After the crackdown, illicit brews have bubbled back

Thursday January 28 2016

By MUTHONI THANG'WA
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I’m not an alcoholic. Like many Kenyans, however, I am deeply concerned with its effects.

Illicit brew dens are back on the mountains, in the valleys, city alleys, dens and everywhere one looks.

The funerals will follow, the village demonstrations will come next and emotional politicians will hit the villages with a message of redemption, before the sad cycle repeats itself.

The process of banning consumption of “second generation” alcoholic brews may not have been consultative, as required by law, but how does the law define the unnecessary resultant deaths and the hopeless drunkard youths due to illicit brews?

Isn’t the number of idle youth in many Kenyan towns consultative enough?

I do not blame EABL and Keroche Breweries for opposing the President’s crackdown order in court. That is what industry players do – take every required action to ensure that their agenda remains in place. It is the rest of us who remain completely unable to follow through and fulfill our own aspirations.

BREWING FAMILIES

Clearly there is a gap in this area – that of affordable alcoholic beverages. The more than 40 per cent of Kenyans who live below the poverty line still need to consume alcohol, for whatever reason.

Many traditional cultures in Kenya had elaborate systems for brewing, consuming and controlling the consumption of alcohol. Members of society rarely operated outside this system since the cultural repercussions for dishonouring it, were punitive, harsh and unavoidable.

Culture clearly dictated who, when and where such consumption could be done. Now we have a need that we cannot agree on the best way to fulfill – even as many young Kenyans die, denying this country one of the most pertinent factors of production.

Chemically, the killer in “second generation” brews has been proven to be either methanol a form of alcohol that is unsafe to drink, formaldehyde, a colourless gas that when turned into a solution, is best known for preservation of dead bodies, or arsenic, a brittle metal commonly used in rat poison.

All these are highly-controlled substances in Kenya. How they get into just any hands is a mystery that the law cannot seem to explain or deal with.

Brewing, a basic process of soaking, boiling and fermenting, is an ancient traditional skill, dating back thousands of years. Internationally, skilled brewing families such as the Daniels and Jamesons have made millions from traditional brewing that were turned into mega industries over the years.

HEALTHY BREW

A country like Belgium takes great pride in her brewing traditions, again, all based on cultural traditions. France and Italy are equally famous for wine-making family traditions. Many traditional brews in Kenya such as Muratina are authentic, healthy and organic drinks.

Yet it is rare, I am now told, to get anyone with the skills or knowledge to make this African delicacy, made purely from edible plants, sugarcane, the fruit of the sausage tree (Kigelia africana) and honey.

Many Kenyan communities have a traditional brew that is equally authentic and organic. Many of these brews have health benefits, are friendly to the pockets of the masses since they use locally available natural ingredients, and can be home-made.

So why don't more people brew their own alcohol at home? How is it that we ape what does not work for us from the West, but cannot replicate wealth creation strategies that come from skills we already possess?

Kenya legalised the production of traditional brews in 2010 with the passing the Alcoholic Drinks Control Act, popularly known as the ‘Mututho law,’ which repealed the Chang’aa Prohibition Act.

We have heard a lot on the consumption and sale of alcohol, including regulations on selling hours, age of consumers and Alcoblow, but the production part remains a miasma.

Twitter: @muthonithangwa