As we commemorated the International Day Against Drug Abuse and Illicit Trafficking, I chose to explore the impact of miraa (khat, muguka variety) and the so-called second generation alcohol on Kenya’s young men.
Muguka is the staple or “designer” drug for rural youth. They are initiated into it as early as age 10.
In Makueni county, over 50 per cent of young people chew muguka. The practice is called kuchonga.
In most of the county’s market centres and other spots in villages, young people congregate in groups in their special ivia (space) to partake of the drug from early afternoon until past midnight.
Muguka is cheaper than miraa. One helping of muguka, called kathangu, costs Sh50. Consumption of muguka is accompanied by what is called material, that is chewing gum — PK, Big G and Gomba.
Gomba is the cheapest at Sh1 per piece. Other materials include ground nuts and cheap alcohol such as Moon Walker at Sh100 per bottle, Dallas Sh100, and Jambo Sh125.
Two or four young people can share one bottle of the second generation drinks.
After chewing muguka, there is extreme craving for a cigarette, which is therefore another material, as well as bhang.
In the rural setting, a young person can be paid Sh300-500 a day for doing manual work.
This means a muguka addict can buy two kathangus at Sh100, a shared alcohol bottle for Sh25-50 and the other material.
Muguka consumers lack appetite for food unless they eat prior to drug ingestion. They also don’t provide their families with food and other necessities.
A muguka household is usually female-headed. In recent times during parents’ days in primary schools, those in attendance are overwhelmingly young women who lack real life husbands.
One can understand why in Central Kenya women have often demonstrated, demanding the return of their husbands to the family.
In 2015, President Uhuru Kenyatta ordered the Kenya Bureau of Standards to suspend 385 second generation alcohol brands.
Muguka is mostly sourced from Embu county. Probox cars and boda boda taxis transport the drug to the grassroots.
In Makueni, muguka is sold in retail shops while some farmers have begun growing the drug. Several reasons account for the muguka culture taking root.
Some addicts argue they are unemployed, have considerable time on their hands to squander and the muguka high creates a worry-free utopia.
'BOY CHILD'S HOME'
Incidentally, it takes only a week for a user to get hooked. Whereas women have a rich associational life, boys and men have not over time developed such groups.
Young men easily get attracted to muguka clubs. Finally, they have a home away from home.
So in the muguka fraternity the boy-child, while under peer pressure, is seeking accommodation.
The youth, 10-34 years, form the biggest percentage of Kenya’s population.
Although I have used the example of Makueni to sketch the anatomy of muguka and alcohol abuse, this phenomenon is rampant in Kenya.
Nacada in 2017 reported that over 50 per cent of young people in Mombasa, Kilifi and Kwale counties had switched to the cheaper muguka instead of heroine and cocaine.
I used to lament that young men don’t participate in county social life.
I have come to learn that young people are — whether in protest or desperation — (mis) organising themselves in muguka clubs or spaces.
Muguka chewing has become a lifestyle. The young people involved do as much work as is necessary for them to support kuchonga.
They exchange many ideas during their chewing. But lofty as the ideas may be, once the effect of the drug wears off, the grandiose ideas evaporate.
However, in a muguka club, there is considerable solidarity. Secrets are not easily leaked.
If one is unfaithful to the support group, they will be denied the drug, alcohol or cigarettes from the fraternity when they lack money.
To belong to an ivia (club), one must be vetted. These young men have a lot of information about what happens in their locality.
Even the police try to bargain for intelligence from the muguka family in exchange for protection and muguka.
The leader of an ivia can control an entire market centre because his loyal members will do his bidding.
I have realised that to rescue the muguka generation, draconian laws may not be the solution.
Just like the young people are seeking for acceptance within their muguka clubs, those who wish to change their situation must first respect them.
We must recognise their inherent dignity. Before they can open the door for us to peek into their world, they must trust us.
In Makueni, we have tried to raise the taxes of muguka suppliers and retail sellers and those who grow the drug.
We are thinking of banning cultivation of muguka. We wish as well to stop the flow of cheap and harmful alcohol into the county.
For a population of one million, there are 2,000 bars and 380 wines and spirit shops.
We propose to reduce these numbers. Bars should not be the predominant businesses in our market centres.
These measures are laudable.
However, a young friend of mine who is an ex-muguka addict advised me that for us to rehabilitate the muguka generation we should consider the following: Show empathy and genuine love to the group.
Resist painting them as outcasts. Engage them respectfully. Focus on the groups and individuals.
Get rehabilitated youth to be at the centre of peer transformation. Establish rehabilitation centres. Prioritise professional counselling.
Create alternative, safe spaces for youth socialisation and economic empowerment.
Kenya and Africa are losing a generation of young people and the sequel generation of their children through drug and alcohol abuse.
A country, or even a continent, which has lost its youth has lost itself.
Prof Kibwana is Governor of Makueni County