Alternative approaches vital in curbing alcohol menace

Thursday, January 21st, 2021 00:00 |

Boniface Mwalii 

In his 1972 autobiography of the country’s founding President Jomo Kenyatta, journalist Jeremy Murray-Brown paints a candid picture of Mzee’s youthful days in colonial Kenya. 

The book narrates how the young city council meter reader established himself as the exclusive Nubian Gin (chang’aa) distributor for working-class Africans and Indians, at a time when the sale and distribution of alcohol was strictly controlled. 

Kenyatta’s home-based outfit in Dagoretti which was christened Kinyatta Stores would later emerge as a “rickety place of fun never before seen in Kikuyuland”.

At the time, Kenya’s National Assembly had instituted tough laws to regulate the consumption and sale of traditional brews.

In reality, the laws were designed to encourage a new level of alcohol commercialisation, which favoured bottled beer and spirits.

The result was the rapid rise of the Ruaraka based commercial brewing companies, including East African Breweries which was founded by the Hurst brothers, preceding the emergence of beer brands like Tusker and JW Taylor’s Allsopps.

As fate would have it, the younger Kenyatta-President Uhuru, would prompt a crackdown on illicit liquor during his first term in office in 2015 amid warning, that an entire generation of working-class men was being lost to booze in central Kenya.

In response, the Kenya Bureau of Standards and Nacada oversaw the de-licensing of over 150 registered alcohol makers and suspension of 385 brands of alcohol that were operating in the Kenyan market.

These measures were enforced at the back of heavy taxes that had been applied on low-end beer products in a bid to boost revenue collection resulting in an apparent market vacuum that was quickly filled by cheap, low quality and highly potent second generation alcoholic products.

According to the World Health organization, the number of male drinkers in the country today is nearly double that of female ones, with reports linking married or separated Kenyan men to more episodes of heavy drinking. 

The high cost of living and price of commodities (such as alcohol) are also cited as key factors behind Kenya’s apparent drinking problem vis a vis regional counterparts like Uganda and Rwanda.

The thriving clubs, alcohol delivery and wines and spirits businesses across the country, a la Mzee Kenyatta’s bold venture, all point to the products’ exponential demand in the country.

In the interest of our nation’s social welfare, it is prudent that we begin considering alternative approaches to the alcohol menace, that has permeated our communities. 

In addition to the mental and health problems associated with substance abuse, the country stands to lose a massive opportunity to reap from the demographic dividend of its youthful population as more young people and families, lose their way down the bottom of the barrel. 

Development and utilisation of public recreational facilities such as libraries, gyms, swimming pools, performance venues and parks is necessary to nurture spaces for fun and meaningful social interactions.

— The writer is an event organiser and a member of the Public Relations Society of Kenya

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