Kenya stands to benefit from alcohol law

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The interesting thing about life is that what one thinks to be rational and common sense, does not always translate to the same for other people.

I have in mind the recent alcohol-related deaths in making that statement.  You and I may think that rationally, a threat of loss of life or blindness would result in a notable decline in the visits to illegal alcohol dens. 
Unfortunately, this is not the case.  People, in their ‘wisdom’ always feel invincible.  They argue that their local brewer is an expert or that such misfortune only happens in other localities.  How tragic, that we never truly internalise the possible consequences of our actions.

Having said that, I think that it is noble for the government, and in particular Parliamentarians, to recognise that sometimes they must be the wiser for their citizens to whom ‘common sense’ is not so common.  I must also commend Naivasha MP John Mututho for sponsoring the Alcoholic Drinks Control Bill of 2009.  This Bill, which is now awaiting Presidential assent, is meant to regulate the production, sale and consumption of alcoholic drinks in Kenya.

When I think of this Bill (it’s arguable merits and demerits), two issues come to mind.  First, that there are probably many more cases of death or physical impairment that could directly be attributed to alcohol abuse.  The media has played its role in highlighting some of these cases, but I can bet you that many more go unreported.  I am curious therefore as to what the national statistics are and would even go as far as to suggest that this data be compiled and made accessible to all. 

Secondly, I think of the financial cost of alcohol abuse to our economy, either through direct loss of lives in their prime production age or the affiliated cost of treating their injuries, is enormous.  At our own individual levels, most of us can attest to experiencing negative consequences of alcohol in our family lives.  We know of someone who abuses alcohol, and will often behave irrationally (read domestic abuse, drunk driving etc) to the detriment of his life and of those around him/her.    It is worth noting that alcohol abuse often goes hand in hand with drug abuse, but for right now I am focusing on the former.

If we had these two sets of data readily available, they would enable us to contextualise the extent of our loss and to make a snap decision.  But we don’t.  So let me put it plainly and say that I like the spirit embodied in this Bill. 

This is especially where it concerns creating awareness on alcohol use and abuse, making alcohol inaccessible to underage consumers, ensuring safety standards and support for treatment/rehabilitation programmes. 

Curently, illegal brews comprise approximately 70 percent  of the Kenya spirit market targetting the low-end consumer who is most affected.  This is the same person I mentioned earlier, whose social economic status challenges far outweigh the need to be a rational decision maker.  So, do we bury our heads in the sand with the view that people ought to be wiser and place more value on their lives?  I think not. 

In my opinion, this Bill provides the government with mechanisms for provision of social safety nets as a starting point before we can proceed to deal with the root causes of alcoholism. 

Additionally, the clauses I have seen in this Bill have adopted some of the best practices in use by not only our neighbouring countries, but also by developed economies.  Perhaps what could also be done is to make the penalties for an offence under this Bill so steep -that they provide a serious deterrent to offenders, especially regarding sale of alcohol to minors.

In winding up, I want to say that the power to make a difference lies in the hands of quality enforcers.  It does not make sense to put into place such elaborate measures, if our standards enforcement departments do not have the capacity to ensure that Kenyans conform.  I am of the opinion that we need more funds allocated to KEBS to build their capacity to handle the increased demand for their services if changaa is to be legalised.

Secondly, after establishment of the Alcohol Drinks Control Fund, I would also suggest that some of the monies accumulated be used to fund undercover operations carried out in conjunction with the local administration, so the offences are dealt with publicly and fairly via the Justice system.

It is the role of government to demonstrate that the lives of their citizens are valuable regardless of social economic status and this Bill provides them with the opportunity to demonstrate just that.

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