In 1982, Mr Yarrow Adan Bashir, now 58, left Mandera for Meru to venture into the miraa (khat) business.
A friend had given him the impression that the miraa trade between Kenya and Somalia was quite lucrative and for almost 40 years, Mr Bashir has been operating from Maua town in Meru County.
When Somalia banned importation of the commodity from Kenya, Mr Bashir and 120 other traders from Mandera found themselves at a crossroads.
“Dealing in khat is what kept about 120 families from Mandera in Maua. We lost our jobs the moment Somalia closed the khat market,” he said.
The father of nine is now staying with relatives in Mandera town.
“I have no residence here because my life revolved around the khat business in Maua town. I need to be supported to start my life afresh here in Mandera,” he said.
No income to support family
For his part, Mr Abdirahman Yussuf Rukow says he has lived in Maua for 20 years but is now back in Mandera, his home county.
“I depended on khat in Maua but since the closure of the Somalia market, I have no income to support my family,” he said.
Somalia stopped the importation of khat when international flights were suspended in March last year to curb the spread of Covid-19. But when international air travel resumed in August, miraa from Kenya was restricted while that from Ethiopia, a slightly different variety, was allowed in Somalia.
The restrictions were attributed to a spat between Kenya and Somalia dating as far back as 2016 when then Meru Governor Peter Munya, now Kenya’s Agriculture Cabinet Secretary, caused a stir by visiting the breakaway Somaliland and offering to push for its recognition as an independent state if it allowed importation of miraa from Kenya.
Somalia responded by accusing Mr Munya of “attempting to break up our country”.
The ban was, however, lifted following diplomatic talks, until the Covid-19 outbreak slammed the brakes on miraa trade.
Dealers complained that whereas Somalia had lifted the ban on khat from Kenya in January, the announcement only existed on paper.
The federal government ordered traders to obtain import licences to be allowed to sell the stimulant from Kenya in the country.
Miraa farmers in Meru were making at least Sh16 million on a daily basis before the ban.
Mr Warsame Abdullahi Adan, the secretary of a group calling itself Maua Displaced Miraa Export Traders, said more than 120 families are in dire need of resettlement in Mandera.
“The Covid-19 outbreak dealt us a blow and we have been unable to support our livelihoods. We have been displaced and forced to come back home, yet we have nothing here,” he said.
According to Mr Adan, they were relying on well-wishers to pay house rent in Maua before they were allowed to return to Mandera.
“Our children are out of school because we cannot pay fees. None of us owns a plot in Mandera, making the situation difficult for us,” he said.
He said the group had written to Mandera Governor Ali Roba and other elected leaders but none had responded.
“We have even asked the county commissioner and our own elected leaders to intervene. We need to be supported to rebuild our lives,” he said.