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Life in Kawangware’s illicit brew dens

Here anytime is happy hour, never mind the drinking time restrictions by the government and empty pledges to fight illegal liquor

Sandra Wekesa @andayisandra

She lay unsteadily on a bench against the rusty corrugated wall of a bar in Kawangware. It is not even noon yet, but from her red-shot eyes you can tell that she has spent the better part of the morning getting a fill of what she describes as the apple of her eyes.

She is not able to tell who just walked in the room, but either way her instincts tell her it’s not a police crackdown, so she relaxes and leans back on her seat. In a slurring voice she says: “Don’t drink that it will ruin your life”. This year, alone 50-year-old Jane Waithera claims she lost six of her friends due to consumption of illicit brews.

She says she has attempted to stop drinking, but is not able to stop, after all she is surrounded by illicit brews every corner she turns.

Kawangare has not only stood out for being one of the most-populated informal settlement, but also a hot spot of illicit brews.

At the tail end of Kawangware market, right before joining the road to head towards the informal settlements, you can’t help but notice a cluster of shops made of iron sheet.

This joint is famous for selling cheap drinks, better known as black keg. At this time of the day customers are queuing at Wanjiku Gacheri’s shop just to get a taste of the drink.

Wrong turn

After spending the better part of their morning drinking, women, both old and young lie on the floor of the bar mumbling.

One thing that stands out about this area is that most people patronising the dingy joints are women. Ideally, men are known to be the biggest consumers of muratina, chang’aa and any other illegaldrinks that the bartender have to offer, just to get a high.

Within this vicinity the only person that captures our eyes is Jane. She is so drunk to an extent of confusing us with her children. Jane says that when she was introduced  to illicit liquor she didn’t know that she would become a guru at drinking. It only took her a year for her to notice that her drinking was taking a wrong turn.

“At first, I would drink so much that my husband would always beat me up, it was quite difficult because I didn’t know how I could live in this state, but with time he got used to it,” she says.

Jane says the reason she got exposed to alcohol was because she was a businesswoman and she had money to spend on drinking.

Despite her attending her friends’ funerals, it has been difficult for her to detach herself from drinking too much. The worst thing about it is she checks in at her joint in the morning and leaves late at night.

Jane’s battle with alcoholism doesn’t seem to be affected by the fact that she is addicted, but the fact that even those in authority could play a major role in this. In attempt to ask the residents how they try to help the consumers, they said that the officers of the area always collect ‘tax’ from the brewers.

Jane is among a growing statistic of people who are battling alcoholism. According to the Global Status Report on Alcohol and Health 2018, an estimated 237 million men and 46 million women suffer from alcohol-use disorders in the world.

The report also shows that an estimated 2.3 billion people are current drinkers with the average daily consumption of people who drink alcohol being 33 grams of pure alcohol a day, roughly equivalent to two glasses (each of 150 ml) of wine, a large (750 ml) bottle of beer or two shots (each of 40 ml) of spirits.


The National Authority for the Campaign Against Alcohol and Drug Abuse (Nacada), Director Vincent Mutua says they have formed multiple agencies with government officials in slums to ensure that they monitor places that are likely to be brewing illicit alcohol.

“It isn’t right for us to act like everything is okay yet things are not. Pretending that illicit alcohol doesn’t exist makes matters worse. It’s good to deal with the matter instead of covering up,” he says.

He confirms that he is aware that some places are still brewing illicit brew.

Data from Nacada shows  that in Kenya 60 per cent of alcohol consumed is illicit brews. This is despite the government banning the consumption of this type of alcohol in 1978. Incidences of blindness, and deaths caused by drinking the lethal brews  keep on being reported.

The largest number of deaths to be recorded in Kenya is of 80 people who died after consuming a batch of illegal liquor in Nairobi.

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