Inside Kiambu village, where youth are slaves to alcohol, drugs

Asla Kerubo, 26, is a resident of Ngenia village in Kiambu County. [Fidelis Kabunyi, Standard]

Asla Kerubo, a 26-year-old mother in Ngenia village, Kiambu County, is a dejected woman.

After battling alcohol abuse for two years, Ms Kerubo seems to have resigned to the effects of substance abuse.

Her story paints a picture of a scarred woman, who is caught between ambition and good life.

However, she is being pulled down by a habit that has now seen her cross paths with the law.

The mother of two says she started taking alcohol after her husband abandoned her.

“The local brew, changaa, was the cheapest and available drink that helped me come to terms with the situation. After taking one or two pints, I forgot about my misery,” she said.

She narrated how the drinking habit led to a pregnancy.

“I gave birth to a pre-term baby, who was admitted for four months at the newborn unit at Kiambu Level 5 hospital,” said Ms Kerubo.

And after being discharged from the hospital, she continued to drink, a move she said, led to her arrest for neglecting her newborn child.

“This is when it dawned on me that I was losing it and decided to adjust my lifestyle. I am now serving a two-year probation sentence by a Githunguri court after being arrested for neglecting my four-month-old baby,” Ms Kerubo told The Standard.

Ms Kerubo’s story is one of the many moving tales of residents of the rich, but sleepy village in Githunguri, whose lives have been ruined by the illicit liquor.

The village, known for coffee and dairy farming, is now a pale shadow of itself as outsiders from as far as Uganda take over the jobs since the locals are shunning farm work.

Mr Njatha Njenga, a resident, accused the local administration and security agencies of complacency.

“As parents, the menace is causing pain and agony in many households and this has hampered development. The sight of drunk youth in broad daylight shows how unproductive they have become,” said Mr Njenga.

Githunguri OCPD Mary Kaimenyi denied claims that police were complicit.

“We are committed to eradicating illicit brews and drugs in Kiambu county as a whole,” she said.

Ms Ruth Wamuyu, a mother of five, said she started consuming alcohol while in high school.

“When I moved into Kwa Maiko, a friend introduced me to the chang’aa dens in Ngenia village,” she said

Ruth Wamuyu, 32, started consuming alcohol in high school.[Fidelis Kabunyi, Standard]

Living in a single room, Ms Wamuyu admits alcohol has taken a toll on her.

“I am now an addict. I have tried severally to end this lifestyle, but I keep backsliding. I am humbly requesting any assistance to take care of my children,” she revealed.

Ms Wamuyu said three of her children stay with her mother in Murang’a.

“I should take care of the other two, but I am depressed. I only get happiness and peace when I am drunk because I forget all my troubles,” Ms Wamuyu added.

Walking across to the Ngenia, which borders the elite Tatu City, bears every image of a slum.

The wafting stench of chang’aa from the houses in the village is what welcomes you as you walk through the dusty streets down to Ngewa river.

This is the epicentre of the illicit brew and bhang business, which has now messed up many families.

As early as 7 am, scenes of staggering youths, men and women roaming through the dusty village paths and seeping into coffee plantations are familiar.

And this continues even late into the night.

Residents said their plea to Kiambu Governor, Mr James Nyoro, Githunguri MP Kago Wa Lydia and local administration have fallen on deaf ears.

“For the last two years, we have written letters and gone to every office in vain.  We understand that some police officers ask for Sh3,000 for every 20-litre jerrican of illicit brew sold,” Mr Nyaga said.

Director Alcohol enforcement Kiambu County Michael Kangethe said the issue of chang’aa is being handled by the area Deputy County Commissioner and the Sub-County Police Commander.
“We always conduct multiagency enforcement. As earlier indicated, the matter had not been reported to me,” Mr Kangethe said.

Men have also fallen victims to alcohol abuse.

Mr David Njure said frustrations and hopelessness due to unemployment led him into alcohol abuse.

“I am a graduate in Economics, it has been five years since I graduated and I have not found any gainful employment.  I engage in drinking with my friends to beat idleness,” Mr Njure said.

Mr David Njure says frustrations and hopelessness due to unemployment led him into alcohol abuse [Fidelis Kabunyi, Standard]

Counselling psychologist Ms Millicent Muchene said alcohol use has been normalised, since it is consumed at family, communal gatherings and casual outings.

Mr Muchene said alcohol misuse could be traced to poverty, family history of an alcohol use disorder, and availability of alcohol at a younger age.

She also said abuse may be a result of stress from historical trauma, social and economic stressors including poverty, stagnant or declining incomes, loss of blue-collar jobs, and disintegration of family units.

“In the last decade, there has been reduced economic opportunity for youths despite having degrees, the issue of lack of income worsens mental and physical health outcomes. Further, availability of cheaply available liquor has worsened the situation,” Mr Muchene added.

Mr Muchene cited rehabilitating addicts and providing equal opportunities that generate income as some of the possible solutions to drugs abuse.

Villagers said drugs and alcohol abuse has shot up crime rates, accusing police of laxity. 

Mary Wambui, a  resident, narrated how her house was broken into during the day and all household goods stolen while she was away to attend a relative’s funeral.

“It is sad. Young men have turned into crime. They are stealing sufurias, chicken and farm produce. We demand relevant authorities to intervene and restore sanity to this village,” said Ms Wambui.

She claimed that police are aware of the source of chang’aa and bhang.

“They go to these dens daily collecting cash, which people call ushuru (taxes) or tango, and they only target the peddlers, not the lords,” said Nyaga.

Villagers accused administrators and police officers from the nearby Kwamaiko police station of sleeping on the job, and also alleged they benefit from the illicit trade.

Ms Kaimenyi, however, said that claims of bribery and extortion by police will be investigated.

“We have been carrying out raids to ensure the menace ends. Our goal is to save the lives of our youth,” Ms Kaimenyi said.