Kenya is facing A great threat from alcohol abuse. A 2012 national survey by NACADA showed that alcohol is now the most abused substance in the country and of the different types of alcoholic drink, traditional liquor is the most easily accessible, followed by wines and spirits and last but not least Chang’aa (which literally means ‘kill me quick’). Calamities associated with excessive intoxication – dementia, seizures, liver disease and early death – have done little to deter users.
Illicit brewers have been turning to lethal embalming fluid used in mortuaries have cut the rate of abuse.
“Patrons want to spend as little as possible but drink as much as they can, so they opt for cheap illicit brews, especially spirits,” says Nduta Kamau, who brews home-made alcohol in the sprawling Mathare slums in Nairobi. According to Kamau, those who brew illicit alcohol also spend as little as possible “in time and money but produce as much alcohol as they can”, while chemicals used in the mortuary speed up the production process, “so we are able to produce a lot of alcohol in a very short time.” Kamau adds that illicit brews from dens in the slums are bottled, labelled and sold in pubs across the country.
Government statistics also show that alcohol and drug abuse is highest among young adults aged 15 to 29 years and lowest among adults of 65 years and older. Under-age and rural children have not been spared. According to NACADA, rural children are more likely to have consumed traditional liquor and Chang’aa than urban children.
Many of those fighting alcohol abuse in Kenya point an accusing finger at the global alcohol industry which has a big foothold in Kenya and has undermined proper implementation of the Alcoholic Drinks Control Act with aggressive advertising and promotion through musical and artsy events. Increased drinking has meant higher profits for commercial brewers. A report last month by the East African Breweries Limited (EABL) noted an average 11 percent increase in profit from beer sales. According to EABL, the highest growth in sales – at 67 percent – was in spirits, mainly targeting the lower income earners, who are also the target for the many brands from informal sources. A press release from financial advisors KPMG, titled “Incredible Growth of Kenya’s Beer Market“ noted: “Driven by strong population growth, a growing middle class and a dynamic private sector, the beer industry in Kenya has taken off in impressive ways, and is promising of even further developments in the coming decade.” Only inflation and tax increases could diminish this rise, it said. “To expand its customer base, “the company has accordingly invested in marketing and sales capabilities in this area.”
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