- Zachary NyagaThe prevalence of muguka in Mombasa has been the subject of a long-standing debate pitting sellers against authorities.
- The county government is now waging a war against the stimulants, that is threatening the trade.
- Paradoxically, a ban would devastate another group of Kenyans who depend on the crops for a living.
- Trader Zachary Nyaga believes it is hypocritical to condemn muguka while turning a blind eye on palm wine, bhang, alcohol, cocaine and heroin.
Every day, five canters arrive at Kongowea, the biggest market in Mombasa, laden with miraa and muguka.
The herbs are sourced directly from Embu and Meru counties, the main cultivators of the crops in Kenya.
Makeshift structures at the market are the first stop for the mild stimulants that are chewed by the young and the old alike.
It is where the boxes are opened and some dispatched to other parts of the county to be sold mainly in sit-in kiosks.
It is an early morning, the precise hour when fresh muguka and miraa arrive, when the Nation visits the bustling market.
Money is changing hands amid all the noise, and a confusing maze of umbrellas and stalls.
The sale of the stimulants thrives at the market, with muguka selling like hot cakes.
An estimated Sh500,0000 goes to the suppliers’ pockets each day, traders and county officials told the Nation.
But that is about to change.
The Mombasa County government is waging a war against the stimulants, that is threatening the trade.
Already, vehicles that transport muguka and miraa to Mombasa are required to part with Sh45,000, up from Sh14,000, at the Miritini barrier.
Traders are unhappy with the new fees stipulated in Finance Bill, 2019.
The sellers have protested against the decision, saying Governor Hassan Joho's administration is unfairly targeting them.
The prevalence of muguka in Mombasa has been the subject of a long-standing debate pitting sellers against authorities.
In 2018, the traders suffered a blow after county askaris demolished their stalls near Tononoka grounds, which served as the county’s biggest market for the product, forcing them to relocate.
The demolitions came a week after Mombasa ward representatives revisited a proposal to ban sale and consumption of the herb over addiction.
The county assembly, however, did not pass the ban.
Members of county assembly say their main concern is the widespread consumption of muguka by the youth.
Approximately 31.4 per cent of Mombasa residents chew muguka, according to a recent report by the county's health committee.
The study also revealed the biggest users of muguka are aged between 19 and 44 years, Kenya’s most productive age bracket.
Muguka's legality and cheap price, the MCAs say, makes it attractive, coupled with the belief that it is harmless.
The government also notes that the stimulant is sold near schools, allowing students easy access.
“Muguka is being sold to school-going children so many residents want it banned, “said Mombasa County Health Committee Chairman Kibwana Swaleh.
The report tabled in the assembly said increasing consumption has caused health and socio-economic effects among the youth, significantly threatening productivity and the county’s Vision 2035.
Effects of chewing the leaves, according to the report, include lack of sleep, hyperactivity, anxiety, impaired memory, poor appetite, sexual dysfunction, teeth discoloration, constipation, increased heart rate, stigma and discrimination.
Majority of respondents in the survey by the committee said they had lost money and time, while some said they engaged in crime to raise cash to feed the addiction.
In addition, while most chew muguka while taking soft drinks and chewing gum, some use it together with marijuana, shisha, kuber, kukumanga, rohypnol, tambuu, largactil and cocktails of the substances.