Rethink strategy on alcoholism war
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.
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. email@example.com