Alcohol industry digs deeper into Africa
POLICE in the Cape Town township of Nyanga arrested six suspects for illegally selling alcohol during a night patrol a few weeks ago. Nyanga has been identified as the most violent place in South Africa.
Every day, there are media reports about the negative consequences of alcohol consumption.
And, somehow, this is not remembered when the alcohol industry announces that it is investing more into Africa.
The focus immediately shifts to jobs and foreign direct investment with no thought for the association with risky sexual behaviour and the attendant HIV/AIDS infection, violence, heart disease, strokes and cancers and a myriad of other known alcohol-related health complications.
In a recent statement Diageo Plc, the maker of Guinness beer and Johnnie Walker whisky, indicated that it wants Africa to account for 20 percent of its sales.
Chief Executive Officer Ivan Menezes said he wants to see a seven percent growth in consumption of Diageo’s products in Africa because it makes good business sense for the company.
Diageo communications have highlighted their financial contribution to Ethiopia, where their newest African brewery is based.
Ethiopia, Mr Menezes says, is attractive because it has a projected 8.1 percent annual growth and Diageo wants Ethiopians to spend that income on their alcohol products.
Diageo also has breweries in other countries on the continent such as Cameroon, Ghana, Kenya, Nigeria and Uganda.
The brewery is driven by the income that they will make, but the harm that their product will cause is a cost they have not calculated.
This is because Diageo will not pay for that cost. Ethiopians will increase their risk to road traffic accidents, domestic and public violence, gender-based violence and rape, cancers, strokes and heart disease, as a result of alcohol use and misuse. These dangers are well-documented but ignored by alcohol companies.
Not so long ago, in the 1990s, South African Breweries (Now SAB Miller) General Director noted that there are nearly 400 million bottom-of-the-pyramid (BOP) consumers in Africa who live on less than USD$2 (M21) a day.
Their focus then was on developing products that this market could afford, that is a product that was less than Usd$2/day.
Excessive consumption in South Africa is fuelled by tax increases on alcohol that are not inflation-linked resulting in alcohol prices today being as cheap, if not cheaper than they were in the 1970s.
In an interview with the Lesotho Times posted on 30 December 2014, Maluti Mountain Brewery Managing Director Thomas Mopati revealed that the government of Lesotho is the brewery’s major shareholder through the Lesotho National Development Corporation (LNDC) and the Ministry of Finance- Privatisation Unit with 51 percent and 5.25 percent respectively; Sabmiller 39 percent and Lesotho Unit Trust takes the remaining 4.75 percent while Sabmiller manages the business.
When asked about how they think the proposed alcohol policy will affect them, Mr Mopati said they had sought partnership with the Ministry of Health and hoped to participate in the finalisation of the drafting of the National Alcohol Policy.
The Alcohol Policy Alliance of Lesotho is yet to get the response from the Ministry of Health as this is very much against the signed agreement of the WHO strategies of the prevention of the harm related to alcohol use and the Ministry of Health Commitment as custodian of the policy taking it from the Ministry of Tourism where the 2007 Alcohol Policy that was repealed because it was driven by the alcohol industry and did not ad- dress public health issues.
The Ministry committed itself to drafting an evidence-based alcohol policy that is public health focused.
Even though the MMB managing Director claims that they advocate for responsible drinking and address underage drinking, a 2005 survey found that the age that people usually start drinking alcohol is between 10 and 14 years, on average.
This is attributed to availability of alcohol which is being compounded by the MMB’S competition with the local traditional Basotho beer by brewing a brand of ‘ Chibuku’ which the Managing director said they introduced in October 2012.
This is not only increasing harm to the community, but also affecting production and development as the alcohol drinking society loses purpose for life and thus neglect their societal development roles.
Research shows that the poorer a society or a community is, the higher the cost of alcohol harm, since they or their families carry most of the burden of ill-health, accidents or unemployment that results from alcohol use or misuse. In Africa today, most countries do not have free health care, social welfare systems or full employment.
The alcohol companies want communities to carry the cost of harm while they take the profit.
In 2009, it was conservatively estimated that the South African government generated R17 billion in tax revenue from alcohol sales.
They also reportedly spent R17 billion in dealing with direct alcohol harm. There was therefore no tax gain from the presence of the alcohol industry and in fact, ordinary tax payers subsidised the profit of the alcohol industry.
The WHO’S Global Strategy on Alcohol recommends evidence–based interventions to reduce alcohol harm.
These include banning alcohol advertising, increasing the price of alcohol and reducing the hours of sale and the number of outlets.
These are low cost interventions with a very high return in time of death and injuries prevented. They will also crucially reduce the number of young people who drink as they remain the most price-sensitive consumers of alcohol.
These interventions are the ones that the managing director of MMB said they have sought partnership with the Ministry of Health to fight against and totally have them removed from the Lesotho National Alcohol Policy Draft.
Mofokeng is the Southern African Alcohol Policy Alliance Lesotho Chairperson.
VICES such as domestic violence are partly induced by alcohol abuse, opines the writer.