Al­co­hol in­dus­try digs deeper into Africa

Lesotho Times - - Opinion & Analysis - Mpho­nyane Mo­fo­keng

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.

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