2015 in focus: Day president ordered crackdown on illicit brews

As 2015 draws to a close, it will be remembered as the year the Government mounted a major crackdown on the sale and consumption of illicit brews.

The poisonous liquor had wreaked havoc in most parts of the country, killing an estimated 7,000 people in four years, according to Government statistics.

The brews had reduced otherwise productive youths into zombies as the Government turned a blind eye. Illegally brewed alcohol had gained popularity among low-income earners who were unable to afford alcoholic drinks that are safe for human consumption.

Traditionally, its ingredients ranged from fermented corn and sorghum to juice from coconut and sugarcane.

But medical reports showed methanol poisoning had caused the fatalities. During the crackdown on the illicit brews, 99 local chiefs were dismissed while 15 police officers including 12 police commanders faced disciplinary action for "abetting manufacturing and consumption" of the liquor.

Interior Cabinet Secretary Joseph Nkaissery was quoted as saying that 15 million litres of illicit brew were destroyed during the operation that saw close to 20,000 suspects arrested and hundreds of illegal bars shut in two weeks.

Presidential order

The dramatic move followed a directive by President Uhuru Kenyatta in July after he summoned MPs from Central region, which has been the most affected by the brews, for a meeting at State House.

Before the presidential order was issued, Health officials and the National Authority for the Campaign Against Alcohol and Drug Abuse (Nacada) were locked in a dispute over the list of alcoholic drinks that had been cleared for consumption.

On July 14, the Health ministry directed its officials at the counties to suspend nearly all the alcoholic drinks cleared by Nacada. The directive affected about 76 small-scale manufacturers and distributors of spirits and wines located in Nairobi, Thika, Ruiru, Kisumu, Tala, Kitengela, Machakos, Kiambu and Gatundu. Others are based in Kikuyu, Ongata Rongai and Juja.

The MPs and residents had for years accused State officials of frustrating the fight against illicit brews by colluding with the manufacturers and traders of the killer brews.

Married women in central region, where the illicit brew was widespread, held demonstrations calling for Government action.

Two days after the presidential directive was issued, thousands of litres of illicit brews had been disposed of as the crackdown extended to other parts of the country, which had borne the brunt menace.