Africa: Big Alcohol Making Inroads
In Africa Big Alcohol is making inroads with their efforts to convert alcohol abstainers to consumers, specifically targeting the middle class and youth. The World Health Organization is alarmed.
Alcohol use and related problems, including addiction, is spreading fast in Africa – driven by multinational alcohol industry giants in pursuit of profits. The situation has gotten worse over the years due to accelerating urbanization and economic development leading to bigger disposable incomes of people.
For example, in Nairobi, Kenya there are 40,000 bars. That is more than shops and pharmacies combined. In Kenya out of the 50 million population, an estimated 2 million are alcohol dependent.
In South Africa, 60% of all car accidents are said to occur due to alcohol. 75% boys and 40% girls between 15 to 19 years of age consume alcohol heavily in South Africa. Violence is also growing in the country, fueled by alcohol. In fact, 171 people are reported to die everyday due to alcohol.
Four Big Alcohol strategies to take over Africa
There are a few ways the alcohol industry is claiming the African region.
One way is marketing alcohol products as cool and as a way to forget everyday problems.
This leads to the normalization of alcohol use and creates a pervasive alcohol norm – in countries where the majority of people are alcohol abstainers. The normalization and promotion of alcohol acts as a stepping stone to addiction.
For instance, a raging beer marketing war in Ivory Coast between Heineken-owned Brassivoire and Castel-owned Solibra is putting children and youth in harms way.
On posters and huge billboards around the west African country, the rival advertisements, often side by side, compete for attention.
For example, Boniface Ndirangu recovered from alcohol addiction and is now running Eden House in Nairobi, a rehabilitation centre for recovery from alcohol addiction. Mr Ndirangu says youth consume alcohol and other drugs as a way to fit in and then become addicted later on.
The second way is the aggressive exploitation of largely unregulated alcohol advertising and other alcohol trade aspects (taxation, availability) across the region.
Aadielah Maker Diedericks from the Southern African Alcohol Policy Alliance (SAAPA) says advertising is not regulated in many African countries leading to Big Alcohol marketing their products everywhere, all the time and clearly exposing children and youth. Further population development makes Africa a lucrative target for multinational corporations.
It is easy for the industry to advertise its brands as coveted lifestyle products,” says Ms. Diedericks, as per Deutsch Welle.
Two fifths of the population are under the age of 14 and will soon reach the age when they [consume alcohol] a lot,” adds Diedericks.
Thirdly, there is a powerful alcohol lobby interfering in public health policy making cross the African region.
For example, alcohol industry lobbying is one reason for the government of Botswana reversing their effective alcohol control measures in 2018.
In South Africa the bill to strengthen alcohol control has never become implemented. In Zamibia the case is a bit better due to civil society organizations being involved in prevention, advocacy and education.
In Kenya, as in other countries, Big Alcohol is aggressively lobbying against alcohol tax increases. East African Breweries Limited (EABL) – a subsidiary of Diageo, the world’s second largest liquor maker – is relentless in its resistance against the proposal for increasing alcohol taxation by the Kenyan government.
But in Kenya, alcohol is a massive obstacle to development.
The National Authority for Campaign Against Drug Abuse (NACADA) has warned that alcohol is one of the biggest threats to achieving President Uhuru Kenyatta’s ‘Big Four Agenda’. The agenda aims at advancing sustainable development in Kenya through bold action across four priority area:
- Universal healthcare coverage,
- Affordable housing and
- Food security.
Currently, alcohol is the most abused drug and specifically, affects youth in Kenya. Children as young as 4 years old get already exposed to alcohol. The youth population is the largest population within the country. Therefore, healthy youth is essential to achieving the Big Four Agenda.
Exposure to and use of alcohol by youth is attributed to:
- High availability of alcohol,
- Poor enforcement of the Alcoholic Drinks Control Act (2010), and
- Proximity of alcohol serving establishments to educational institutions.
Fourthly, Big Alcohol tries to conquer Africa through extreme availability and affordability of alcohol.
For example, in many residential areas across southern Africa, kiosks or bars are only a five-minute walk away. Many are illegal. Diedericks says, in South Africa, beer is cheaper than bread.
When cheap alcohol that is available everywhere, any time (some countries do not even have an age limit for alcohol purchases) is fueling increases consumption and harm, as well as profits for Big Alcohol.
Public health experts call for several measures to reduce the growing alcohol burden in the African region and control the industry.
- Stricter laws to regulate alcohol marketing and ban alcohol advertising, promotion and sponsorship.
- Increasing alcohol prices.
- Restricting alcohol availability.
- Increasing the minimum age for alcohol use to 21 years.
- Educational campaigns.
- Youth empowerment.
Experts have warned that low and middle income countries, and especially Africa, have the highest age standardised attributable deaths per 100,000 people, indicating greater harm per litre of alcohol consumed than in wealthier countries. Without action Africa could see an increase in both the absolute number and proportion of people consuming alcohol, the amount consumed per capita, and heavy episodic alcohol use.
In 2017, the World Health Assembly endorsed three effective interventions that cost ≤$100 (£78; €90) per disability adjusted life year (DALY) averted in low and middle income countries. These so called “best buys” are:
- Increasing excise taxes on alcoholic beverages,
- Comprehensive restrictions on alcohol advertising, and r
- Restrictions on sales of alcohol.
Implementation of the three best buys would result in a return on investment of $9 for every $1 invested. Over 50 years, a 20% global increase in alcohol taxes alone could avert nine million premature deaths.
Revenues from excise tax, alcohol company taxes, and licensing fees could also help cover, or even meet, the costs of a comprehensive alcohol control programme, the prevention and treatment of disorders caused by alcohol use, as well as contributing to the funding of other health and development priorities. A 20% increase in the price of alcohol through higher taxes could accumulate as much as $9tn in increased revenues globally over 50 years.
These resources and the triple-win effect of alcohol taxation in particular and alcohol policy solutions in general are essential to safeguard and promote sustainable development, poverty eradication and health for all in Africa. The alcohol industry, however, has very different plans for Africa.