Upon reading about this article on Kenya’s struggle with alcoholism it brings a couple of thoughts to me, one being the alcohol norm and its consequences.
For example, I reflected about how alcohol is viewed in Kenya.
It is literally seen as a pastime. When people want to meet friends, family or even enemies, they usually meet at a bar or in another place where alcohol is easily accessible. Alcohol, regardless of the Alcoholic Drinks Act (Mututho Law) of 2010 is ubiquitous in Kenyan society. One can drive through Lavington, Madaraka, Rongai, Westlands, Karen, and Gigiri and find many places that sell alcohol. It can be an outlet, bar, club in the form of a shack, metal building, brick, stone or wood.
I also thought about Kenyan’s attitudes with regard to alcohol use.
Attitudes to alcohol also contribute to the level of alcohol use, and associated harm. It is seen as being anti-social not to use alcohol. A sober person gets bombarded by questions as to why they have dared to leave this ‘elixir’. Others resort to concluding that the non-user is probably sick and is under doctor’s orders not to use alcohol in order to satisfy their disbelief that actually a person has chosen to live free from alcohol because they simply don’t want to use it.
I have found that due to the ubiquity of alcohol in Kenya’s social life, if one wants to be in a place that is alcohol free, one has to stay at home. The Mututho Law should have made provisions for creation of alcohol free environments for the youth – kids, adolescents and young people especially.
These groups have NOWHERE to go besides school (which is also questionable in some instances) where there are safe, enabling environments free from alcohol and other drugs. These age groups easily get bored, have an intense need to experiment and to fit in. With alcohol free environments, such us arcades for video games, sports facilities with sober coaches, bowling allies that don’t sell alcohol etc., and the next generation could be rescued from the clutches of the Western multi-national alcohol companies, Big Alcohol, trying to hook our kids to their harmful products.
Adults also need to be able to socialize in places free from alcohol and centers must be created in the cities to cater for this need. I have been asked several times by our colleagues in civil society: “What alternative should we give to people during our prevention seminars when they ask us what else is there to do?” I have recommended, walking, running, hiking groups, board games, swimming, talking to friends over a cup of coffee or chai, juice, milk (as in the case of milk bars in Rwanda).
The main issue I see is that the Western alcohol industry giants are managing to sell their alcohol propaganda to make believe that without alcohol, life is dull and boring and that one simply “can’t have fun” without their products. Obviously this is a ‘brilliant’ marketing ploy that Big Alcohol uses to keep people in Kenya thinking that they need this lethal concoction to boost their already wonderful selves.
I think we shortchange ourselves by believing this NEED. It is a façade. As mentioned at the beginning of the article, people feel they want to use alcohol in order to get inebriated quickly especially when they use the illicit brews. This is proof that alcohol is a drug that is used in escapism. Life troubles are plenty and the drugging effect of alcohol makes the user feel “liberated” temporarily and it all returns with soberness. This is where talks over tea, water or juice works because talking things out with friends or family helps to give different perspectives whereas alcohol only leads to digging one’s grave.
This struggle the African people, like Kenyans, have with Big Alcohol corporations from mainly Europe and the USA cannot just be changed by a law, policy. Big Alcohol have spent a lot of time, manpower and unconscious amounts of money to make sure that their products are ingrained in our habits; that it comes without a single thought that when someone asks: “Do you drink?”, we automatically think the question refers to alcohol. These incredibly rich companies are not just exporting products; alcohol companies are exporting disease, premature death and tremendous suffering. The bring to Africa, like in the case of Kenya, an intoxicating alcohol norm from the West.
When we change such notions, when we reclaim what African lifestyle is about – instead of following the myths of marketing executives, then we will be able to cut loose these knots of bondage that Big Alcohol has on us and we can be Free! Free at Last!
In other words, we have to change beliefs, rituals, and ‘culture’ if we are at all to succeed in building a prosperous Kenyan and African society. If not, we are facing another catastrophe.