A new law forces Kenyans to rethink their drinking habitsBy GITAU WARIGI | Monday, December 27 2010 at 15:19
When the British were running Kenya, they imposed strict timelines on when Africans could drink alcohol. Licensed beer halls were to sell the stuff strictly between 5pm and 11pm.
No alcohol could be bought by the African during working hours. The idea was that the African lacked the self-discipline to control his intake, unless the colonial authorities imposed drinking hours.
A puritanical politician called John Mututho may have hit on the idea that this lack of self-discipline was perhaps not a colonial hoax. Hailing from the picturesque lakeside town of Naivasha, in the Rift Valley, Mututho has made it his mission lock horns with brewers after observing how they have ravaged the youth in his hometown.
Because of a law that he singlehandedly pushed for, that reinstates the severe colonial curbs on drinking hours in the country’s bars, neither the brewers nor their alcohol-loving customers had much to celebrate this Christmas.
Kenyans love their drink, more so during the holiday season. East Africa Breweries Limited, the beer-selling giant, reports massive sales at this time of the year. It expects the revelry to go unchecked. But Mututho’s already-enacted Bill ensured the celebrations were muted as bars stayed closed at the peak of the night.
Mututho should not be mistaken as being on some religious mission. His is an entirely practical endeavour based on the conviction that the excessive alcohol consumption in the country is robbing it of her youth.
One aspect of his Bill is the regulation of the traditional gin called chang’aa, whose unsafe preparation often claims lives. Mututho has been insistent that proper regulation will make the drink safe.
Mututho’s passionate crusade against over-imbibing has made him a notable figure. He has become lionised by housewives and those who deem themselves to be homemakers. Drunks, and especially those who make their living from getting people drunk loathe him with equal passion.
It is not just because they risk spending a weekend in the coolers if they are caught selling alcohol outside the allotted hours. Mututho’s Bill imposes truly punitive penalties to errant bar keepers. For instance, those caught selling alcohol to minors (below the age of 18) must be ready to cough up a $25,000 (Sh2 million) fine.
With a bribe
Cynics might as well dismiss Mututho’s zeal and those of his kind and wonder whether, welcome as it is, it will minimise rampant alcoholism in Kenya. Bars are already flouting the rules by operating outside the legal hours. Law enforcers, who get in the way, are getting fobbed off with a bribe.
Still, Mututho has accomplished something, and gradually Kenyan may sense a subtle shift. Legal penalties aside, and thanks to persistent grassroots campaigns by civic groups, cases of reckless drunkenness in the bars are no longer considered something to be proud of.
Faced with the restricted drinking hours, many holiday revellers in urban centres preferred to buy their beer from supermarkets and imbibe in the privacy of their homes. With missus and the children around, one presumed the drinking was not done with abandon.
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