Large swathes of Kenya’s countryside are filled with productive workers, majority of them peasants, going about their business of building the nation. Traditionally, the countryside has been the hand that feeds the urban areas with food.
However, production in rural areas has been taking a hit as mainly young men at the peak of their youth, have been turning into zombies wobbling village paths in drunken stupor.
Though the prevalence of alcohol abuse may vary from region to region with Mt leading the pack of infamy, many rural young men troop to their favourite joints for a daily tipple, not heeding the old slogan, “baada ya kazi” (after work) that was meant to promote responsible drinking.
The exhortation was that the beer was to be enjoyed after a day’s honest labour. However, given its tendency to loosen social inhibitions, many youths shifted the slogan, subconsciously though, to “badala ya kazi” (meaning “instead of work”).
That transformation is what has caused concern, so much so that drinking hours have had to be regulated. Now, even the urban sophisticates who drink largely as a leisurely affair will not walk into a pub at any hour of the day and order their favourite drink, thanks to a regulation regime that stipulates that bars open at 5pm on weekdays and 2pm on weekends and public holidays. But the largest chunk of damage wreaked by alcoholism may stem from consumption of illicit liquor.
The proliferation of bootleg is what has become a genie in the bottle (pun intended), as it has caused untold social and economic damage to especially rural communities where the level of policing is obviously neglected.
Consumer education has been either lacking or lax on the part of government, leading to what is seen as an explosion of over-indulgence.
The results are myriad and none too pleasant: broken homes, high drop-out rates from schools, unproductive segments in the population (some alcohol types cause low fertility in men) as youth start drinking as early as 7am instead of looking for work.
Home-made concoctions that are harmful to health are packaged in sachets available in many estate pubs and village bars where high consumption thrives.
To compound the issue, higher income brackets with disposable income have contributed in making Kenya a drinking nation as they ensure a steady supply of patrons to pubs both in estates and in the towns.
A recent shocking revelation by Kiambu governor Ferdinand Waititu indicated that bars out-numbered schools two-to-one. A recent report by Deutsch Bank Market Research stated that Kenya is Africa’s third largest alcohol consumer after Nigeria and South Africa.
Kenya’s alcohol market share stood at 17 per cent of the continent’s total after Nigeria with 36 per cent and South Africa with 18 per cent.
Other African countries have smaller fragmented markets, each no bigger than six per cent of the total. Of course, South Africa and Nigeria are bigger economies than Kenya, so, are we consuming more alcohol than we should?
The survey and others have shown that people with higher disposable incomes are driving the consumption of alcoholic beverages in the middle class.
But what is of major concern is the spiralling proliferation of bootleg, which is causing untold suffering, with county governments of Kiambu, Muranga and Nyeri and other parts of central Kenya grappling with the twin challenges of taming consumption and rehabilitating those hooked to illicit alcohol.
In some cases, nursery schools have had to shut down for low or zero enrollment, resulting from low birthrate, thanks to high infertility among young men. In many households, the women rule the roost, in a manner of speaking, because the male have been reduced to dead men walking.
Recommendations have been made widely that the type of active crackdown that was ordered by President Uhuru Kenyatta in central Kenya counties in 2016 should be revived and sustained.
A more robust public awareness campaign would go a long way to address the challenges even as the crackdown is rolled out.
Governors should take the lead from Kiambu’s Waititu in leading the way to curb killer brews. For the middle class drinker, there is clearly a dire need to return to the old order of beer being consumed “baada ya kazi” rather