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.
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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
"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
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
One, however, does not chew muguuka alone for it to be
effective. It should be accompanied by black coffee, tea, chewing gum or
"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
There are hundreds of muguuka chewing groups across Nairobi,
which have given the growers of the stimulant in Meru, Eastern Kenya, good
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
Excessive use of muguuka, according to health experts,
results in liver malfunction, permanent tooth discolouring, ulcers and
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.