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Khat carrying plane Crashes in Somalia’s Abudwak Airport

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A De Havilland Dash 8-400 operated by Kenya’s Blue Bird Aviation with registration 5Y-VVY crashed on landing at Abudwak (Somalia) on December 17 carrying 6 crew and loads of Khat from Mogadishu reports the Aviation Herald, a portal specializing in incidents.

The aircraft suffered a collapse to its right main and nose gear during landing in Abudwak, and went off the runway and came to a stop on rough surface. None of the six people on board were injured according to Somalia Civil Aviation Authority. The SCAA is still investigating the cause of the crash and a preliminary report will be released in due time.

The aircraft involved in the accident is more than 23 years old. In addition, Blue Bird Aviation operates three other Dash 8-400 freighters, a passenger version Dash 8-400, four Dash 8-100 and two Fokker F50. The Nairobi-based airline based has existed since 1992.

Important Cash Crop

The Somalia-bound cargo plane was carrying khat, the leafy plant that produces a mild high when chewed. Khat is big business in Kenya with vast plantations dotted around the country’s central regions.

These are the twig tips and leaves which when chewed, the active ingredients cathinone and cathine present in khat provide a feeling of euphoria, while hunger and fatigue disappear.

However, the consequences are insomnia, nervousness and tachycardia.

Khat, is legal in Kenya, Ethiopia, Uganda and Djibouti. It is a source of livelihoods and has become a major cash crop, earning countries tidy sums of revenue. Kenya earns a minimum of US$400 000 a day in export value from trading it as a cash crop, with Somalia as a key trading partner.

Regular flights deliver the leaves, which must be eaten fresh, daily to Somalia. It is still unclear how much khat was on board the aircraft.

Somalia an important market

In Somalia, the legal situation surrounding khat is more complicated. At times it allows its consumptions but periodically bans trading due to unclear regulations. Diplomatic tiffs, pricing and access to the drug fluctuate in tandem with these decisions.

In March 2020, flights to Mogadishu were suspended entirely due to the pandemic. However, the everyday drug khat found its way into the country smuggled in via humanitarian flights to smaller airports and via other illegal channels, according to the Institute for Security Studies.

Under COVID-19 travel restrictions, old smuggling sea routes from Kenya to Somalia also opened up.

At the end of January, with the increasing smuggling of khat, Somalia again permitted it to be imported from Kenya with new licensing and duties regulations.

Internationally, khat is classified as a new psychoactive substance. These are substances that are not controlled by any of the three international drug conventions of 1961, 1971 and 1988. As a result, the legal status of these drugs varies and is left to the discretion of countries. This extends to regulations for growing, consuming and trading the substance.

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