Controlling alcoholism in Kenya

7 Min Read

In the midst of preparing for the coming of our dear President Obama (yes I said our) we have been rebuilding roads, the airport is spruced up, trees and bushes are being hauled from one area to another to make it seem that Nairobi is the green city as it is supposed to be.

Why be cynical though? I would do the same to my house when I had important visitors except I would leave my neighbors out of it. The government has made it everyone’s business, delayed traffic and all.

But this is Nairobi and we are excited about President Obama’s visit in fact if he were to cancel last minute there are some people who would suffer massive heart attacks and heartaches. However, I am not here to talk about Obama’s visit, I am here to talk about illicit brews in Kenya.

I have written before about how alcoholism has slowly overtaken Kenyans, this is not only here at home but also in the diaspora. Kenyans around the world are known to knock back massive amounts of alcohol and suffer the consequences of the unruly behavior that follows.

In fact when I meet other Africans in the United States the one thing they note is that Kenyans drink a lot – some mistakenly label it as partying- let’s not be polite- Brazilians party, Kenyans get drunk.

So here at home the government has been counting the losses to alcoholism, death, broken homes, reduced productivity are all in the bin. Sadly alcoholism is a trait that is easily passed from generation to generation.

If my generation glorifies drinking it is highly likely the next one will even glorify it more. Children who live with alcoholic parents are more likely to be alcoholics themselves. People who look away when presented with evidence of alcoholism also perpetrate the behavior.

I have workmates who operate on alcohol, the fact that they reek of fumes seems to not disturb anyone and since alcoholism is not a reason to be fired I guess the HR team also kindly avert their eyes from the obvious.

The situation in Kenya is aggravated because of greed. Alcohol in itself is not bad, however, impure or adulterated alcohol has killed many over the years. Unfortunately most of the people who die are the poor who are turning to alcohol to help them manage the stressful lives they live.

Traditional brews in Kenya are common and across the country, these brews are still made and consumed. However, the greed of those preparing the brews lead them to add chemicals that speed up the maturity of the beer or even add an edge to make it have a higher alcohol percentage.

The result is that these illicit brews, which are usually cheaper than the regular alcohol, have poisonous substances that blind and eventually kill consumers. Vendors want to make their customers drunker, faster and at a cheaper rate and want to draw customers from the neighboring drinking den.

For these reasons the government has approved the round-up of people who sell illegal alcohol around he country; an effort to reduce the devastating effects of alcohol. I do not watch TV and my radio has recently died so I did not catch on until I read the newspaper at work.

But it really caught on when I went to my neighborhood store and realized every single wines and spirits store was closed. At first I was intrigued, then worried. Does that mean that the neighborhood wines and spirits also sold illegal alcohol?

Or were afraid to be looted like other shops which were cleaned out with the pretense of helping the government clean up. This question led me to talk to a few people who were hanging out around the shop.

“This alcohol is not bad, its just people who don’t know their limits” quipped one man who was clearly a bit tipsy and reeked of some alcoholic substance which I could not place. “Yes,” his friend concurred “the government is punishing us because of people who can’t handle their drink”.

I asked them whether they thought he neighborhood wines and spirits drink would make them blind or kill them, they vehemently refused saying that this was a different kind of brew. In this conversation I immediately saw the future.

In a week’s time the government will have done all the rounding up they feel is necessary and punished those who they deem as criminals in selling of illicit brews. At the end of the week, the wines and spirits stores will be re-opened and will continues stocking both illicit and legalized brews.

Life will go on like nothing ever interrupted the business. Curiously, I asked one man where he had gotten drink from that morning given that the wines and spirits were closed to which he replied “….it’s closed but open…depends on who is asking to buy….”

I applaud the government in taking measures to control alcoholism across the country and the sale of illegal brews. What I wonder is; are they achieving what they intended to achieve? Or is this one of those media stunts that go on for a little time and leave little if no impact in the long run?

Share This Article