The paper introduces khat as an Indian Ocean phenomenon, understandable only in historical perspective, and yet utterly contemporary. Its history frames contemporary issues: its rising popularity; the economic relief it brings farmers and traders; cultural significance as an identity marker; disdain, suspicion, and/or intolerance of it as a ‘drug.’ In this paper we explore regional linkages and disjunctures regarding these issues, examining khat use in the western Indian Ocean, especially in Madagascar and Kenya. We argue that certain global concerns link experiences of khat throughout the Indian Ocean region (and extend to expatriate communities from these countries throughout the world). These include global issues of the war on drugs, fear of Islamic terrorism, and the hegemony of the western economic development model. Individual histories of use, contemporary concerns, and contemporary cultural expressions also distinguish these experiences from each other in significant ways.
- Indian Ocean