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Campaign to tackle alcohol menace loses meaning as infighting emerges

CENTRAL
By Job Weru | March 27th 2016
Interior Principal Secretary Karanja Kibicho (centre in checked shirt) and the kirinyaga Central MP Gachoki Gitari (left), when the two participated in the destruction of 5000 litres of illicit liqour impounded from brewers at Ngomongo slums near Kutus town on 18/3/2016 [PHOTO:MUNENE KAMAU/STANDARD].

Interior and Coordination of National Government Principal Secretary Karanja Kibicho has been traversing Mt Kenya region to establish why there is laxity in a government campaign aginst illicit brews.

The PS has pitched camp in the region reprimanding chiefs and local leaders not supporting the drive against banned alcohol.

This was a popular crusade when it was launched by President Uhuru Kenyatta in July last year.

During the launch, it was made clear that those who supply these drinks would be the target of a government crackdown.

Members of Parliament who had received a dressing down from the President for doing too little to curb the consumption of illicit brews, were only too keen to be seen as doing something.

Therefore, they joined security teams as they combed villages in search of bootleg liquor.

And it was not just drinking dens that were raided, hidden brews that were found were poured out, and in this enthusiasm, authorities began to raid legitimate bars where they seized and destroyed licensed alcoholic beverages.

Some of the actions by government agents were  challenged in court over their legitimacy. Some say these legal suits may have led to the loss of momentum in the war on illicit brews.

Others says the campaign was ill conceived from the very beginning.

Eric Makara, a youth leader in Nyeri, says alcoholism cannot be tackled though legislation and harassment.

“They do not understand that addiction is a disease,” said Makara. Many youths, who are potential voters, need help because they are alcoholics.

Other leaders have also criticised Kibicho’s handling of the matter, particularly his public sacking of chiefs from regions he has found a flourishing trade in alcohol dens.

North Imenti MP Rahim Dawood says he pulled out of campaigns to identify alcohol dens following the humiliating sacking of a chief and seven assistant chiefs in Meru early this month.

Some of the sacked chiefs have been reinstated – in Matanya Laikipia East Constituency, Wilson Thuo and Patrick Mathenge were reinstated by Laikipia County Commissioner Apollo Okello.

This was a few days after the PS had led a security operation in which thousands of litres of illicit brews, mainly chang’aa, makabo and kang’ara, were destroyed.

 

The reluctance by elected leaders to join such security operations has baffled analysts, especially after the Mt Kenya Foundation, a caucus of wealthy personalities from 11 counties, set up an organisation of philanthropists to tackle alcoholism in the region.

Patrick Ngatia, a political adviser to the Jubilee establishment, says the reluctance by elected leaders to join the anti-illicit alcohol campaign may be because these leaders are worried they may lose support from youths, a good number who frequent these illicit dens. “We also understand that some MPs are involved in the alcohol business, while some of the brewers or dealers are their campaign financiers, and so the crackdown worked against their interests. That is why Kibicho came in,” said Ngatia.

However, it has been observed that local administrators are in a better position to tackle the problem as they know their people and can identify those who engage in the business, said Ngatia.

During Kibicho’s visit to Nyeri two weeks ago, no MP accompanied the PS. This was also the case in Laikipia, Tharaka Nithi and Meru counties. Only Kirinyaga Central MP Joseph Gitari accompanied the PS in his tour of the region.

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