Khat: a Legal High?
The area between Ambilobe and Diego is a big khat-growing area that supplies the rest of the north. This small flowering shrub produces a compound that is an amphetamine-like stimulant. Chewed, the plant’s leaves cause hyperactivity and euphoria, and are a popular drug, particularly among taxi-brousse drivers, who often work very long hours. If you hire a private vehicle and driver outside the main cities, you can be sure he will start chewing after lunch, and his behaviour could become erratic.
Although the authorities largely turn a blind eye to khat production and consumption, it is worth knowing that it is still illegal. Before the political turmoil of 2009, there had been talk of the government taking a stand to either legalise khat so that its trade could be included in the formal economy, or enforcing its illegality and encouraging growers to produce other crops. Unfortunately, the matter remains unsettled.