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Of illicit drinks, men and lost votes

By By KIPKOECH TANUI | May 9th 2014


Let us begin with a little story told to me last year on the flipside of alcoholism among youths in Central Kenya by a deputy governor. I won’t name him because he saw in this problem a big threat to Jubilee’s so-called tyranny of numbers given the way the cheap liquor has stunted population in his region. 

Also because of the wrath of lawyers, I conceal his name for at one point, and I am not sure it was in jest, he actually seemed to believe the ‘enemies of Kikuyus’ had a special line in the breweries where bottles headed to Mount Kenya region were added chemicals that would neuter men.

In his words: “Ask yourself why it is only here that you find men avoiding the marital bed and opting to sleep out at a friend’s home because the wife called in the afternoon to remind him of how long they have gone without intimacy.”

He added: “The young wives here in the villages keep asking if they just left their mother’s home for lack of a bed and roof.”

Yes, my friend, the deputy governor was bemoaning the devastating wave of cheap drinks in his county and the neighbourhood and talked about many families now run by women because their husbands had been turned into zombies or walking-dead men by the brews stuffed in plastic bottles and which cost as little as Sh20 per glass.

One of the well-known brewers even had the temerity to indicate on the container of his concoction that if you gulped it, you would know why birds fly. Foolish, you are, if you take it hoping you will fly because it will all be in the mind as you sleep dead on a roadside gulley.

My friend pointed out that a long time ago in his area, bars and lodges were like twins because what you took at first put you in a romantic mood and the next moment you found yourself paying up for a room.

“Nursery schools are recording a drastic drop in enrolment, as men have been ‘castrated’ by alcohol. May be we should open up more plantations here and hire Kisii, Luo and Luhya men in plenty.

“They drink, but they remain virile, you know. This way, we shall be able to halt the fall in population and discreetly keep our women happy. In fact, we are also trying to come up with incentives for men who have more than four children.

“We now live in fear that the Luhya and Kalenjins may in a few years catch up with our population because they still marry many wives. We may also soon have to give out incentives for polygamous young Kikuyus. We can’t go on like that,” he said.

The man’s agony, for that is what I was convinced it was, may be too stereotypical because the problem of alcoholism is national in nature.

A few years ago in my village, several died and others went blind from chang’aa ‘with power-foam”, as they called it. When the story broke on Tuesday and knowing the levels of addiction in my community, I told friends the statistics from the ‘Countryman’s’ deaths  would have been far higher if the supplier had distributors in the Rift Valley.

The point we must make (leave the joke by Nacada that it is going to also offer free coffins to families who lost kin in the ‘Countryman’s’ killer drink that turns out to be pure or near-pure methanol) is that we are staring at a national catastrophe.

In my region, I keep hearing that the Kimnyigeu ageset, is ‘lost’. What this means is that most of them are no different from the chaps my friend, the deputy governor, was talking about.

To drink these illicit and sub-standard drinks, one has to be poor, so choice is out of the question.

But if you are poor and drink it, obviously you won’t be productive. So in the end you just live to wake up, drink and slip into sleep again, and at times it matters not where sleep catches up with you or the weather.  

Though I disagree with the deputy governor that the alcoholism levels are worse in Central, I have my own reasons to believe it is ironically richer in terms of breweries churning out cheap drinks. Just for an idea, it is home to the most ‘enterprising’ community, as we in Kenya stereotype them.

Now tribal stereotypes aside, let us remind ourselves of 1978 when Daniel arap Moi became President.

He shut down busaa clubs – where men and women made tourists wonder if Kenyans were drinking oil because they used Esso and Total tins – in the shopping centres by decree and action.

The reason why we have cheap and unregistered drinks in the country is because of several reasons. But more importantly is corruption because the peddlers have the local police bosses and chiefs on their payroll. This is incontestable, just ask any chang’aa brewer how come she is never arrested and when she is picked up at lunchtime she will be back on her stool in the bar at 4pm.

Secondly, we have overtaxed beer and spirits because it is considered luxurious and a sin-product. By so doing we have created a vacuum where crooks out to make a killing, often exploit.

Thirdly, we are a greedy nation and so like drug dealers who care about making money.

Finally, given the problem is national and catastrophic, county governors must now spearhead the war against killer drinks in their jurisdictions while the national Government enhances the social and economic programmes that would address the root causes, enhance rehabilitation, rescue affected families, and scuttle the merchants of death. Knee-jerk reaction of the kind we are seeing now will never solve anything for we soon forget and trudge on.

Now allow me to take up my phone and assure my friend this problem goes beyond Central.  

The writer is Group Managing Editor (Print) at The Standard.

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