Defeat drugs, brews and graft or we perish


A religious man walks past a group of boys sleeping away their lives along General Waruinge street in Eastleigh on February 25, 2024. [Denish Ochieng, Standard]

Illicit drugs, alcoholism and graft are among Kenya’s foremost evils. The ‘triple challenge’ has ensnared us in a vicious grip, making us prisoners of our corrective efforts.

Love for cartels has drubbed the nation. We invest resources fighting them but get pintsize returns. On top of the ping-pong on regulation, there’s the cognitive bias known as the ambiguity effect. We see the problem then look the other way.  

On February 26, Mombasa hosted a mega conference attended by Deputy President Rigathi Gachagua, Interior Cabinet Secretary Kithure Kindiki and police chief Japheth Koome. Drugs and alcohol abuse were the focus.

Coming just days after Kenya was listed for dirty cash flows, the Coast forum depressed the country further. Analogies by speaker after speaker between drug peddlers and terrorists, bandits and bigtime criminals highlighted the interconnectedness of these issues.

Complicity of officials, as decried by Mr Gachagua, added another layer to the quandary. A senior officer stunned the forum with claims of receiving phone calls from ‘powerful individuals’ to free suspects. When duty-bearers are part of the crisis, it raises questions on integrity of institutions.

Prof Kindiki’s characterisation of illicit liquor, narcotic drugs and psychotropic substances as a ‘national security threat’ was another exigent call. It isn’t just a matter of individual fears; it is a complex threat that needs a resolute response by government, civil society, well-wishers, families, communities and even international partners.  

Even if with a heavy heart, we must now accept that corruption, drugs and alcoholism have messed up our values and progress. But how do we crush them when greed can’t allow us to look inward and outward? How about denialism and doing things the old way and expecting brilliant outcomes?

While we claim to abhor these vices, the allure of illicit gains and the temptation of fleeting pleasures have a peculiar hold on us. In many cases, culprits are apprehended then quickly acquitted. Barons and profiteers who include politicians only show us the middle finger!

Data on the situation is way too nerve-wracking. The national prevalence of alcohol use disorder is nearly 10 per cent made worse by serious treatment gaps. Nacada reports that one in eight Kenyans aged 15 to 65 takes alcohol, and 26,673 inject themselves with heroin and cocaine.

In yet another mechanical move last week, the government unveiled 25 new rules to check on alcoholism. At a meeting in Nairobi, Mr Gachagua hit out at security officials from six border counties for failing to block illegal drugs entering the country.

In my view, it’s time to go beyond acknowledgment of the situation. Decision-makers can cut down on hotel and boardroom talks then pitch tent ‘kwa ground’ where the vices manifest most. We must address the root causes now or perish. Without viable opportunities, many youths will still hang onto drugs to cope – the more reason not to judge them.

Authorities must nail barons and high priests with precision. Visa bans by the West aren’t enough. It also calls for nifty ways to address risk factors like school dropouts, violence, depression, insecurity, parenting stress and general breakdown of norms.

Riggy G’s efforts to tame alcoholism should be supported without populism. The DP now says he is ready to be dissed or voted out because of his crusade. Brews have broken families and claimed lives. In Kirinyaga last month, 17 people died from a lethal brew, prompting the closure of bars.

Crackdowns and rehabilitation efforts should continue. On corruption, the war must carry on. Graft in State agencies is institutional, not cultural. The anti-graft agency has just reported that taxpayers lost Sh29 million through loopholes in NHIF. Something must give way.

Bottom line? Make integrity the bedrock of every institution, and ensure that the well-being of citizens supersedes the lure of quick gains. We have a future to safeguard and to avoid a corrupt drugs and alcohol generation.  

The writer is a communications practitioner. X: @markoloo