The recent pronouncement by Deputy President Rigathi Gachagua that each town in the Mount Kenya region should have one bar must be filtered through economic reality.
The policy assumes that it is the number of bars that have led to extensive alcoholism in the region. In simple economics, supply creates demand. The policy ignores the critical plank in the alcohol ecosystem - demand. The bars are proliferating because there is a huge demand for alcohol. And you do not need a bar to get drunk.
We should focus more on the demand side of alcohol. By restricting the number of bars, the price of alcohol will go up, because the demand has not changed.
One would expect that higher prices would deter drinking. But remember alcohol is addictive.
Fewer alcohol outlets will make the alcohol business more profitable and more prone to bribes. Who will get the only licence to operate the single bar and make all the money? How will he or she be selected? By lottery?
The best approach would be to auction the licence to the highest bidder. But most likely it will go to the most connected. And he or she could control the whole market by having a bar in each town!
What if the bars get owned by brewery owners?
The demand remains and unofficial channels for alcohol distribution will emerge. You could find Kenyans taking alcohol in teacups in hotels as they did during the Covid -19 pandemic. The bribes will go up as the government official crackdown on illegal bars which will spring up to make money as the price goes up. Remember prohibition in the US in the 1920s?
This policy does not address the root cause of drinking in the Mount Kenya region - joblessness and hopelessness. If the mostly youthful drunkards had decent jobs, they would not be waiting for bars to open at 6 am.
It’s no coincidence that drinking became common after post-election violence as it became harder to seek entrepreneurial opportunities beyond this region.
Solace was in alcohol. Add the Succession Act , which means small pieces of land are now shared among brothers and sisters. Are there better solutions than restricting the supply? The best solution to alcoholism is one town one factory. Once the youth get decent jobs, they will keep off alcoholism, raise families and make their economic contribution to the country.
Revive agriculture from coffee to pyrethrum and dairying. Alcoholism in central Kenya is an economic not moral or religious issue.
Can we keep the youth busy with sports, entertainment or even volunteerism? Where are sports grounds or public parks in central Kenya beyond school fields? Paradoxically, Mount Kenya is a religious region.
Why is alcoholism so high? The other region with a similar problem is the Coast, mostly drugs such as opioids. Why are the two regions ravaged by such problems? Is it coincidental? What do you think?