With the coming mid-day, most men in Yemen gather in their homes to chew on a shrub they know as khat. They have spent most of their day occupied with their jobs and they now head home with a stack of khat as their days salary; a salary of psychedelic stems and leaves. As much as 90% of the adult male population in Yemen chews khat on a daily basis. A newcomer might compare the apparent ritual to sights of a group smoking a joint or partaking in the addiction of other drugs more popular in the US.
The legality of khat in Yemen has wrecked the impoverished nation. It has one of the worst economies in the Middle East and is one of the most socially deprived states in the region. The drug has established a firm grasp on the advancement and modernization of the nation, which it has held back almost entirely. The society has developed into one seemingly backwards, in which women are oppressed. This is arguably because people’s freedoms are too firmly established. They can choose not to go to work, they can choose to grow khat and chew on it all day, and they can choose to fantasize about their superiority in a psychedelic universe they sit in all day.
“You sit up discussing all your problems and think you’ve solved everything, but in fact you haven’t done anything in the last four hours, because you’ve just been chewing khat and all your problems actually got worse,” says Adel al-Shujaa, a professor of political science at Sana’a University and the head of the Yemen Without Khat Association. He aslo adds, “all the decisions you’ve made are bad because you’ve made them while on khat.”
The country is facing a food crisis and more than 5 million people, nearly a fourth of the country, have problems with hunger according to a U.N. Agency. One of the reasons as to why there is a crisis at all is that a huge portion of fertile lands is used to grow khat. Nearly 50% of agricultural lands in the mountainous regions of Yemen, where people don’t have as much access to produce, are used to grow the shrubs. Most families spend more money on khat than on food, according to many government figures. There is no federal say in what people can grow on their lands, and there is no federal encouragement or pressure to grow more beneficial plants and produce instead of khat.
A khat-addicted public is more inclined to complacency about the failings of the government. Khat ceremonies reinforce the exclusion of women from power and, as is obvious to anyone finding a government office nearly empty on a weekday morning, khat is keeping the country awake well past its bedtime.
Yemen is not completely at a loss, the ability to grow a cash crop does diversify the economy somewhat, and does serve as a source of income for many, but despite this somewhat small benefit the drug has taken over the minds of the people and has rendered them weak and useless. It has even corrupted the politicians there, with many prominent leaders on khat as well. An analogous situation would be if it was public that our president and his cabinet smoked marijuana while contemplating new policy.
Despite the danger, Yemen isn’t about to go cold turkey anytime soon. Not only are most of the country’s leading landowners deeply involved in khat production, but khat is only one of the few things still holding the country together following a quite recent unification of North and South. Khat does play a big role in keeping people calm and keeping society temporarily stable, but it is also delaying change and making it hard to convince people to act. The result is a sessile nation that refuses to deal with its problems and continues to allow a select class of politicians and landowners to undermine the power of any concern to boil over into some sort of a change.
Freedom is a wonderful thing, and yet it seems so that it can be abused and misused to such an extent that it acts as a detriment to society. Yet, any citizen must not concede to allow the government enough power to determine the freedoms of the people, because that is the job of the people. Nonetheless, there are many parallels to the US that may be drawn from Yemen and the khat issue, and those, LemonOpinion asks you to draw out by yourself and with context to your society.
*Article proposed and drafted by M.A.