is no religious disapproval, certainly in Harar which is a very Muslim town - I saw a imam in a mosque sprawled on the carpet happily chewing away. It is even taken in the local prison. But in the capital I found some people disapproved, and the more religious Christians very much against it. Politicians also take it and there are stories of lavish khat chewing sessions among the elite.

5. Can you tell us of one memorable experience or encounter with Khat and/or Khat users?
I had lots of curious experiences with khat and khat users, from chewing on buses, in bars, on the street, to lying on the floor in a hotel lobby in the mid-afternoon with a group of men all indulging in khat, to chewing fresh khat with a farmer in his field - it is very addictive, and people chew it all the time. The strangest though was going with a wealthy Ethiopian friend to his house in the capital. Inside the compound they had a private mosque, with a sheikh reciting verses from the Quran. My friend, who works in Saudi Arabia, had told me not to talk about women or anything haram (sinful), yet here we were in a mosque drinking Ethiopian coffee and chewing khat amid a lot of frankincense burning away. Then a woman came up, and told my friend how a sheikh had cured her of breast cancer, then showing us the result; then a dwarf - a servant - came in bringing refreshments. It was all quite surreal, with or without chewing khat!

6. As a journalist, can you tell us about some of your observations concerning the noticeable perks and (social as well as personal) downsides of chewing Khat? Based on your opinion and experience, how is Khat different from other recreational drugs and products that are out there in the U.S. such as alcohol, coffee, marijuana, and opiates?
First, the pros. It is a stimulant, in fact used before coffee (which was discovered in Ethiopia) and similar to cocoa leaves. Students often take it to help them concentrate and study for long periods. It certainly had that affect on me, as I slept very little during my trip there, and on several occasions I didn't notice that I was reading for a straight three odd hours, only realizing when I looked at the clock and it was 2am. Athletes also take it, and you do walk faster during the initial few hours. Khat is a very sociable activity, triggering debate and making people very talkative.
On the downsides, it is very addictive. People spend a good amount of time everyday getting buying and then taking their fix. I noticed how addictive it was, as by midday the day after chewing khat, I could taste it inside my cheek, I wanted it. Curiously, as you take it into your digestive system in Ethiopia, I found my skin, certainly my arm pits, smelt of khat and my bodily deposits were green.
But while the sociable side is positive in many respects, the introspection is less so, as it turns people inward - which could be used constructively, like reading or writing, but in most cases is not. And this is the time when men would usually return home to their family.
Khat is ruining many people's lives and families because so much income goes towards khat, easily 50% or more if you are poor - so less money for food, clothes, education etc. and takes up a good portion of a person's day, with work usually confined to before lunch. Good khat is very expensive, at $10 to even $50 for a bushel. In Ethiopia to get good khat where they produce it costs around $6, poorer quality a few dollars. But most people in Ethiopia only earn a few dollars a day. Another downside is that people eat less, as the chewing makes the body feel it is eating, and as a stimulant it represses the appetite, so people can be undernourished as a result, able to go for long periods of time without eating. Addiction, like addiction to all drugs and alcohol, can also result in losing one's job, house etc. In Harar I saw many men living on the street that were khat users. One man had lost his teeth, so was using a mortar and pestel to crush the khat as he couldn't chew it. I did not hear of Ethiopians turning to crime though to fund their habit.
As I said earlier, khat cultivation means that other crops are not grown as it is much more lucrative for farmers to grow khat. It is water intensive, so it has negative effects on the environment, especially as this part of the world often lacks abundant rainfall (although less the case in northern Ethiopia). In Yemen this is a very pressing issue.
Ethiopians told me khat was not harmful, with users praising it, and did not result in sexual problems such as impotency, organ failure or memory loss, although medical research has shown otherwise, particularly in long term users. However, not enough medical research has been done on the medium to long term effects of khat usage.

Monday, October 18, 2010

Go India, Go! A Referendum for Kashmir Is Needed

by Paul Cochrane in New Delhi, October 15 -

I was sitting with some Kashmiri friends in their apartment in the New Delhi area of Lajpat Nagar, just a stone’s throw away from the Nehru Stadium, one of the sports complexes India has shelled out $9 billion to host the Commonwealth Games (CWG). The CWG, which brings together the 71 countries and territories of the former British Empire, was about to launch, and on a national TV channel the slogan was “Go India Go.”

Sprawled out on Kashmiri carpets, we were discussing the grave situation in Kashmir over the past four months. Since June 11, when the Indian army shot at unarmed demonstrators, over 100 Kashmiris have been killed, including women and children, and the Kashmir Valley has been under total curfew. Half a million Indian soldiers carry out patrols, raise check points and bunkers, ID anyone out and about, and shoot to kill without any hindrance or worry about being hauled up in front of a military tribunal – the diabolical Armed Forces Special Powers Act (AFSPA) has seen to that, letting soldiers, quite literally, get away with murder.

The conversation turned to how different this summer had been from the violence, protests and strikes of previous years. “It’s the worst it’s been in 20 years,” said Hamid, who is in his early 50s. “People are totally fed up with being stuck inside, the schools closed, and food supplies running out. Kashmiris have had enough.”

In 1989, a popular rebellion – a Kashmiri intifada – against Indian misrule began, further stoked by militant Islamic groups funded and supported by Pakistan’s notorious Inter-Services Intelligence Directorate (ISI) in the wake of the end of the Soviet occupation of Afghanistan, sending scores of Afghan veterans and Azad Kashmiris across the Line of Control (LoC) that separates Indian Jammu and Kashmir, and the Pakistani Azad (free) Kashmir (China has the remaining 20%, Aksai Chin, claimed by India). This proxy war between Pakistan and India, that remnant of Partition in 1947, put the Kashmiri populace in the middle. Intifada after intifada has occurred since 1989 and the Indian army has cracked down hard, notably in 2001, when over 1,000 civilians were killed. Over 45,000 Kashmiris have been killed over that 20 year period. Last year 72 civilians died at the hands of the Indian armed forces.

One major difference this year from former crises, when feelings simmered to a boiling point and Kashmiris took to the streets, is that this time there has been minimal militancy – apart from of the stone throwing kind and rioting. Sympathy with the militants has waned – particularly for Pakistani-backed groups – but anger with New Delhi’s political dillydallying and iron fist policy in tackling the “Kashmir issue” has spiked. The youth are not interested anymore in siding with New Delhi or Islamabad. The youth want independence, or, at worst, autonomy from India. The slogan at the huge protests that filled the streets of the summer capital, Srinagar, was “Go India Go,” particularly by the Quit Kashmir Movement and All Parties Hurriyat Conference. As we talked of this, the slogan flashed up on Times News channel as part of its CWG coverage. We all spotted the irony and started laughing: “GO India, GO!”

My friends are like many Kashmiris, forced to leave the valley for New Delhi some 1,000 kilometers away or even further afield in search of employment, selling carpets and other Kashmiri handicrafts, that major money earner that disappeared as the tourists stayed away. Indeed, the situation has been so precarious over the past decade that numerous guidebooks on India don’t even have a section on Kashmir anymore. It was a place once called the Switzerland of Asia due to its mountains, rivers and forests, giving the inspiration to that great Led Zeppelin song, Kashmir, in the 1970s when rock stars rented palatial boats on Dal Lake in Srinagar and Bollywood filmed dance numbers on the Alpine slopes. Now it is paradise lost.

So instead of investing billions of dollars on improving the infrastructure and livelihood of Kashmiris, or for the other 830 million Indians that live on less than 20 Rupees a day ($0.45), Delhi spent – and officials pocketed – $9 billion on the CWG. An event that – other than negative coverage by the international media in the lead up when a bridge collapsed, a cobra was found in an athlete’s room and so on – has garnered minimal attention worldwide. The Indians themselves seem far more focused on watching cricket matches.

While people starve, the healthcare system privatized, and people forced off their land for new real estate projects, mines and special economic zones, more is being spent on India’s military industrial complex. And Kashmiris, along with other “insurgents”, the Maoists, the Naxalites, keep getting killed by trigger happy soldiers with a licence to kill.1

In terms of global media coverage, Kashmir is a largely unheard of conflict, especially when placed next to neighbouring Pakistan and Afghanistan. The bleeding wound that is Kashmir is very much tied into Bush’s and now Obama’s war on Afghanistan, which is spilling over into Pakistan.

Kashmir is part of a regional game, a victim of its geography and religious make up – a mix of Sunni and Shia, the one million Hindu Pandits that lived there forced out over the years due to religious extremism and the perception that the Pandits were overwhelming with the predominantly Hindu national government rather than with Kashmir per se (a controversial government paper has shown that Muslims are under-represented politically and socially disadvantaged in India).

Kashmir has played directly into the ISI’s hands and to countries such as Saudi Arabia keen to export its brand of Islam (Kashmir had a large Sufi following while its Buddhist past also played its part in Kashmiri Islam). The religious dimension is the proverbial spanner in the works to a solution, the hatred so deeply ingrained over the past 63 years between the Islamic Republic of Pakistan and Hindu majority India. Pakistan is against an independent Kashmir that unites both sides, losing as it would its border and access to China, not to mention a major dent to its pride and the all powerful military that forms the backbone of the Pakistani nation. India’s Hindu populace – which has become far more radical and militant over the past 20 years – would equally be against losing a major part of the Northern provinces, especially to Muslim rule.

Srinagar during curfew

While international observers are calling on the LoC to become an international border, joint institutions to be developed and for the United States to partake in ‘quiet diplomacy’ and utilize its relations with Islamabad and growing alliance – particularly militarily and on nuclear power – with New Delhi, a far more radical solution is called for. One fitting with what India champions itself as, “the world’s largest democracy” – a referendum on what the Kashmiri people want, not Delhi, its puppets or the Kashmiri dynasties that have ruled the valley: independence or autonomy? This is in line with a 1948 UN resolution which called for a plebiscite to determine the wishes of the people of Jammu and Kashmir, but Delhi has repeatedly rejected the idea. In the meantime, the extrajudicial killings have to stop, and the AFSPA totally abolished.

As for Pakistan, that Frankenstein country propped up financially by the unlikely trio of China, Saudi Arabia and the US, it must end its 30 year funding of Kashmir-driven militant groups. Indeed, former Pakistani President Pervez Musharraf admitted earlier this month in London, that the ISI – before his rule, he made clear to point out – set up such groups in the 1980s and early 1990s to attack India. Evidence has also surfaced that the Kashmir-linked, ISI funded militant group Lashkar-e-Toiba was behind the November, 2008 attacks on Mumbai. Pakistan’s support for such groups has fuelled Islamic resistance in the Valley and provides a pretext for the Indian army to shoot unarmed protestors, labelling them terrorists and eyeing all Kashmiris as potential militants. Such an attitude was starkly conveyed to me a few years ago when trekking up in Gulmarg in the Kashmir Valley. I was talking to an Indian soldier, alone at his post overlooking the small town, and he pointed down and said: “All terrorists.”

It is time for the Kashmiris to decide if they want India to stay or to go. The same applies for Azad Kashmir. The Kashmiris should no longer be stuck between the Indian hammer and the Pakistani anvil.


For an excellent analysis on the state of India’s ‘democracy’ and corporate takeover see Arundhati Roy’s The Trickledown Revolution, Outlook, 20 September, 2010.

Photographs courtesy of Sarwar Bazaz

Friday, October 15, 2010

Dark days for the Gulf

Commentary - Executive magazine

It’s been a long hot summer. Temperatures hit all-time highs and Ramadan demand put power grids under serious strain across the Middle East. Few countries were spared as power outages hit Kuwait, Saudi Arabia, Bahrain, Sharjah, Yemen, Iraq, Lebanon, Syria and Egypt. But in those places suffering from power cuts, people seemed largely unaware of the rest of the region's electricity woes.

A Baghdad grocer adjusts a battery powered lamp in his shop during a power outage this summer

While Lebanese carried out their daily litany of complaints about blackouts, damning and blasting the government, many were surprised when I told them that Sharjah had such an electricity deficiency that residents were sleeping in air conditioned cars to avoid baking in concrete apartment blocks. It was so hot in the emirate that hospitals were inundated with cases of heat stroke and a construction worker died from heat exhaustion.

In Damascus, residents hot under the collar due to a lack of air conditioning knew of Lebanon's long-term electricity conundrum, but were unaware that Saudi Arabia and Kuwait — those rich Gulf countries where many Syrians seek work — were also having blackouts. With an 8 percent annual deficit, the situation was so bad in Saudi Arabia that school children were passing out while taking exams and airplanes were grounded. Kuwait's network hit 99 percent of capacity.

Power shortages in the region's poorer, more corrupt and war ravaged countries — Iraq, Yemen, Lebanon — are daily occurrences and are not unexpected, but why are they happening in the energy-rich Gulf?

The problem is that peak demand occurs every summer at the same time across the region. Populations growing in size and affluence means more air-conditioners — and industrial activity is increasing. All of this, coupled with exceedingly low electricity tariffs and an incredible lack of forward-planning has resulted in a major shortage of megawatts (MW). And without the modern day wonder of air conditioning, the region, particularly the Gulf, is not a place conducive to working or living as the mercury rises.

Thomas Edison, one of the inventors of the light bulb, once said: “I shall make electricity so cheap that only the rich can afford to burn candles.” In much of the Middle East, Edison's saying has been translated as: “We shall make electricity so cheap everyone uses too much of it, and only the rich can afford to run generators.” Lebanon is a case in point, with power “provider” Electricité du Liban to generate $800 million in bills this year, while the Lebanese will spend $1.76 billion on running generators.

But there is hope that such electricity shortages will be abated, with the cuts prompting such furor among the people that governments have been forced to invest in more power production. The Gulf countries are to spend an estimated $200 billion on power plants, Lebanon some $4.7 billion, Iraq up to $10 billion. Everywhere else there are plans for upgrades and new plants. Renewable energy and nuclear power are also in the pipeline, as is the $560 billion Desertec solar power project in North Africa. And if other solar power initiatives get underway in the rest of the Middle East and North Africa, the region will be able to produce up to 470,000 MW of sustainable electricity by 2050, according to research by the German Aerospace Center.

While such initiatives are laudable, practical solutions to the current shortages need to be implemented. It takes around three years to build a conventional power plant, and once output is increased, there is usually a corresponding rise in demand as people use more electricity. It's a vicious cycle.

Before these projects get underway, thinking about how to lower overall consumption across the region should be part of every national power plan. Can we really call a ski slope in a mall in the desert an efficient use of electricity? Do empty office blocks have to be lit up like Christmas trees in the middle of the night? And when the whole of Lebanon lacks electricity, did the Maronite Church have to erect the world’s largest illuminated cross at Qanat Bekish in Mount Lebanon, a 240 foot high construction lit by a staggering 1,800 spotlights?

If temperatures are as high again next year and such wanton waste of electricity continues, power cuts are likely to be worse. In the meantime, higher tariffs to encourage people to use power more wisely would help to ensure more people are sleeping in their houses rather than their cars this time next year.

PAUL COCHRANE is the Middle East correspondent for International News Services

Turkey's clothing and textile sector rebounds

By Paul Cochrane for

Turkey's clothing and textile sector has rebounded this year on the back of strong sales to Europe and emerging markets, with clothing exports up 11% to US$9.5bn as of August 2010, and textile exports reaching US$4.1bn, up 23% on 2009.

"Last year was a disastrous year, with clothing exports down 23%. This year we're recovering, exports are up, but 17% below 2008 and 10% below 2007," said Mehmet Kumbaraci, director general of the Turkish Clothing Manufacturers Association (TGSD).

Current export figures suggest the TGSD's forecasts for 2010 were relatively solid, with ready-to-wear exports projected at around US$14bn and textile exports at US$6bn. Their predictions, however, had looked rather rose-tinted in the spring.

"We were rather pessimistic at the beginning of the year, but textile exports in August were US$480m, up 10% on the previous month, and US$1.1bn in clothing exports, up 6% on July. I expect for the end of the year exports will be more than US$14bn for clothing, and about US$6bn for textiles.

"All plants are fully occupied, including high quality orders from suppliers in Pakistan, Bangladesh and China," said Kumbaraci. Demand ranges across the industry for all types of garments, he added, with no notably higher demand for any specific items.

Turkey was the only 'top 20' exporter to the European Union (EU) to record gains in the first five months of 2010, up 18.5% in Euro earnings between January and May. The other 19 main exporting countries - including China and India - have seen exports fall, stressed Zafer Çaglayan, Turkey's state minister for foreign commerce, at the launch of Istanbul Fashion Week 2010 in late August.


Despite overall textile and garment purchases by the EU falling this year, Turkish manufacturers have increased exports due to what Kumbaraci called the sector's principle of "fashion-fast-flexible."

Lead times have gradually dropped from two months to under four weeks, while the sector's highly skilled workforce, technology and design capabilities have retained Turkey's value-added edge with retailers who are not keen on having too high an inventory in the current economic climate.

This was reflected, for example, in Hugo Boss's decision to enlarge its men's wear factory in Izmir this year, while German men's wear brand Roy Robson has opened a men's wear factory nearby, said Kumbaraci.

"Since we have demand we are urging our members, which are congested with expected and un-expected demand from all over the EU, to invest in more technology and nano-technology, as well as make their own designs," he said.

"We are also encouraging young designers to go to Europe, and for manufacturers to hire young stylish designers that know about the European and American markets."

While the EU accounts for 80% of Turkey's exports, according to the TGSD, domestic clothing sales are also up this year - having fallen 15% in 2009 - and exports to emerging markets are faring well, particularly for Turkish-made brands in Tunisia, Iran, Iraq, Syria, Azerbaijan and China.

"The Chinese are now wearing more, so local demand is going up there and people want to have goods from abroad. 'Made in Turkey' products are in high demand and we are urging retail chains to open in China, and some are going," said Kumbaraci.

US recovery slow

Exports to the United States, however, have not recovered because import has primarily been for lower-cost garments and textiles than offered by Turkey. Exports are currently valued at US$300m a year compared to US$1.5bn a few years ago.

The TGSD is urging the government to push for Qualified Industrial Zones (QIZs) to be established in Turkey which would exempt products from US import taxes, as is the case for QIZs in Egypt and Jordan.

But while the sector is buoyant, it is facing global problems such as the record high cotton prices, and the TGSD is pushing the government to be more flexible with the minimum wage in poorer parts of Turkey to enable the sector to better compete internationally price-wise.

The TGMA's long-term goal is for Turkey to account for 5% of global clothing exports - as in 2005 - at some US$22.5bn to US$25.3bn by 2014, and US$60bn by 2023.

"Next year looks brighter, yet I am not sure if the crisis is 100% over everywhere. We have to be optimistic on one hand and cautious on the other," said Kumbaraci.