Somalia's economy is dominated by trade in khat, a narcotic banned in the U.S. and much of Europe.
Eye-popping, head-buzzing khat is loved by Somali men who chew the leaves for their stimulant effect. While most of war-torn Somalia's economy is moribund, khat does a bustling trade estimated at well over $50 million annually. Doctors warn, however, that the drug is not only a drain on limited Somali resources but is also destroying lives.
Hargeisa is the capital of Somaliland, the northern territory nominally independent from Somalia which maintains peace and economic activity, especially the khat trade.
Lounging on a rug on the second floor of an ostentatious glass and stone mansion overlooking Hargeisa, Mohamed Yusuf Moge, aptly known as "The Fat Mohamed," lit up another cigarette. In front of him was a pile of leafless khat twigs. His eyes were wide and red-rimmed, a symptom of the leaves that have been chewed.
"We bring in 80-tons of khat every day," he said. "We have many vehicles and two airplanes for transporting our produce. We control the market: We are the De Beers of the khat industry!"
See related multi-media presentation by Narayan Mahon Somaliland's stimulating khat trade.
This article reran at the Somaliland Press on July 18, 2009