Illicit brews back in Mt Kenya as Uhuru's crackdown order fizzles

Clerics pray for rehabilitated alcoholics during a ceremony at Ihura stadium in Murang'a recently. [Photo: Mose Sammy/Standard]

The impact of the crackdown on second-generation alcoholic drinks that was ordered by President Uhuru Kenyatta has petered out. And now illicit brew dealers in the Mt Kenya counties are back in operation, five months after they were almost run out of business.

In Meru County, illicit brewing dens that offer a tipple from as early as 6am are rampant on the Majengo-Irinda road in Meru town.

Revelling accompanied by loud music is witnessed in shanties, some less than 100 metres from Backstreet Academy.

This contradicts County Commissioner Wilfred Nyangwanga who said during the Jamhuri Day celebrations that illicit alcoholic drinks had been eradicated in the area.

In Nyeri, there were initially 3,000 bars operating in the county but the number temporarily reduced to 1,000 while the wines and spirits outlets shrank to 30 from the previous 250.

But renewed proliferation of bars has irked Governor Nderitu Gachagua so much that he sent the Director of the County Alcoholic Drinks Control and Licensing Board, Daniel Ondambu – a former DC who resigned to take the position – on 90-day compulsory leave.

During the Jamhuri Day celebrations, Mr Gachagua announced stringent liquor rules that would require all alcohol manufacturers doing business in the county to open depots and distributions outlets for their products.

Secretary of Nyeri Bar Owners Association Kiama Gachanja attributed the continued production and consumption of second-generation brews to lack of alcoholic factories and distillers in the county, which left retailers and consumers at the mercy of rogue brewers from other parts of the country.

And in Embu County, consumption of illicit and second-generation brews has slowly picked up.

In Grogon and Shauri Yako slums near Embu town, brewing and sale of the brews continues with a few lookouts stationed in strategic locations to raise the alert in case police officers are seen.

The scenario is the same in beer dens near Kangaru market, Ena, Runyenjes and other parts of the county.

A shop operator in Shauri Yako slums, who requested anonymity, said drinkers had resumed their habits after the fight against illegal alcohol gradually lost steam.

During the Jamhuri Day celebrations, Embu County Commissioner Esther Maina blamed the Judiciary of frustrating the fight on illicit brews.

Ms Maina claimed magistrates were releasing suspects even when police officers and witnesses provided sufficient evidence to incriminate them.

In Kirinyaga County, at least three brewers who closed down during the crackdown had resumed operations.

One manufacturer is operating despite court orders while another two are operating illegally in the neighbouring Mwea.

Gichugu MP Njogu Barua blamed the national government for failing to streamline the production and distribution of molasses, an ingredient illegal brewers use to make illicit liquor.

Abuse of alcohol remains a major challenge in Murang'a, with scores of traders flouting the regulations set by the local county government as they are stocking brands that have not been approved.

There is an outcry over the return of drunks in various parts of the county, with liquor outlets that had been ordered closed opening under mysterious circumstances.

Notorious alcoholism centres include Murang'a town and Mugeka, Maragua, Kandara, Kenol and Githanji markets.

Last week in Karugia, there was drama after a drunk youth disrupted a burial ceremony in full view of the clergy and bereaved families.

Simon Gichuru of the Kikuyu Council of Elders said the level of alcoholism was high in the area and efforts must be put in place to ensure it is contained.

County Liquor Control Committee Chairman Joseph Mbai said he was aware that some traders continued to flout the regulations.

Murang'a County Police Commander Naomi Chami urged the public to volunteer information on premises flouting alcohol regulations.

In Tharaka Nithi, illicit brews are being consumed secretly in Magutuni, KK Mwendwa, Marimanti and Cheera villages even as County Police Commander Johnson Ipara said they had ensured 100 per cent compliance with the ban.

Since the crackdown was initiated by the President, over 10 million litres of liquor, mainly chang'aa, kibondi, uki, mugacha and maroa, have been destroyed.