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How this Ethiopian rehabilitation centre is helping khat addicts

At the state-run Substance Rehabilitation Centre, many have been forced to give up khat alongside his other addictions

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How this Ethiopian rehabilitation centre is helping khat addicts
Patients undergoing rehabilitation from subtance addiction engage in recreational activities at the Substance Rehabilitation Centre, the only facility in Ethiopia that offers long-term drug and alcohol addiction treatment, in Mekele.- In Ethiopia, a rehab centre takes on khat addiction. (Photo by MICHAEL TEWELDE / AFP)

Yonas Getu Molla started chewing khat as an architecture student, when he and his friends would munch on the leafy stimulant late into the night to help them study.

When they closed their books, their heartbeats racing, they would seek out depressants like vodka and cannabis to dull the plant’s amphetamine-like effects so they could sleep.

Yonas blames khat for leading him into drug and alcohol addictions, which cost him his career, his savings and the respect of his family.

“One substance would follow the other substance,” he said. “It’s like a coin — the back and the front.”

At the state-run Substance Rehabilitation Centre, he has been forced to give up khat alongside his other addictions — a rare approach in a region where few are trying to tackle the controversial habit.

How this Ethiopian rehabilitation centre is helping khat addicts
Ousman Abdulahi (R) and his friends chew khat at a road side dealer’s shop in an area known as ‘Little Mogadishu’ in Addis Ababa on July 23, 2019. (Photo by MICHAEL TEWELDE / AFP)

While banned in many countries, chewing khat is commonplace in Ethiopia and the wider Horn of Africa region. 

Many see it as a cultural activity rather than a societal problem.

However, some users are frank about the side effects: loss of appetite, damaged teeth and lack of sleep. 

The habit can also drain household finances. A user in the capital, Addis Ababa would expect to pay around $4 a day for khat from the eastern city of Harar, long a centre of production. 

Ethiopia’s average annual per capita income is $783 (705 euros), according to the World Bank.

A gateway drug –

Welday Hagos, a clinical psychologist and director of the Mekele-based centre — Ethiopia’s only free, long-term drug and alcohol rehabilitation facility — believes that khat is a gateway drug to harder substances.

He told reporters that more than 80 per cent of the 500 patients who have stayed there since it opened in 2015 started out chewing khat.

“After that, they add cigarettes, and then they add alcohol. That’s why it is the main gate for different drugs,” said Welday.

How this Ethiopian rehabilitation centre is helping khat addicts
Welday Hagos, director of the Substance Rehabilitation Centre, the only facility in Ethiopia that offers long-term drug and alcohol addiction treatment, gives an interview to reporters in Mekele- The vast majority — more than 80 per cent — of the 500 patients who have stayed there since it opened in 2015 fell hard for khat before they moved on to the vices that upended their lives, says Welday Hagos. (Photo by MICHAEL TEWELDE / AFP)

“We are not on the right track,” he said. “We have to increase the knowledge of our population of the consequences of khat chewing.”

Much like harder drugs, quitting khat takes a physical and emotional toll on longtime users, Welday said. 

They complain of everything from irritability to nightmares and wild fluctuations in appetite.

Despite the complaints, there is little consensus among health experts on how addictive khat actually is.

As well as individual and group therapy sessions, users treated at the centre are prescribed medication for withdrawal symptoms. 

They are also offered “spiritual sessions”, the chance to work out in a makeshift gym or by playing football and entrepreneurship training.

Coffee, then khat –

Khat is Ethiopia’s second-biggest export behind coffee, with heavy traffic to neighbouring Djibouti and Somalia. 

Domestic consumption is also growing especially among university students, Welday said, referring to several studies, including one published last year.

Sporadic campaigns by local civil society groups have failed to result in a ban like those imposed in Britain and the United States.

“In some parts of the country, especially in the eastern parts, people do not see it as a problem,” Welday said. 

“They use it for cultural celebrations and other things, similar to alcohol.”

‘Makes you focus’ – 

In an area of Addis Ababa known as Little Mogadishu, khat is often referred to as “green gold”.

On a recent afternoon, its sleepy streets came alive with the arrival of a van bearing freshly picked khat from Harar.

After crowding around the van and bartering for sacks of the green leaves, a group of five young men arranged their plastic stools in a circle on the roadside.

How this Ethiopian rehabilitation centre is helping khat addicts
A vendor holds up a handful of khat twigs as he calls for buyers at a road side in an area known as ‘Little Mogadishu’ in Addis Ababa. (Photo by MICHAEL TEWELDE / AFP)

Shielded from the sun by an umbrella, they praised the virtues of khat while stuffing wads of it into their mouths.

The leaf, they said, serves as a pain reliever, an appetite suppressant and an anti-depressant.

They said that it calms the population, making it easier to police. And they claimed that it lowers their sex drives, making them less likely to cheat on their wives.

Those who use khat while working said that it brought them to a state known as “merkana”, which they described as an intense but joyful concentration that made them more productive.

The men had little patience for claims that khat was a “gateway drug”.

“People who say that are people who were already addicted to alcohol, to different kinds of drugs,” said Ousman Abdulahi. 

“When you do khat, it just makes you focus.”

Rebuilding lives – 

However, some residents of the Substance Rehabilitation Centre say their lives were ruined by khat even without moving on to other addictions.

How this Ethiopian rehabilitation centre is helping khat addicts
Patients undergoing rehabilitation from substance addiction engage in recreational activities at the Substance Rehabilitation Centre, the only facility in Ethiopia that offers long-term drug and alcohol addiction treatment, in Mekele. (Photo by MICHAEL TEWELDE / AFP)

Mohammed Kelifa, 30, chewed khat for nine years. 

He would stay up all night chatting up women on Facebook, he said. After his wife found out, their marriage ended in a divorce.

He believes his three-month stay at the rehab centre helped him quit khat for good.

Now, he looks forward to rebuilding his life.

“I want to remarry and start a family and get my self-respect back,” he said. 

“Most people, when they leave this place, they fear that they will relapse, but I don’t have that feeling.”

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Landslide kills 22 in southern Ethiopia

Officials say the landslide in the district of Konta occurred Sunday following 10 hours of heavy rains

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Landslide kills 22 in southern Ethiopia
(File photo)

Rescue workers on Tuesday used excavators to dig out bodies after a landslide in southern Ethiopia washed away homes and killed more than 20 people, a local official said. 

The landslide in the district of Konta occurred Sunday following 10 hours of heavy rains, said the official, Takele Tesfu.

“There are 22 people dead and we have only been able to dig up 17 using manpower and machine power,” Takele told reporters.

“So far, we cannot get the others, so tomorrow we will continue to dig.”  

He said the victims included nine women and six children.

While the district — located in Ethiopia’s Southern Nations, Nationalities, and Peoples’ Region — sees landslides with some regularity, Takele said this was the deadliest he could remember. 

“The area where this occurred is very mountainous, and this means the landslide was very dangerous,” he said. 

Ethiopia is nearing the end of its rainy season, but security forces are nonetheless relocating some families for fear that more rain in the coming days could lead to similar disasters, Takele said.

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Mozambique votes in tense election after violent campaign

Mozambique began voting in a general election on Tuesday that some fear could test the country’s fragile peace, after a heated campaign marred by violence and allegations of electoral fraud.

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Mozambique began voting in a general election on Tuesday that some fear could test the country’s fragile peace, after a heated campaign marred by violence and allegations of electoral fraud.

The Frelimo party, which has ruled the impoverished southern African nation since independence from Portugal in 1975, is widely expected to again beat its arch-rival Renamo, a former rebel group turned main opposition party.

President Filipe Nyusi, who cast his ballot as polls opened at 7:00 am (0500 GMT), called on voters to show “the world we stand for democracy and tolerance”.

“Mozambique has chosen to move forward peacefully,” he said, adding that more than more than 4,000 observers had been deployed in the most-watched election in the country’s history.

“Let’s continue this process in a serene way. Peace means that everything must be done according to the rules.”

Nyusi, 60, is forecast to win a second five-year term despite his popularity taking a hit from chronic unrest and a financial crisis linked to alleged state corruption.

While the election is expected to see regional wins for Renamo, few think Frelimo will be unseated from government after 44 years at the helm.

“Frelimo is a machine,” said Castro Davis, a 42-year-old public servant in the capital Maputo, predicting a “straight-forward victory.” 

Elena Jorge, 50, told AFP she wants Renamo to win “but people know that these elections will not be free, fair or transparent — but we have hope.”

Around 13 million of Mozambique’s 30 million citizens are registered to vote at more than 20,000 polling booths, which closes at 6:00 pm (1600 GMT).

Renamo is predicted to take control of three to five of Mozambique’s 10 provinces for the first time following a change of law allowing voters to elect provincial governors.

“This election will be a test for democracy,” said Ericino de Salema of the Electoral Institute for Sustainable Democracy in Africa.

“For the first time, the political geography of the country may change substantially, it may even lead to confrontation.”

Renamo’s candidate Ossufo Momade, 58, heads a party of former anti-communist rebels who fought a brutal civil war with Frelimo from 1975-1992, devastating the economy and leaving almost one million people dead. 

Renamo picked up arms again in 2013 to 2016, but tension continued until Nyusi and Momade signed a peace deal in August. 

But an armed breakaway faction of Renamo has rejected Momade’s candidacy and threatened to attack campaign events, raising fears the presidential, parliamentary and provincial polls could be marred by bloodshed.

The six-week campaign was one of the most violent in the country’s turbulent history, with candidates threatened, election material destroyed, and deadly clashes breaking out between supporters.

The opposition has already accused Frelimo of tampering with the vote.

Enrolment has more than doubled in the southeastern Gaza province, a Frelimo bastion, and civil society groups have expressed concern about the size of the increase.

They also estimate that there are around 300,000 “ghost voters” on electoral rolls — names on the electoral roll not aligned with real, potential voters.

“We definitely have some irregularities that put stains on the whole process,” said Hermenegildo Mulhovo of election monitoring group Sala da Paz.

The situation escalated last week, when the head of a local election observation mission was shot dead by members of a special police unit in Gaza’s capital Xai-Xai.

Lutero Simango, an MP of the country’s third biggest party MDM, accused Frelimo of “using all state means, including police and secret services, to intimidate people”.

Frelimo suffered its worst result at the ballot box — 51.8 percent — in local elections last year and has been severely weakened in recent years.

In 2016 it was revealed the government secretly borrowed $2 billion, sparking the worst financial crisis in the country’s history and uncovering a vast corruption network with links to the regime.

The government is also battling to recover from two devastating cyclones in March which displaced nearly two million people. 

And a shadowy jihadist insurgency that has killed hundreds in the far north has delayed development of one of the government’s biggest selling points — the discovery of vast gas reserves that is hoped to put billions in state coffers and lift millions out of poverty.

The instability has already forced the National Election Commission to close 10 polling booths, however first Preliminary results are expected to be announced on Thursday. 

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2 passengers injured after Lamu-bound plane veers off runway in Kenya

The plane, operated by domestic airline Silverstone Air, was to make a stop at port city Mombasa before heading to Lamu

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2 passengers injured after Lamu-bound plane veers off runway in Kenya
Kenyan Airports Authority fire fighters are seen next to a Silverstone Air airline aircraft, with 50 passengers and 5 crew members on board, that overran the runway on takeoff at Wilson Airport, in Nairobi, on October 11, 2019. - Silverstone Air and the Kenyan Airport Authority announced that of the 55 people on board, only two were injured. (Photo by SIMON MAINA / AFP)

An aircraft flying 55 people from Kenya’s capital, Nairobi to tourist attraction Lamu island veered off the runway during takeoff, skidding into some trees and leaving two injured, authorities said Friday.

The plane, operated by domestic airline Silverstone Air, was to make a stop at port city Mombasa before heading to Lamu, home to a UNESCO world heritage site off Kenya’s northern coast.

“This morning at around 9:00 am, a Fokker 50 aircraft… veered off the runway while departing from Wilson Airport, Nairobi. The aircraft had 55 souls on board, 50 passengers, 5 crew. Two passengers were slightly injured and are receiving appropriate medical attention,” the Kenya Airports Authority (KAA) said in a statement.

2 passengers injured after Lamu-bound plane veers off runway in Kenya
Silverstone Air airline aircraft, heading to Lamu via Mombasa with 50 passengers and 5 crew members on board, is seen after it overran the runway on takeoff at Wilson Airport, in Nairobi, on 11 October 2019. -(Photo by Kelly AYODI / AFP)

A photographer on the scene at Wilson Airport saw emergency services surrounding the plane, which went through the fence and ploughed on several dozen metres (yards) into the brush.

Silverstone Air, a company specialised in domestic fights, confirmed in a statement that its Fokker 50 plane had had an accident at Wilson Airport. Silverstone staff were working with the authorities to assess the situation.

KAA announced an enquiry.

Wilson Airport is a small facility south of Nairobi, mostly handling domestic flights to the coast and national parks. It is located about 15 kilometres from Jomo Kenyatta International Airport, the largest in Kenya.

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