Traders repackage illicit brew in branded liquor bottles to evade arrest

Administrators admitted that the traders schemes have complicated their efforts in fighting the illicit brew as the licensing of bars is under the county government.

Speaking in Shamanek forest after an operation that saw more than 5000 litres of kangara destroyed last week, Maina village senior chief Muraya Waithaka, said that they dismantled the temporary distillery set up by the brewers.

"This is a great concern to us. Illegal brewers are now mixing it with ethanol. However, we will not relent in the fight against this vice," he said.

Muraya noted that chang'aa is mixed with ethanol and repackaged then sold in licensed bars but they are restricted from conducting raids in bars as they fall under the jurisdiction of county governments.

He urged the county government and Kenya Bureau of Standards (KEBS) to randomly test alcohol being sold in bars especially in informal settlements.

In the last one month, more than 150,000 litres of illicit brew have been destroyed by chiefs with brewers shifting their operations deep inside the forests around Nyahururu sub-county.

The fight against illicit brew has proved a headache to the government and pressure is piling on security officers to bring to an end the menace.

Security personnel have resorted destroying illicit brew instead of taking the matter to court.

Vihiga County Commissioner Gilbert Kitiyo in a video that has gone viral has directed chiefs to act tough on illicit brewers.

Kitiyo in the video is heard telling chiefs illicit brew will not be taken to government chemists for testing. He said chiefs have no money and time to do so. The County Commissioner termed the testing directive unreasonable since one can tell chang'aa by the smell.

"You have no money, no time, you are very busy and there is no taking brew to government chemists for testing," he said.

The county commissioner said they already have a list of illicit brewers in the area and will not spare them.

"When you get chang'aa, busaa and everything in their homes, pour the drinks in their houses, on their beds, sofa sets, destroy everything, now that it is raining how many days will it take a sofa set to dry, you will have left them with enough work or you want to go to government chemist?" Posed Kitiyo.

He suggested that the illicit brewers should be denied government services while their children should not be issued with identity cards, bursary and their weddings should be disrupted.

Kitiyo said Judiciary and the Director of Public Prosecutions are the weak link in the fight against illicit brew.

A court order that the alcoholic content of a drink suspected to be chang'aa must be determined raised the bar on the evidence required to charge and convict brewers.

Justice Mumbua T. Matheka in an appeal by a man convicted for being in possession of suspected chang'aa said the repealed Alcoholic Act raised the bar with respect to the charge of being in possession of alcoholic drink.

Peter Kipsang Koech had appealed against a lower court decision that sentenced him to three years in jail after he was found in possession of 40 litres of chang'aa. Court records indicated Koech was a repeat offender and each time he was arraigned he would pay the fine.

Judge Matheka in the February judgment said one can no longer tell that a drink is chang'aa by their name. The new Act she said not only increased the fine but also added ingredients of the offence.

The judge noted that the lower court dealt with Koech's matter the same manner it did at the time when possession of chang'aa charge depended simply on the determination of the local administration or the police.

The Director of Public Prosecutions has since maintained the law must be followed to charge offenders.

Dorcas Oduor, the Secretary, Public Prosecutions and the Principal Deputy to the Director of Public Prosecutions in May said they have put in place mechanisms to enhance prosecutions.
Ms Oduor revealed that prosecutors face challenges including failure by the police to maintain law and order.

"The law requires us to have a certificate to show that you are an alcoholic," she said while referring to a case before a judge in Nakuru.
A file without a certificate forwarded to them she said will not be considered and the prosecutor will not make a decision to charge. Oduor noted that the arrests made are on foot soldiers leaving behind the real trader in the business.