I wouldn’t be surprised if there were some Kenyans that have photos of Naivasha MP John Mututho on their walls.
Every day, as members stream in to drink, they probably throw darts at the photo.
Ever since Mututho, in a clever stroke of political engineering, managed to get his anti-alcohol private member’s Bill to pass into law, the booze and recreation industry has been up in arms.
A court eventually suspended the Alcohol Bill, and the battle continues.
Though I am a teetotaller, I am not a moralist or prohibitionist who has issues with people drinking. In human history, some of the most revolutionary scientific, social, and political ideas came from pubs and cafés.
In part, this is because of the democratic nature of pubs and cafés. When, for example, a professor sits and drinks with his student at the same table, he is no longer the student’s master.
In addition, the barmaid and waitress in the café are probably the only category of working-class women who are not scorned out of hand by upper class male patrons — at least for the time they’re in the bar or restaurant.
A clever and beautiful barmaid or waitress will always marry socially upward. These egalitarian aspects of pubs and cafés are what accounts for their ability to produce game-changing ideas.
There is no country in the world that has ever found greatness without a vibrant pub or café culture. An alcohol Bill, therefore, will always be a highly political affair.
The intention of the Mututho Law is noble, but it raises the question: “What is the best way to deal with the dangers of excessive alcohol consumption?”
My sense is that the Mututho Law passed because of the failure to enforce the “Michuki Rules”.
When John Michuki was minister of Transport, he showed us why most countries tend to appoint conservative law and order fundamentalists to ministries that deal with enforcement.
Michuki stared down the matatu and transport lobbies, and brought into force speed governors. He even got the police to unleash breathalysers on drunk drivers.
Eventually, the human rights went to court and the Breathalyser was ruled illegal. A doctor friend at Aga Khan wept.
He told me that one of the busiest nights for emergency units in Nairobi hospitals is on the evening of New Year’s Day.
With all the partying, dozens of people get injured (and die) in car accidents. On December 31, 2004, the year the Michuki Rules were gazetted, my friend was on duty. Something strange happened.
There was not a single accident victim brought to the emergency unit! It was the first time that had happened for the many years he had worked at the hospital, and he attributed that to the Michuki Rules.
This tells us that the rules to deal with the adverse effects of alcohol exist already. What is lacking then?
For East Africans, a very good example of how to approach this business of “over-drinking” is to be found not too far away — in Rwanda.
I spoke to a club-owner in Kigali in May. He told me that if it weren’t for the police, the business would be very big in Rwanda.
On Friday and Saturday nights, the Rwanda police throw a security blanket around Kigali. They set up roadblocks on every path and road.
They will not check for arms. They will be on the look-out for drunk drivers and cyclists. In addition, because of low levels of corruption in Rwanda, when you are found to have drunk over the limit, you cannot bribe your way out.
As a result, people who really want to have a good drink in Kigali do so at home. Or if they go out to pubs and clubs to drink, they will not drive.
The lesson is that if you want to crack down on alcohol, don’t target the bars. Rather, set your eyes on the demand side (drinkers) — and the tool for that is enforcement (the police).
Sweden did the same thing with street prostitution. It was the first country in the world to pass a law targeting male clients (the demand side), not the prostitutes (the supply).
In the space of 10 years, it has reduced street prostitution by more than 50 per cent. Kenyan booze needs a similar creative approach.