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Kenyan jobless youth chew idleness away

06 May 2015, 21:43

Nairobi - Across Nairobi, one will find young men seated in groups of five to 10 surrounding a nylon bag that contains some green leaves.

Each of the young men normally dips his hand in the nylon bag, draws a handful of the leaves and takes up to one hour to chew them.

The bunch of the leaves costs an average of 0.27 U.S. dollar and one can chew up to five of them.

The practice, mostly in middle and low income suburbs, has become the main activity Kenyan jobless youths engage in as unemployment bites in the East African nation.

The leaves are known as muguuka, a stimulant which keeps them busy and temporarily makes them forget about their problems.

Also read: 16 year old female terrorist arrested in Nairobi

So popular are the leaves that the practice has spread from the suburbs to downtown central business district, where the leaves have become a constant companion to many young men working as touts, hawkers and cart pushers.

"Instead of drinking alcohol or engaging in other nefarious activities, I better chew muguuka. It brings us together as we discuss various things that happen in our country and in our lives, " Vincent Kamau, a jobless youth in Huruma on the east of Nairobi said on Tuesday.

Kamau, who dropped out of a technical institution where he was studying motor vehicle mechanics, belongs to two groups, where he whiles time away every day.

"One is near the place I stay while the other is at a bus terminus where sometimes I go there to look for work," he said.

He is welcomed in any of the groups, where he spends his entire day, at any time as long as he buys the leaves he chews.

"Whenever I fail to find work, I seek solace in the groups because we understand each other. We sit, chew and talk until the sun sets."

One, however, does not chew muguuka alone for it to be effective. It should be accompanied by black coffee, tea, chewing gum or groundnuts.

"Tea, coffee or groundnuts aids in reducing the bitterness of the leaves and breaks them down for them to be effective," said Steve Oloo, who resides in Kariobangi. It is obvious that the practice is expensive but Oloo and Kamau said they cannot stop.

"I have been chewing muguuka for over two years now and I do not think I can stop. Some people see it as a bad practice,but we know how it is helping us avoid idleness. Besides, sometimes we get work when we visit the groups," said Oloo.

The downside is that some of the youths spend the money they make from menial jobs on the additive stimulant, which is in the same family with khat.

There are hundreds of muguuka chewing groups across Nairobi, which have given the growers of the stimulant in Meru, Eastern Kenya, good business.

According to the 2015 Economics Survey, the Kenyan economy generated about 800,000 jobs last year, mainly in the informal sector, where income is irregular.

Economics lecturer Henry Wandera said the chewing of muguuka is an expensive practice to the Kenyan economy.

"Able youth waste their time chewing the leaves yet they could engage in some activities to generate income. And the fact that the stimulant has health effects means we are losing productive youth and spending a lot of money treating them, which cannot be compared to the money the growers make."

Excessive use of muguuka, according to health experts, results in liver malfunction, permanent tooth discolouring, ulcers and diminished libido.

Most of the users are also underweight and they suffer from inflammation of the mouth and other parts of the oral cavity making them susceptible to oral cancer.

- Xinhua


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