ONYANGO-OBBO: Forget Covid-19; think about camels and cannabis right now – Daily Nation

Recreational Cannabis Legalisation


After five months of restrictions to save us from the new coronavirus, lives have been saved, but many have been infected and died too. But with no cure or vaccine, we are actually surrendering because the personal and economic pain is unbearable. Rulers everywhere are reopening economies, and we are saying “kama mbaya mbaya” — let us go and die from the virus.

South Africa’s President Cyril Ramaphosa has been ruthlessly realistic as people go back to work and begin mingling, albeit with masks on. He has said infection numbers are “expected to increase exponentially.”

We have also spent a lot of time on how the virus will change the world. My suspicion is that the big changes will not be the obvious ones — like a dramatic shift to contactless payments, migration by those who can afford to less-contracted suburbs further out or a return to the drive-in cinema.

The signs of big changes are often hidden in plain view, and we tend to brush them off. So, I did an about-turn on a story in late April, that said Saudi Arabia would temporarily lift the ban on livestock imports and buy “600,000 sheep and 100,000 camels from Somalia in the next 30 days”.

The Gulf countries buy many sheep, cattle and camels from Somalia. It is the one trade that has largely been immune even to the civil war. By 2014, when Somalia was nowhere near the half-stable country it is, it still exported 4.6 million goats and sheep, 340,000 cattle and 77,000 camels worth $360 million (Sh36 billion) to the Gulf. These regional countries that laugh at Somalia as a failed state don’t hold a candle to it.

On reading of Saudi Arabia lifting the ban, I got interested. But although camels got a bad rap when they were thought to be a source of the human infection with the Middle East Respiratory Syndrome coronavirus (MERS-CoV), they are “well-known hosts to harbour different strains of the coronaviruses and were shown to produce effective neutralising antibodies to these viruses”.

Although it isn’t clear if it’s the reason Saudi Arabia lifted the ban, if that turns out to be a thing, the camel could emerge as the wonder beast out of this crisis. And, of course, Somalia, which has a leg up on rearing the animals, would be in for some big dough and could, well, finally rise from the ashes on the back of camels. Before long, many East African ranchers could be camel keepers.

‘Weed revolution’

That, though, might not be as dramatic as the revolution that would be wrought by cannabis, or “weed” as the good people on the street call it. A lot of good things have been said about cannabis and Covid-19. Some people swear it is a cure but, like claims about other leaves and herbs, there is no scientific proof.

A South African publication, City Press, reported this week that a group of local researchers are looking into the possible role cannabis can play in curing the coronavirus.

The Vaal University of Technology (VUT) and private firm Cannabisiness, said the report, hope to find out if the plant’s anti-inflammatory properties can alleviate the body’s inflammatory response to Covid-19. It notes that cannabis plants, as many know, have been used in traditional medicine in Africa for millenniums.

Last year, the duo partnered on combating inflammation in rheumatoid arthritis sufferers using cannabidiol, a chemical found in cannabis.

In a few African countries, especially in the south, the use of “weed” has been legalised and licences are being handed out to grow it for export.

How could a breakthrough be revolutionary? According to GBNews, despite extensive global prohibition, with only just over 50 countries having legalised some form of medical cannabis, and six have legalised cannabis for recreational use by adults, more than 263 million people consume cannabis every year.

There are an estimated 1.2 billion people suffering from medical conditions for which cannabis has shown to be of therapeutic value, it says. Adoption of medical cannabis treatment, by even a small proportion of that population, would create a massive market. And there is serious money. The total global cannabis market (regulated and illicit) is about $344 billion — nearly equal to the global smartphone market. Africa is in the top five regional markets for cannabis, worth $37.3 billion.

A coronavirus-fuelled blow-up of cannabis could create unstoppable demand for legalisation, and smart governments would be quick to cash in. Our prohibition-based moral order would be overthrown. Massive fortunes could be made by farmers, who would ditch most other crops (the teas and maize) and become ‘weedpreneurs’.

Life would be extremely interesting, and nothing like we have today.

Mr Onyango-Obbo is a journalist, writer and curator of the Wall of Great Africans. @cobbo3