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How illicit brews are fueling society's erosion

By Maureen Ng'endo | Published Thu, February 22nd 2018 at 00:00, Updated February 21st 2018 at 18:42 GMT +3
Chief Christopher Kariuki empties a fermentation trough for illicit brewing den by the banks of river Muringato, in the outskirts Nyeri [File, Standard]

Much has been said and done concerning the alcohol epidemic in Kenya, especially the widespread use and abuse of illicit brews. While many of us turn a blind eye to the problem, we neglect the fact that this is a menace that has the capacity to destroy our economic and social stability.

Alcohol abuse is primarily an illness, much as many of us may not view it as such. The consumption of illicit brews leads to addiction and is therefore a disease. Research by World Health Organisation (2017) indicated that the disease affects the gastro-intestinal system, central nervous system, cardiovascular system, the reproductive system and the skin. In addition, there is an increased likelihood of suffering from mental disorders. More fatally, alcohol abuse drastically reduces life expectancy and as the study revealed, the death rate among alcoholics is 2.5 times higher than normal.

Over the past few weeks, there have been numerous reports of widespread consumption of illicit brews, a lot of which is smuggled from Uganda and Tanzania. It is disquieting that certain law enforcement agencies have been so lax as to allow the illegal trade to go on across our borders. For illicit alcohol to cross the border from Uganda and get impounded miles away in Wangige, Kiambu County, it is a clear sign of negligence. Simply said, corruption fuels the sale and consumption of this lethal brews.

Many times, we associate corruption with high ranking Government officials, forgetting that it is not unique to government operatives. The current illicit alcohol crisis has been occasioned by corruption. What makes an officer at the border allow the entry of a harmful, prohibited product? What motivates a business person towards the sale of illicit and potentially harmful brews?

Prohibited trade

Is it not corruption when dealers in prohibited alcohol trade evade taxation while making profits from their businesses? The rot in societal morals and widespread impoverishment occasioned by alcoholism can be pegged to the fact that some individuals care more about enriching themselves at the expense of the majority who have been confined to a life of dependency on alcohol.

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The effects of second generation alcohol consumption have over time set in motion a chain of events which if left unfettered, could bring the nation to its knees. The youthful population is at a greater risk of failure in life because they are the most affected. Alcohol being one of the most abused drugs, is readily available, even to minors.

It is likely that the present boy child crisis has been brought about by factors which include this crisis. Young men lack role models because their fathers and father figures are unavailable, being drunken most of the time. Research done by the Center for Advocacy Against Alcohol and Drug Abuse in 2017 in several neighborhoods around the city shows that most men spend their time in bars imbibing cheap alcohol. With no authority figures, it is not a surprise that many of these youth drop out of school and get into crime and drugs.

Forced responsibility

Others are forced to live on the streets because of the frustration faced at home. To this effect, the women are compelled to fill the gap and have to work twice as hard to fend for their families. Because of the extra financial burden, they too are unavailable to offer the much needed maternal nurture to their families. Eventually, the boy child is left to devastating drunkenness just like his father, and the girl child is taught that she must be strong in order to run the family.

The high dropout rate from school, involvement in crime and drugs among the youth in families with absentee alcoholic fathers sustains a vicious chain of impoverishment. Because they cannot find sustainable employment, their lives are marked with poverty, desolation and addiction. If left unchecked, this affects the nation because the youthful workforce is either in crime or drugs. In the event that the youth are in both alcoholism and employment, their productivity is low hence the poverty chain continues.

A nation without a productive work force is a pitiable one because the growth agenda set up by the Government cannot be driven by retirees and outsourced labor. The four key pillars of the current Government’s development agenda require strong and able youth in order to succeed. It is therefore laudable that efforts are being made across various sectors such as the County Governments, County Administrations and the Kenya Revenue Authority.

A case in point is the proposal by Governor wa Iria to impose a rehabilitation levy on alcohol producers and bar owners in Murang’a County. There have also been several crackdowns on bars selling counterfeit alcohol. The Kenya Revenue Authority has also stepped up efforts to curtail the sale and consumption of illicit brews in its planned sensitisation programs. This will not only regulate the problem, but also prevent the country from losing billions in unpaid taxes.We all have a part to play in this, let us not neglect our responsibility.

Ms. Ng'endo comments on topical issues