'Wajakoya' drink leaves village in mourning after an evening of fun

A section of California pub in Kiangai village in Kirinyaga County. [Kibata Kihu, Standard]

It all began on Sunday afternoon, a day when women and men gather at the local shopping centre for merriment.

At the centre of the dusty shopping centre is a popular pub California, named after an American State, where drinks cost between Sh40 and Sh50 per glass. Despite its simple structure, California is the place to be on Sunday evening in Kiangai.

Daniel Kinyua, one of the survivors, recounts the horror, his voice hoarse with emotion.

According to Kinyua, on the material day, he and his father went to the bar to enjoy a drink.

"We were having a good time laughing at jokes as my dad and I sipped our favourite drinks," he said. They left the pub at around 8pm.

"Unfortunately, we ran out of cash, leaving us with no choice but to bring the evening to a close," he said.

As they were leaving the club, they were singing and happy, music filled the air and revellers were singing and dancing.

"People were dancing, and we didn’t want to leave because it was just getting lively," he said.

In a twist of fate, he counts himself lucky to have survived what befell some of the revellers.

"I consumed different drinks that day, trying out various types and flavours of drinks. Little did I know that the merriment would soon turn into anguish for some of the revellers," he said.

Agnes Wanjiku's husband was among the unlucky lot. He died while receiving treatment in a hospital where he had been rushed on Wednesday.

According to Wanjiku, her husband spent Sunday afternoon at California. He returned home earlier than expected, had his dinner, and took a shower.

"He was jovial that evening. He ate and we all went to bed," she said.

On Monday, she embarked on her routine trip to the local market, and as she navigated the bustling market, whispers echoed through the stalls, carrying haunting tales of tragedy and despair.

Her curiosity piqued, she approached a group of sombre-faced onlookers huddled in deep conversation.

To her shock, she learned that some of the villagers who were drinking in California had died suddenly. Others were fighting for their lives in hospital.

"When I returned home, I asked my husband if he was feeling okay, and he assured me that he was fine," she said.

According to Wanjiku, things took a turn for the worse on Tuesday night when her husband began complaining of pain in his eyes.

She pressed him to seek medical attention but he dismissed it as a minor issue.

On Wednesday morning, her husband woke up complaining of weakness in the legs.

"We wasted no time and took him to Njengas Health Centre," she said.

A man speaks to Kirinyaga Health Executive George Karoki at California Bar in Kirinyaga. He was among revellers who consumed illicit brew.

The medics referred him to Kerugoya Level Five Hospital due to the seriousness of his condition.

"We made our way to the specialised facility, but the journey was prolonged due to our inability to raise the required Sh7,000 for his treatment," she said.

"Sadly, he succumbed as he was receiving treatment," she said.

Wanjiku described her husband as devoted family man despite battling alcoholism.

"Five years ago, when 'wajakoya' was introduced at the pub, he started consuming it as it was cheaper," she said

A stone's throw away from Wanjiku's home, Paul Wachira's family is preparing for two burials. 

Wachira revealed that his brother and aunt were drinking together on Sunday but the aunt left early.

"They were always drinking together in that pub, especially after the introduction of the cheap brew," he said.

Wachira said his brother drank until the wee hours of the morning. He got so high he could not make his way home on his own.

"His friends took him home and left him outside his compound," he said.

His brother was found dead outside his house on Monday morning by a passer-by.

"I was called, and immediately rushed there only to find him lifeless and motionless," he said.

After his brother's body was discovered, his aunt's condition deteriorated.

Desperate, the family sought medical assistance.

However, in a cruel twist of fate, Wachira's aunt also died, leaving the family reeling from another loss in one week.

"We are preparing for two funerals. We just want answers to why my brother and aunt had to die," he said.

Samuel Muriithi said the owner of a local pub has allegedly been producing illicit brews, and using unsuspecting individuals as guinea pigs.

"The illicit brews pose a threat to the community, and we are demanding immediate action," he said.

Muriithi said revellers have nicknamed the drink "Wajakoya" since it is cheap and potent.

"Wajakoya has become popular in our village. Both youth and women are addicted to it," he said.

He added that since the pub was opened in 2015, they have reported cases of illicit alcohol consumption to the police, but no action has been taken against the owner.

"All our efforts have been in vain. He is arrested, but after one day, he is set free," he said.

He added that residents took matters into their own hands on Wednesday and destroyed crates of beer and tables before setting the establishment ablaze.

"Enough is enough. We don't want to lose any more lives," he said.