"It's better than marijuana," said Ahmad Sayed Abeid. "Miraa makes you smart and quick and full of energy."

After years of debates with religious, tribal and political overtones, President Jomo Kenyatta has made it official Kenyan government policy to encourage the production and marketing of a bitter, reddish-green twig chewed by millions for its amphetamine-like qualities.

Called "chat" in Ethiopia, "chafta" in Arabia and known throughout the Middle East as "the flower of paradise," miraa has been cultivated for centuries by the Meru tribe on the fertile volcanic slopes of Mount Kenya.

Kenyatta's miraa decree brought jubilation and praise from Kenya's Moslem and Meru communities. Many Moslems enjoy getting high with miraa because, unlike alcohol, it is not prohibited by their religion, "Ichew it full-time," said Abeid.

One Kenyan Moslem not celebrating the decree is Amina Abdulali, who complained, "My husband loves miraa more than me." Although Abeid and most miraa-chewing men claim that the drug makes them virile, Abdulali and other women have a different story to tell.

Francis Karuri, a miraa seller from Meru, said that the reason some users abandon their interest in sex is because they chew it all day, lose their appetites and become weak. "Miraa is good for sexual stamina as long as you eat food first," Karuri explained.

"The only badness about miraa is that you can't sleep until the morning," he added. In East Africa, almost all of the long-distance truck drivers use the drug to stay awake, as do some students studying for examinations. Some claim that it stimulates concentration and creativity.

"When I chew miraa, it gives me strength to do my work," said Abeid, the manager of Nairobi's backstreet. Lucky restaurant and a habitual user for 12 years.

"It's stimulant. It keeps me jolly and I've never witnessed any bad effects from miraa," Abeid added.

"Miraa makes me happy like a good Kung Fu movie. I love it more than anything else," said Oskar Shariff, a 25-year-old businessman who has chewed the drug daily for eight years.

Kenyan users spend between 40 cents and $2 a day for miraa. They admit that it is habit-forming, but researchers think it may also contain asthma-curing properties.

Karuri, who sells the twig in bundles wrapped in banana leaves, claims to make a daily profit of about $25. "At home a farmer with only two acres of miraa earns six or seven hundred dollars a month," he said.

In political terms, Kenyatta's miraa decree appears to be a successful attempt to win support from Kenya's Somali, Arab and Swahili Moslems, who have long felt apart from the political mainstream. He made his announcement while entertaining a large delegation from the predominantly Moslem Eastern Province.

Meru farmers, who already earn more than $3 million each year from cultivating the drug, are also pleased because their prospects are even brighter now. The chaieman of Kenya's agricultural development corporation J. Muturia, has promised to aggressively pursue the vast Middle Eastern export potential of Miraa. In time it may surpass another stimulant - coffee - as Kenya's chief money earner.