Africa's beer diplomacy; the bigger pictureBy MWENDA wa MICHENI | Friday, January 21 2011 at 18:24
A story inside Kenya's Daily Nation (January 20) renders some hilarity to an issue that the East African country is debating seriously.
It suggests that it is beer, not employment or business that is fanning a new wave of immigration between the two sides of Malaba, a border town with Kenya on one side, Uganda on the other.
Some context to this: To beat the country's new Alcoholic Drinks Control Act, Kenyans are travelling to the other side of the town in Uganda to enjoy a sip of traditional brew, chang'aa and or busaa that have been outlawed on the Kenyan side ( if not bottled as per legal requirements).
The Daily Nation story reports that more than 70 bars on the Kenyan side remain closed until 5pm, but those on the Ugandan side, are usually packed with Kenyans all day.
According to the story, Kenyans drink in Malaba, Uganda, because even un-bottled versions of local brews like chang’aa and busaa are legalised in Uganda.
What are the lessons drawn? A few: If not allowed in Kenya, Uganda might be the place to go and vice versa. And this goes beyond the beer drinking sessions, something that complicates matters, even makes life very expensive in some cases.
The police and other law enforces in this case must be the most frustrated guys. On the Kenyan side, it is illegal and the law prescribes a stiff penalty, but does Uganda care?
This goes further than law enforcement, touches on culture, especially in the context of the ongoing attempts to unite East Africa, Africa into one open territory (and may the dreams come to fruition sooner if ever!).
While busaa and chang'aa seem to unite Uganda and Kenya, the two countries treat these drinks differently. On one side, its legal while its not on the other. So how will the two work when unity finally dawns? What considerations will rule the day? Whatever the considerations, if people's cultures are not incorporated into the integration, nothing works, this is both at the EAC and AU levels. That's why cases like this one in Malaba should not be ignored.
It is unfortunate that Africans have refused to liberate themselves from the yoke of colonial boundaries that are neither here nor there, and continue to complicate everything at their own expense.
Reminds me of the ugly instances that have left me cursing my African leadership, some five decades after independence. I list some of them:
In Burkina Faso capital Ouagadougou, where a 15-year-old kept referring to me as English just because the two Africans- he and I- could find a common tongue to share ideas.
At Nairobi's Jomo Kenyatta International Airport last December, where a Kenya Airways (KQ) officials could not allow me to travel without a visa to Senegal (cant blame KQ), despite assurances that there were prior arrangements for me to get it on arrival in Dakar. To travel, I had to go begging for a visa in the French embassy, Senegal's former colonial master.
In Abidjan, where I was 'held' at the airport for over 10 hours just because I did not have an Ivorian visa through the country.
At the Sandaga market in Dakar, where I had to pay several more dollars to get Wolof music, just because of a language barrier, again.
When I had to fly through Amsterdam to connect to Bamako, from Nairobi.
When I had to eat beef from Hungary and milk from France in Dakar when Nairobi was struggling to deal with a milk glut.
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