An intoxicating reality

Tasked with facilitating demand reduction of abused substances, rehabilitation and psychosocial support, Mututho’s Nacada has absconded in its mandate, and rehab centres have turned into literal dens of iniquity

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Lanji Ouko

A few years ago, when the World Health Organisation Global Status Report was released, within the list of most alcoholic African nations, very few were shocked to see Kenya as one of the top five in the list of heavy drinking nations. Among Africa’s drinking nations, Nigeria topped the list and was dubbed as “the giant of alcoholism”. Of course Nigeria would top the list, based on the key fact that they produce natural wine from the raffia palm, popularly known as palm wine.

The chief of East African locally brewed alcohol, Uganda, emerged second, followed by Rwanda as Kenya was ranked fourth place. The report further highlighted that men in Kenya do not dominate in this drinking culture due to the fact that women in Kenya drink just as much as men. Kenyan women went up in arms, arguing it was wrong to state that they drink like their fathers instead of cooking like their mothers; but how true is this allegation? Better yet, why do Kenyans drink so much, and what should/is being done about it?

Despite our government working tirelessly and implementing policies to help curb the drinking disaster, this culture can only change at a snail’s pace if not at all owing to inconsistency, and, like any government run initiatives, corruption and poor planning.

Not too long ago, we watched the government make a firm stand on its fight against alcoholism and other drugs during the appointment of John Mututho in 2013 as chair of the National Authority of the Campaign against Drug Abuse (Nacada). The man indeed came in like a wrecking ball for club owners and other business persons. Mututho received criticism across the country when he introduced the policy controlling private gatherings in which alcohol would be served during the Christmas season, and prohibiting a number of substances in the market, including sheesha. In addition to the ban of nineteen hookah flavours found to contain banned substances, Mututho has continued to face backlash from the wananchi who believe his policies are outrageous. With each passing day, he continues to implement new policies with the aim of curbing alcoholism and substance abuse but how successful has his anti-narcotics campaign been? Unfortunately what was expected to be the blue print of an alcoholic free nation may gradually end up being the actual problem.

Prior to Mututho’s appointment, news items were swamped with stories of illicit brews and horrid tales of alcohol-related car accidents. The clip of a man who went blind at a local pub after drinking some illicit brew quite often depicted the most common description of the state of Kenya’s drinking culture. The man in the video is seen yelling at the waiter “Nani amezima stima? Hata mkizima bado tutakunywa.”{Who turned off the lights? Even if you turn off the lights, we will continue to drink}. Little did he know that the brew contained chemical substances that had rendered him irreparably blind.…

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