15 March, 2013

Politics of Qat: How one plant rules Yemen

Politics of Qat
Due to its exorbitant price, many people who would like to read the almost 900 pages, with several photos, 'Politics of Qat: The Role of a Drug in Ruling Yemen' by the very little known Peer Gatter - can not be able to. Gatter tries to give some insight into how the chewing of this mildly narcotic plant (qat or khat), by most Yemenis, is affecting the country. To Gatter, all problems in Yemen stem from qat chewing. He is very wrong; to many Yemenis, qat helps them to concentrate, to relax, to chat, to daydream, at work, on break, at night, in the blazing heat of the Yemeni afternoon. Qat is very much a part of Yemeni economy, society and culture; to just blame all Yemen's shortcomings and failures on it, is mistaken and not understanding Yemen's other serious issues. But that aside. Yemen's many problems are much more complex and have many other reasons.
As unique Socotra may be for the botanist or ornithologist, as unique it is also for the researcher of qåt, given that before unification the habit was virtually unknown here. It was only when a handful of northern soldiers were stationed on Socotra in 1992, that qåt found its way aboard military aircraft to the archipelago’s main island and consumption of the drug has been steadily rising since then. Today, Socotra can be considered a vast open air laboratory for observing how the qåt habit ensnares a traditional society if unregulated by the government. Socotra is also an example for just how difficult it is for local and central authorities to control the qåt trade even in a place where it is only just beginning to take root. What also makes Socotra a thankful object of research is the fact that qåt supplies reach the islands only by air. This makes it relatively easy to determine and document trade volumes and trends in qåt import and consumption. Excerpt from the book
Yemen has a population of about 25 million, most of who are under 25. It has one of the highest population growth rates in the world, around 3.5% per year; in the next 20 years, the country's population will almost double to about 40 million; how this fast rising population will be catered for, is a logistical nightmare for leaders and planners of any country, let alone such a very poor country such as Yemen. The country's oil reserves are set to disappear within the next 10 or so years - oil provides much of the government's income. Water, too, is reportedly running out fast in most parts of the country. Compounding these problems, are Yemen's ongoing strife and wars in the south and the north of the country; and the country's very large numbers of refugees - hundreds of thousands - of almost a half-a-million internally displaced people, and hundreds of thousands of Somali refugees.

The growing and chewing of qat is, without doubt, a very big problem for Yemen; but, if the autonomous Somaliland most of whose population chew qat too - can develop fast, be as democratic and as exemplary as it is today; why can't Yemen? It is not qat that is the main problem in Yemen; for Yemen to settle down properly, move forward and manage its many problems including that of qat, it needs, first and foremost - to promptly, amicably and peacefully settle the southern and the northern strife and problems; it needs to have a transparent and an accountable leadership and government representing and serving all Yemenis equitably and effectively. A leadership and government which ensures that everyone, irrespective of social or economic status, has a voice in governing and receives just, fair and equitable treatment. Yemen needs to plan and find ways of depending less on oil; it needs to find ways of using its other resources, the most valuable being its hard-working, tenacious and very resilient people. During most of its history, including recent when most parts of the world have known peace, Yemen has been a nation embroiled and crippled by conflicts, strife and wars; above all, the country needs peace.

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