Banning sale of alcohol allows us to keep our heads when we need them most

Revellers at a bar in Mombasa.

Photo credit: File | Nation Media Group

What you need to know:

  • Crises can be a true test of mettle and leadership but can also bring out the worst in people.

British novelist Rudyard Kipling once wrote about what makes a man: “If you can keep your head when all about you are losing theirs and blaming it on you, if you can trust yourself when all men doubt you, but make allowance for their doubting too.”

These are not just salient words for someone reaching manhood, but also for a leader during a crisis.

Crises can be a true test of mettle and leadership but can also bring out the worst in people. There are those who look to take advantage of a situation, economically or politically. There are those who wish to lash out at any and every authority figure, and others who just want to be self-destructive. Unfortunately, we have no small number of the latter in Kenya.

That is why, President Uhuru Kenyatta’s decision, not only to close bars, but also stop restaurants from selling alcohol, is difficult but highly essential.

We all know well what we are like after a few beers, spirits or glasses of wine. Our inhibitions are down, and our sense of responsibility is thrown out of the window. While during normal times there is little harm in this, during the coronavirus pandemic, this can be the difference between spreading the virus and ensuring the necessary social distance.

The virus is passed from one individual to another, and while we are starting to accommodate to this new reality, as are people around the world, our new heightened awareness has to remain with us at all times. We have to be mindful of where we are, who we are with, and whether we are taking the necessary measures to stop the spread of the virus, at all times.

Alcohol clearly impedes that, even if it is for a short while. All it takes is a few minutes, or even less, to spread the virus.

Since we emerged from the previous restrictive lockdown, it is understandable and human to want to stretch our legs a little and try and enjoy a return to some semblance of normality.

However, we are not yet back to anything approaching normal yet, and, it is clear that too many Kenyans are taking this too far.

That is why President Kenyatta had to keep his head.

“I said that I will not hesitate to re-escalate again if reckless behaviour is widespread, there shall be no sale of alcoholic beverages or drinks in eateries and restaurants across the territory of the Republic of Kenya effective midnight today (Monday July 27) for the next 30 days,” President Kenyatta announced. 

It is a painful decision, especially for those involved in the bars and restaurants industry but saving lives must remain paramount.

This is why the future remains in our hands. As we are approaching 20,000 infections and hundreds of deaths, it is the responsibility of our leadership to take measures, even draconian ones to reduce these numbers.

We must hear this implicit message from the president and show responsibility.

Of course, he will be blamed for this and many will try and use this as an instrument to attack the president, but this one episode is an example of why we need a clear-headed and sober leader precisely at this time of crisis.

Our nation cannot afford a populist who will give those braying for an end to any strictures to try and distract us from what is most important. We need our leaders to think of the bigger picture and not just their political future or poll numbers.

President Kenyatta has been from the beginning of this crisis abstemious, serious and dedicated to saving the nation from the ravages of the Coronavirus and that is why our casualties are nowhere near as serious as many others.

He has achieved this by looking at both the details and the wider picture.

The pronouncement to close bars and stop restaurants from serving alcohol is an example of the former. President Kenyatta knows that stopping easy access to alcohol, especially on our streets, in the cities, towns and villages, can keep our nation from losing their heads for the great challenges that still lie ahead.

The writer is a regular commentator on social, economic and political affairs.