Story

Somaliland's Addict Economy

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Men and women load the khat into wheelbarrows to be taken to different khat stands around Hargeisa, Somaliland. Image by Narayan Mahon. Somaliland, 2009.

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A young man waits with his wheelbarrow at the khat depot in Hargeisa, Somaliland. Image by Narayan Mahon. Somaliland, 2009.

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Men rush to unload a truck full of khat as it arrives in Hargeisa, Somaliland, from Ethiopia. Image by Narayan Mahon. Somaliland, 2009.

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Men sit and chew khat in Hargeisa, Somaliland. Image by Narayan Mahon. Somaliland, 2009.

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A seller displays his khat to passing customers. Image by Narayan Mahon. Somaliland, 2009.

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Paintings of khat and the Somaliland national flag in the front of a khat stand in Hargeisa, Somaliland. Image by Narayan Mahon. Somaliland, 2009.

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Men chew khat at a stand in Hargeisa, Somaliland. (Narayan Mahon/Pulitzer Center). Image by Narayan Mahon. Somaliland, 2009.

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Military officers chew khat at a small gas station in Burao, Somaliland's second largest city. Image by Narayan Mahon. Somaliland, 2009.

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A man has his khat laid out on the floor of a sufi shrine in Hargeisa, Somaliland. Image by Narayan Mahon. Somaliland, 2009.

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A mental hospital patient is chained to the post in Hargeisa, Somaliland. Many male patients suffer from the effects of chewing too much khat. Image by Narayan Mahon. Somaliland, 2009.

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!"

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See related multi-media presentation by Narayan Mahon Somaliland's stimulating khat trade.

This article reran at the Somaliland Press on July 18, 2009