Guard illicit brew fight from lynch mobs

Cracking down on illicit brews appeared noble from the outset. It was simple: Fire up MPs to lead the crusade in their constituencies and inspire the nation to come to grips with a vice responsible for over 500 deaths and counting.

We believe the President expected the exercise to proceed within the ambit of law and devoid of destruction of private property.

Sadly, the process has spun out of control. Hired goons and thugs went on a spree; destroying business premises, looting merchandise, physical assault and in some extreme cases, death. And we are not arguing that the exercise is wrong, but that it has been fraught with problems that have magnified bigger problems.

What has been disturbing is to see some MPs go to the extreme either to settle personal scores or driven by an agenda diametrically opposed to the President’s noble cause to stamp out illicit brews from the villages. A case in point is that of Keroche Breweries. On July 7, an MP stormed the factory accompanied by Police and Kenya Bureau of Standards (Kebs) personnel demanding to inspect the premises, presumably to ascertain there were no illicit brews in the ultra-modern Sh1 billion factory.

Kebs had indicated that one of Keroches products was illicit on a list released to the media despite having provided the company with a clearance certificate to manufacture that product.

Anyone who has been following the news knows many of the illegal factories have been uncovered in the most unusual places – dungeons near the river, private residences with high walls or even near riverbeds with drums buried in the ground.

The team left after being satisfied there were no illegal brews and according to Keroche Breweries CEO Tabitha Karanja, the MP gave the firm a clean bill of health. The following morning however, the same MP showed up with hired goons ready to destroy illicit brews in premises he had ascertained they did not exist.

Granted that the exercise needs to be organised within the law, the concern is that it has degenerated into personal vendetta attacks by people with ill motives. But even worse, we are afraid the exercise may be a lynch mob free pass to destroy locally owned indigenous enterprises by Kenyans who have toiled and borrowed heavily from banks and put in their life savings to set up legitimate businesses.

On that score, we share the concerns of locally licensed brewers who have operated above board and acquired all requisite permits and licenses. They have also created jobs in their localities and contribute to revenue generation in their counties. We could conceivably be killing the goose that lays the golden eggs under the guise of fighting illegal brew manufacturers.

A line must be drawn in the sand and the exercise must confine its activities within the law. The idea of MPs followed by crowds of desperate youth climbing over walls of legitimate enterprises should drive the fear of God in every entrepreneur with a dream to set up their own legitimate factories. It’s disconcerting and sends the wrong signal to investors that Kenya is a country under mob rule.

That it is a country where legitimate enterprises exists depending on the whims of local MPs and hired goons; where laws are flouted under the guise of fighting a vice that has been in the country since time immemorial. We concur with the President that the issue of illicit brews and subsequent deaths of hundreds of young people to methanol laced drinks is tragic and must be arrested.

Where we part ways is with the execution of the war that seems to create more victims than be the panacea to the vice.

If the trend continues, our countryside will be littered with destroyed products of legitimate businesses, unemployed people whose workplaces were burnt to the ground and County governments with bigger budget holes because of lost revenue.

The multiplier effects could in the long run prove very costly for the country. Sobriety and order must guide the war on illicit brews.