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Rift Valley Institute

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Khat and COVID-19: Somalia’s cross-border economy in the time of coronavirus

Khat and COVID-19: Somalia's cross-border economy in the time of coronavirus

The number of Coronavirus (COVID-19) infections and related deaths is rapidly increasing in Somalia. However, at present it is the secondary, primarily economic, effects of the pandemic that are being most keenly felt. The impact on the khat trade in particular is a good illustration of the economy’s regional and international connections, and the effects of anti-COVID-19 measures on cross-border movement and daily life inside Somalia. Measures to contain COVID-19 have imposed restrictions on khat imports (and consumption) that have affected livelihoods including women’s incomes, who make up most of the khat sellers in the country. Yet in spite of official attempts to restrict khat imports, the sector is typically finding ways round these measures by developing land-based entry routes and informal methods of distribution. Nonetheless, a reduced supply has led to price increases and hit government revenues, with the formal khat trade shifting into contraband, which may have security implications. Some Somalis have continued to chew khat despite restrictions on imports and price rises but changes in chewing practices have also been observed.

This briefing is a product of the X-Border Local Research Network, a component of DFID’s Cross- Border Conflict—Evidence, Policy and Trends (XCEPT) programme, funded by UKaid from the UK government. The programme carries out research work to better understand the causes and impacts of conflict in border areas and their international dimensions. It supports more effective policymaking and development programming and builds the skills of local partners.

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