Why anti-alcoholism campaigns should be effected countrywide

By , K24 Digital
On Tue, 23 Apr, 2024 06:00 | 6 mins read
Police officers raid illicit brewers dens. PHOTO/Print
Police officers raid illicit brewers dens. PHOTO/Print

The month of April has been set aside to create awareness around the overdependence of alcohol which has turned millions of Kenyans to alcoholics.

And while the world creates awareness around alcoholism, this dragon of alcohol addiction is a tale that many Kenyan families have a tale to tell.

At the Coast region, as early as 6 am and as the sunlight takes over from the darkness, one cannot miss to spot several men and women staggering in and out of the second-generation alcohol dens. While others leave these dens, others stream in a bid to recharge as they kickstart the day.

Their alcohol dependence is written all over their faces and bodies. Their entire being cannot function without a tipple.

James Babu cannot recall how he found himself hooked to alcohol to a point he cannot function without it.

For him, it all started as a game that quickly developed into a habit and before he knew it, exploded to an addiction that he has been unable to shed off.

Babu, 27 years and a resident of Mshomoroni in Mombasa spends part of his day in a drinking den, popularly known as “mangweni”.

He says his drinking habit started at an early stage while growing up in the hills of Wundanyi.

“While growing up, we had a neighbour who brewed mmbagara, a local traditional drink among the Taita community. Men, including my father, would go to the den, drink and come back home past midnight. The moment he stepped into our compound, tensions would rise because of the violence that he would met on us and our mother,” he says.

As time went by, he was curious to test the drink that transformed their father from an easy and friendly man to an animal whose mission was to beat everyone he came across.

The first sip

“One day, a son of the alcohol brewer brought us a bottle of the drink and gave us an opportunity to test the popular mmbagara. It did not taste good, but the after-effects were heavenly. They made me forget about the problems we had at home and created a certain illusion in my mind. That night, I did not even hear when my father came home and created chaos. I then realised it could be the answer to my problems and actually, an escape route to all chaos,” he notes.

As time went by, his drinking grew to a habit where he could do anything possible including do manual jobs in the village and sometimes stealing from his mother to enable him buy himself a cup of the liquor.

“When in Form Three, my parents could no longer afford to pay my school fees and so, I had to drop out of school. I left home for Mombasa with hopes of landing a job, but that was not as easy as I had thought of. Life was so tough and the only place I could find solace was in alcohol,” he adds.

This then opened his doors to the world of alcohol addiction, which he has been unable to shed off years later.

Babu reveals that at his age, his life revolves around alcoholism, an addiction that has cost him life-changing opportunities.

According to him, his typical day starts in an alcohol den where he has to consume changaa”or any type of liquor before he embarks to any work and must also end it in a drinking den, which depends on how much he has made on that day.

At times, the liquor gets a toll on him to a point that he cannot work, especially when he has had nothing to eat.

“Most of the time, I’m forced to use another type of drug such as bhang or heroine so as to satisfy the urge to be high. And once I inject a drug and take that alcohol, I remain high for hours before I get the urge to drink again,” he says.

Babu adds, “My drinking problem has denied me the opportunity to remain in any job. At one time, I was to go to Qatar for a job, but then I failed the drug test and the employment agency could not risk taking me considering how I was. I have been arrested several times after being found in the dens, but my family bailed me out and paid the fines. Going back to my rural home is worse because the situation is not in any way different.”

Babu’s story on his fight with alcoholism is the same across the whole Coast region with some of the counties recording higher cases of more than one drug usage.

National statistics

 While efforts to counter alcoholism have been focused in the Central region of Kenya, which is believed to have the highest number of alcoholics, a national survey by National Authority for the Campaign Against Alcohol and Drug Abuse (Nacada) shows alcohol prevalence is actually higher in different parts of the country.

The survey shows that Western Kenya as well as the Coast region have the highest prevalence of alcoholism compared to any other region.

The survey indicates that Western region’s consumption of alcohol currently stands at 26 per cent while the Coast region follows with a rate of 14 per cent while Central Kenya comes third with 13 per cent prevalence.

Western Kenya also leads in the consumption of chang’aa, a traditional home-made brew, with a rate of 11.4 per cent. Nyanza follows with 6.3 per cent while Rift Valley comes third with traditional alcohol consumption with 3.6 per cent.

The Nacada report highlights that Western Region has the highest prevalence of current use of traditional liquor at 12.9 per cent, followed by the Coast at 7.4 per cent and Nyanza at 2.2 per cent.

Ironically, Nairobi and Central regions have the highest consumption of legally produced alcohol at 10 per cent each while the Eastern region trails at third place with eight per cent. 

In terms of drinking spirits, Central Region leads with a prevalence of 4.1 per cent, followed by Coast at 3.2 per cent and Rift Valley at 3.1 per cent.

According to Taib Abdulrahman, the director at Reach Out Center Trust, a Mombasa-based drug’s prevention and intervention centre, data from Nacada is a clear indication that alcoholism is major problem across the country and not only in the Central region.

Getting it wrong

He says while a lot of efforts to curb alcohol consumption is exerted in some counties, the counties which are in need of these measures have been left behind.

“At the Coast, focus has been put on eradicating heroine, while the most common drug is alcohol, which is a bigger problem than heroine. The impact of alcoholism is major, beyond just addiction. It has affected family unity, has caused high rates of petty crimes. The problem of alcoholism cannot be ignored in the Coast region,” he says.

Taib says while efforts are channeled towards one part of the country, the government should advocate for similar efforts in other parts of the country where data has shown alcoholism is rampant.

“Countering this problem is not about shutting down bars and arresting people, it is about treating the persons battling alcoholism and giving them different options of treatments. We should also give alcohol brewers other alternatives of earning to ensure we deal with the source of alcohol and especially second generation liquors,” he says.

Taib says the systematic interventions should be curtailed to fit the region’s needs to curb alcoholism and age-specific, especially since the rising cases of alcoholism are among young people aged between 15 and 24 years old.

“If we are to control alcohol consumption, we need to target the young generation who are just starting out drinking and need guidance on alcohol matters before they reach the addiction stage.Illicit brew is cheap and readily available to everyone and that is why its easy for young people to have access to it and get hooked to it,” he notes.

The Nacada report indicates 3.2 million are affected by alcoholism with 367, 608 of them being young people aged 15 to 24 years old.

In Africa, Kenya lists lowest in alcohol consumption with Uganda and Seychelles topping the list of African countries with high consumption of alcohol.

The poor are at risk

According to the World Health Organisation (WHO), the European Region has the highest alcohol consumption level and the highest proportion of drinkers in the population where over 200 million people in the region are at risk of developing alcohol-attributable cancer.

Aside from societal impact alcoholism has on people, according to Dr Ferreira Borges, Programme Manager for Alcohol, Illicit Drugs and Prison Health in WHO European, liquour consumption disadvantages vulnerable populations as it presents higher rates of alcohol-related deaths and hospitalisation as harms from a given amount and pattern of drinking are higher for poorer drinkers and their families than for richer drinkers in any given society.

“So, when we talk about possible so-called safer levels of alcohol consumption or about its protective effects, we are ignoring the bigger picture of alcohol harm in the world. Although it is well established that alcohol can cause cancer, this fact is still not widely known to the public in most countries,” adds Dr Ferreira-Borges

 Possible solutions

 While various initiatives are being implemented in countering this major challenge, the notable one is by the spouse of DP president, Pastor Dorcas Gachagua whose program dubbed “Boy child programme” has been championing rehabilitation and alternative means of earning.

The project advocates for rehabilitation of alcoholics and further paying for their treatment, which is otherwise so expensive.

The essence of the programme is to help youths battling drug addiction and especially alcoholism.

“For the young boys we have been bringing out of drugs and alcoholism, we have been introducing them to agriculture and even showing them how to do tree nurseries like the young boys who we have been bringing out of drugs and alcohol,” says Dorcas.

The government, through Nacada, has also set up various rehabilitation centers across the country to help reform any Kenyan who wishes to overcome alcohol and drug addiction and turn their lives around. 

WHO recommends pricing policies in order to reduce alcohol consumption and harms, in particular increasing alcohol excise tax, as one of the best ways to minimise alcohol consumption.

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