i Editor's Letter: On the banning of khat
Oliver Duff was appointed Editor of i in June 2013. He was previously Executive Editor at The Independent, i and The Independent on Sunday, running the newsroom. Formerly a reporter, gossip columnist and news editor, he was fired as the magazine's bar critic after three weeks. A diver and surfer, he's interested in nature and science, politics and diplomacy.
Thursday 04 July 2013
One of the pleasures of sadistic editors – and Fleet Street knows a few – is commissioning a reporter for an “experimental” assignment. Naked rambling with the naked rambler. Breaking the ice on a lido for the start of the summer bathing season. As a trainee I was sent jousting, ahead of a medieval festival at various castles. Unable to ride a horse, I was encased in armour and sat atop a barrel, able only to watch through a slit in my helmet as a knight and his steed hurtled towards me. Being clobbered with a four-metre lance was exhilarating, at least.
One of our reporters got his own back on the editors earlier this year. Dispatched to buy khat – the herbal stimulant from East Africa that Theresa May has just banned, against the advice of the Government’s own drugs advisers – our scribe returned to the office with ample supplies.
It is possible that Theresa May has banned khat on the grounds of its taste. You chew the leaves and stem in the expectation of a narcotic buzz, apparently. We got wired munching the stuff in afternoon news conference – that tinny reality from drinking too much espresso – but the bitterness was overwhelming. Might as well have tucked into a hanging basket.
The reception for the ban will be mixed in Britain’s East African community, where its use among Somalis, Yemenis, Kenyans and Ethiopians has been blamed for unemployment and family breakdown. But it is bad news for Kenyan farmers, who grow most of the £400m of khat that’s bought in the UK each year – and for the Exchequer, which has been taxing the stuff until now. Something tells me this won’t be the last we hear from Mrs May...
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