Re­think strat­egy on al­co­holism war

Daily Nation (Kenya) - - OPINION -

To­wards the end of June 2015, Pres­i­dent Uhuru Kenyatta, in a meet­ing with all the elected lead­ers and county com­mis­sion­ers from the Mt Kenya re­gion, or­dered a crack­down on il­licit liquor.

But the tempo did not last long, prob­a­bly due to the in­her­ent Kenyan chal­lenge of com­pla­cency. To­day, we are wit­ness­ing a full-swing re­turn of the brews. The en­forcers are, once again, in bed with the deal­ers in the toxic liquor.

One encounters hordes of inebriated young men at ru­ral shop­ping cen­tres even early in the morn­ing. Hope­less­ness on their faces pal­pa­ble, they yearn for com­pas­sion­ate lead­ers to sal­vage their sink­ing lives and reawaken hope in them.

The big ques­tion is, who, or what, killed the fight against the sec­ond-gen­er­a­tion drinks, whose in­take by our youth con­tin­ues to shrink pro­duc­tive labour force, threat­en­ing the very ex­is­tence of our na­tion? Is it lack of ad­e­quate leg­is­la­tion? No!

In fact, this re­gion could be the most leg­is­lated on. Many coun­ties, by dint of Sched­ule IV to the Con­sti­tu­tion, have en­acted al­co­hol con­trol and li­cens­ing laws com­pris­ing about 35 pieces of leg­is­la­tion and count­ing in ad­di­tion to the fa­mous ‘Mu­tutho Law’. This is tes­ta­ment enough that leg­is­la­tion alone is no panacea for the men­ace.

Should we, then, take the reli­gious route? The faiths could ad­dress that which the law can­not by woo­ing the so­ci­ety to ac­cept addicts, as­sist­ing in re­ha­bil­i­ta­tion and ap­peal­ing to the spir­i­tual realms of the af­fected. This is ex­em­pli­fied by the Rev Joseph Muikia of KAG Church, Gathanji Ward, in Nyan­darua County, who has of­fered to do that which many other churches ig­nore. He con­venes fel­low­shipcum-coun­selling ses­sions for al­co­holics on Thurs­days and woos the so­ci­ety to ac­cept them as their very part. The pro­gramme is not an­chored on any law, yet it is a huge suc­cess. If es­poused by all reli­gious groups, tremen­dous progress would be re­alised.

That the le­gal regime is overly in­co­her­ent could ac­tu­ally be the rea­son the war against al­co­holism is be­ing lost. Al­co­hol leg­is­la­tion en­force­ment mech­a­nisms are too weak and in­ca­pable of com­bat­ing the men­ace. In­deed, en­force­ment of county laws re­mains a mi­rage with min­i­mal con­vic­tions re­ported in this re­gard.

That points to a very rick­ety link be­tween the Kenya Law Re­form Com­mis­sion, the Ju­di­ciary and the coun­ties as re­gards en­force­ment of county laws. This, cou­pled with the en­force­ment be­ing prone to ma­nip­u­la­tion by pow­er­ful deal­ers in the sec­ond-gen­er­a­tion al­co­hol, has dealt the fight a huge blow.

The prob­lem is com­pounded by the fact that both lev­els of gov­ern­ment are un­able to main­tain a bal­ance be­tween the press­ing need to in­crease rev­enue and their sa­cred duty to safe­guard the health of the peo­ple, sac­ri­fic­ing the lat­ter at the al­tar of the for­mer.

By im­pos­ing heavy taxes on al­co­hol, the na­tional gov­ern­ment de­prives the mar­ket of safe and af­ford­able booze. Fur­ther, col­lab­o­ra­tion be­tween na­tional gov­ern­ment agen­cies such as Na­cada and the In­te­rior min­istry and the coun­ties is so frag­mented that the war on al­co­holism can­not be sus­tained.

Strong ac­tion

The 2012-2020 Euro­pean Union ac­tion plan to re­duce harm­ful use of al­co­hol as­serts that coun­tries that take strong ac­tion on al­co­holism reap con­sid­er­able gains — bet­ter health, en­hanced pro­duc­tiv­ity, in­creased health and so­cial wel­fare sav­ings, im­proved econ­omy and greater co­he­sion.

Kenya can­not af­ford to re­lent on the fight against al­co­holism as the men­ace threat­ens to wipe out the most pro­duc­tive seg­ment of the pop­u­la­tion. We must mit­i­gate poverty by cre­at­ing wealth and keep­ing youth en­gaged in­no­va­tively. All the un­der­ly­ing causes of al­co­holism must be ad­dressed with­out fur­ther hes­i­ta­tion as the con­se­quences of do­ing the op­po­site have proved to be ex­tremely un­de­sir­able.

To win the war against il­licit liquor, there is a need to review the law with a view to craft­ing a com­pre­hen­sive na­tional strat­egy that pro­motes tech­ni­cal sup­port to the coun­ties, co­her­ent in­ter­gov­ern­men­tal co­or­di­na­tion and joint ac­tions in iden­ti­fy­ing gain­ful in­cen­tives. It should also en­trench pub­lic par­tic­i­pa­tion through out­reach pro­grammes. More­over, al­co­hol pol­icy should be in­te­grated in all ac­tiv­i­ties that pro­mote healthy life­styles.

The na­tional gov­ern­ment must re­voke li­cences is­sued to man­u­fac­tur­ers of sec­ond­gen­er­a­tion al­co­hol and deal de­ci­sively with cor­rupt law en­forcers. No ef­fort should be spared in en­sur­ing that the fight is sus­tain­able. That is the only way to safe­guard a gen­er­a­tion tee­ter­ing on the brink of self-de­struc­tion and even­tual ex­tinc­tion as a re­sult of al­co­holism.

NDERI NDIANI That the le­gal regime is overly in­co­her­ent could ac­tu­ally be the rea­son the war against al­co­holism is be­ing lost.”

Mr Ndiani, the Clerk to the County Assem­bly of Nyan­darua, is an ad­vo­cate of the High Court of Kenya. ndi­a­n­iesq2030@gmail.com

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