The rising thirst for alcohol by Africa’s middle class calls for sound public policy
Posted Thursday, September 6 2012 at 19:07
The emergence of Africa’s middle class is driving growth in beer market demand, but is the continent prepared to manage alcohol-related harm to its population?
Africa’s beer market rose by 7 per cent in 2011 as people squeezed three work-hours to afford a beer compared to 12 minutes done by their European counterparts. The rise in alcohol consumption is a boon for brewers but it could spell great challenges for policymakers in the long-run.
Kenyans reportedly guzzled over 600 million litres of alcohol in 2011 worth an estimated $2.2 billion, more than double the $950 million the country receives in diaspora remittances.
The Deutsche Bank Market research lists Kenya third among top African beer consumers at 17 per cent. Nigeria and South Africa are rated at 18 per cent and 36 per cent respectively.
A survey by the investment company, Renaissance Capital, in three major Nigeria cities — Lagos, Abuja and Port Harcourt — indicate that the majority of middle class Africans are young and in the acquisitive life stage.
Nearly 70 per cent of them are aged below 40 years, and their main focus is to buy home improvement equipment, cars and leisure.
In Kenya, women are increasingly replacing men on the beer tables. According to East Africa Breweries Ltd, Kenyan women are feeling more confident, and they are calling for their own drinks unlike in the past when they had to rely on men.
Africa boasts of an estimated 100 million self-reliant women above drinking age. For brewers, all this data forecasts growth positives, but they can turn out to be a nightmare for policymakers if the right regulatory framework is not in place.
The drinking culture in sub-Sahara Africa was initially associated with social events such as marriages, birth of a child, circumcision, funerals, coming of age and important meetings.
But the rise in urbanisation and income disparities led to differentiation of alcoholic products targeting income, gender and class.
Some people are of the opinion that the rise of the acquisitive middle class has the potential of changing the drinking culture of this group from alcohol use for socialisation to excessive drinking.
But then, the same group is aware of the harm that alcohol abuse can cause, including ill-health.
The consumption of alcoholic beverages may be driven by the multiplicity of distribution centres, as well as marketing strategies that are gender-specific and are generally associated with entertainment and social membership among peers.
It is also evident that more people are taking alcohol as a refuge from economic hardships or merely because they want to belong to a given social group or status.
The rise in middle class population presents the continent with a unique opportunity to scale up production of hygienic and standardised brews. It also presents a fairly literate critical mass with which to share evidence based on the need for judicious consumption of alcohol.
It is a common feature in sub-Sahara Africa to have excellent regulations on paper but little or no effective enforcement. Kenya drains the energies of its security forces battling illicit brews daily.
Arguments to the effect that Africans are prone to binge drinking ought to push policymakers and enforcers back to the drawing board.
Health may be a private affair, but when it affects active consumers and puts pressure on the budget, it has to be addressed as a national issue.