Khat in colonial Kenya: A history of prohibintion and control

David Anderson*, Neil Carrier

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticle (Academic Journal)peer-review

22 Citations (Scopus)


Efforts to institute a system for the control and prohibition of khat in Kenya are examined in this article. Prohibition was introduced in the 1940s after an advocacy campaign led by prominent colonial officials. The legislation imposed a racialized view of the effect of khat, seeking to protect an allegedly vulnerable community in the north of the country while allowing khat to be consumed and traded in other areas, including Meru where traditional production and consumption was permitted. Colonial policy took little account of African opinion, although African agency was evident in the failure and ultimate collapse of the prohibition in the face of widespread smuggling and general infringement. Trade in khat became ever more lucrative, and in the final years of colonial rule economic arguments overcame the prohibition lobby. The imposition of prohibition and control indicates the extent to which colonial attitudes towards and beliefs about cultural behaviour among Africans shaped policies, but the story also illustrates the fundamental weakness of the colonial state in its failure to uphold the legislation.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)377-397
Number of pages21
JournalJournal of African History
Issue number3
Publication statusPublished - Nov 2009


  • Colonial
  • Colonial administration
  • Drugs
  • Kenya


Dive into the research topics of 'Khat in colonial Kenya: A history of prohibintion and control'. Together they form a unique fingerprint.

Cite this