The warning light is on. A generation of young Kenyan people between the ages of 15 and 29 is in the grip of alcoholism. Across all provinces, with the exception of North Eastern, the prevalence of the epidemic paints a picture of a generation that is in serious trouble.
Wherever one goes across the country, one is bound to come across idle youth loitering in shopping centres and on village streets inebriated to the extent that all they are capable of doing is begging for small change to buy more alcohol.
THIS WASTEFUL IDLENESS OF THE youth is leaving agricultural production -- the mainstay of the rural economy -- to the elderly. The problem is so serious that data collected by experts indicates that the average age of a farmer in Kenya is 59 years.
The prevailing circumstances should be a matter of grave concern not just for the government but also for parents and the entire society. We say this because young people constitute the greatest guarantee for the continuity, prosperity and the very future of any given society.
THEY ARE RESOURCEFUL, INNOVAtive, and they have the creative energy to adapt to new thinking and technologies necessary for survival in a rapidly changing world.
But for the youth to thrive and unleash their potential as productive members of society, the socio-economic environment has to be right.
Sadly, this is hardly the case in Kenya. For decades now, the economy has not grown in tandem with demand for jobs for young people coming out of schools and colleges. The end result is that the number of young and unemployed people continues to increase with each passing year.
This calls for a paradigm shift -- moving away from thinking that formal employment is the only opportunity to make a decent living.
While unemployment remains a serious problem, there is evidence to the effect that the idle and drunken youth have not exhausted all available options. It has more to do with attitude and rejection of the old adage that hard work pays.
It is about a society that is at a cross-roads as far as its work ethic and relation to alcohol are concerned. Alcohol has always existed in African traditional societies, but its use was severely regimented.
IT WAS NEVER ALLOWED TO INTERfere with productive work, and neither was it available to the young and energetic -- they were recognised as the very foundation of the society, and their wellbeing was jealously guarded.
And with the exception of special occasions such as weddings, alcohol was only consumed in the evenings when everybody had been constructively engaged during the day.
Two decades ago, this attitude towards work was evident. Farmers spent the day working in their shambas (land), going for a drink in the evening, and they would be up and about at cock’s crow the following morning. The law that required bars to open only in the evenings was strictly enforced.
Today things have changed. The provincial administration has proven itself ineffective in enforcing this requirement. It has also failed to fight the proliferation of cheap, illicit and often lethal brews primarily because many of the officers are compromised by the merchants of death and destruction.
EVEN AS THE GOVERNMENT TALKS about creating jobs for the youth through such programmes as Kazi Kwa Vijana, a process to rehabilitate the youth has to be in place. Such a process will have to involve government, parents, churches, civil society and the youth themselves.
It will be a lost cause to provide jobs for the youth if all they do is to use the proceeds to fuel their appetite for alcohol.
Finally, as a society, we have to pause and rethink our collective and liberal attitude towards alcohol. Life can’t be one endless party.