Kenya declares total war on killer alcohol as crisis worsens

After spending the better part of the morning taking illicit brew at Kangemi Estate in Nyeri Thursday, this man fell on the roadside where he slept for hours

NAIROBI: Scenes of young men and women in a drunken stupor, some semi-comatose in filthy trenches, knocked out by lethal concoctions brewed by the ‘merchants of death’ who largely sell reinforced drinks, are now an eyesore in Kenyan villages and towns.

They stagger on the pathways, some wet their clothes, while others mumble incoherently, the sum effect pointing at a pathetic picture of how men and women, who should be an example to their children, arrive home as zombies.

In some cases, the drunks are unable to separate day from night and clearly have little economic contribution to the livelihoods of those they are supposed to provide for. Yet, unless the directive given Thursday banning second-generation drinks is effective, unlike past ones, they are never short of watering holes.

So bad is the crisis of alcoholism that women particularly in Central Kenya have confronted the illegal brewers, whose deadly drinks are a threat to a generation, with young men lost to backstreet drinking dens.

Ravaged by the poisonous drinks, the young and old alike have either abandoned their families or are unable to marry, thrusting to the fore the problem racking society, which has now become a national shame.

On the back of the worsening crisis, top national and county government officials Thursday declared an all-out war on killer brews that have claimed the lives of hundreds and shattered families.

The Government revoked all licences for second generation alcoholic drinks across the country effective midnight as officials gave the grim statistics: over 14,000 youths under 21 years die from alcohol incidents including car crashes, homicides, suicides, alcohol poisoning and associated injuries.

While there are no official figures of the death toll from the killer brews, the gravity of the problem was pronounced in May last year when over 100 people were killed across four counties.

And the National Authority for the Campaign against Drug Abuse (NACADA), in a survey in 2012, suggested a total of 4 million Kenyans countrywide were consuming illicit brews, and has recently warned the problem has worsened.

 ALCOHOL PRICES

According to the 2012 National Survey on Alcohol and Drug Abuse, 13.3 per cent of Kenyans are currently consuming alcohol, 9.13 per cent tobacco, 4.23 per cent miraa, 1.03 per cent bhang and 0.13 per cent heroine.

Thursday, the Government said after suspension of the licences, an inter-agency inspection to certify if the drinks are safe for consumption will be carried out.

Council of Governors (CoG) Chairman Peter Munya and Interior Cabinet Secretary Joseph Nkaissery addressed a joint press conference Thursday, only a day after President Uhuru Kenyatta met elected leaders from Mount Kenya region over the crisis.

Other than the new inspection, the State has also lined up several strategies to fight the menace, including the proposal to review the legal age at which one can buy or drink alcohol. Currently, the law allows any adult of 18 and above to access or consume alcohol.

Others include restricting the type of alcoholic drinks that can be sold in stores, prohibiting sale of alcohol in residential areas and near learning institutions and mandatory training of alcoholic beverage servers and also review the price of alcohol upwards.

Interior Principal Secretary Monica Juma, Inspector General of Police Joseph Boinett, General Service Unit boss Joel Kitili, Kenya Bureau of Standards Managing Director Charles Ongwae and officials from the Government chemist also attended the meeting.

The two levels of government vowed they would mobilise the machinery in an operation that aims to eradicate the cheap and killer drinks.

They announced the two levels of government will take stern action against anyone selling alcohol that does not meet the required quality standards set by the Kenya Bureau of Standards (Kebs).

A list of the affected bars, distributors and alcohol brands will be published in the dailies. “In this regard, the two levels of government have agreed to immediately suspend all second-generation alcoholic beverages licences until an inter-agency team carries out a nationwide inspection of premises and analysis of alcoholic products to ensure they meet Kebs standards,” Munya said.

 SOCIAL CHALLENGES

Nkaissery added: “From midnight, the licences remain suspended and we are issuing instructions through their county commissioners down to the assistant chiefs with a clear warning that those who fail will lose their job. A communication is going to be made from my office to that effect.”

Apart from deaths and other economic problems, illicit and heavy drinking have been blamed four violence and social challenges that include men abdicating their family responsibilities.

There have been reports of men failing to father children in Central Kenya, where women have a couple of times took to the streets to demonstrate against the crisis.

“We are trying to help the youth here, it’s a shame that in some parts, we have witnessed women go to the streets to protest that their men’s performance is below the mark,” Nkaissery said at the Serena Hotel.

Interestingly, the National Authority for Campaign against Alcohol and Drug Abuse (Nacada), whose mandate is to lead the war against such vice, was absent from Thursday’s meeting, only a day after Central MPs pushed for its disbandment.

President Kenyatta did not disband Nacada as requested by the MPs but instead expressed displeasure that the authority was not as effective and was not meeting its mandate as expected by Kenyans.

“What the President said was that he was not going to discuss Nacada in that meeting and they are under my ministry. As such, instructions on this campaign will come from me and if there will be need to reform the agency, that can be done later,” the Interior CS explained.

The Standard
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