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Khat and Social Identity in Uganda


1st July 2007 to 30th June 2009

PI: Dr Susan Beckerleg (deceased), Associate Research Fellow, Institute of Health, University of Warwick

Funding body: ESRC

Brief Description:

The production and consumption of many psychotropic substances have been attributed with the power to destroy individuals, communities and even nations. For example, heroin production in Afghanistan and cocaine production in Colombia provide a good income for producers, but undermine the rule of law and civil society in ways that are unacceptable to the international community. Socme academics, policy makers and lobbyists have made similar claims for khat (Catha edulis), a plant that acts as a stimulatn when its leaves or stems are chewed.

Catha edulis, commonly known as khat, is a shrub or tree that grows wild across highland areas of much of Africa. In some areas khat leaves or twigs are chewed for their stimulant properties. The study will explore the relationship between ethnic identity and the production, trade and consumption of khat in Uganda.

The study has five objectives:

  • To trace the role of Yemeni and Somali migrants in promoting the spread of khat production and consumption in Uganda
  • To gain an understanding of the role of the khat industry in forging or undermining ethnic-based identities in Uganda
  • To trace emergent modes of consumption in relation to ethnicity and identity
  • To examine patterns of behaviour after chewing khat, in particular the use of alcohol and other substances
  • To engage in the Uganda prohibition debate and to trace the origins of the views held by government and civil society

A range of research methods will be used including: participant-observation of khat markets and consumption settings, collection of oral histories from Somali and Yemeni elders, a questionnaire survey of consumers and a participatory workshop with policy makers.



Beckerleg, S. (2009) Khat chewing as a new Ugandan leisure activity. Journal of Eastern African Studies, 1753-1063, Volume 3, Issue 1, 42–54. [Available at:]

Klein, A., Beckerleg, S. and Hailu, D. (2009) Regulating khat—Dilemmas and opportunities for the international drug control system. International Journal of Drug Policy. [Available at: doi:10.1016/j.drugpo.2009.05.002]