Poor execution of fight against illicit alcohol costing economy

Police destroy illicit alcohol seized at a den along River Chania in Nyeri.

While the ongoing fight against illicit brews in Kenya is well intended, its execution leaves a lot to be desired. One of the problems is the use of youth to destroy property as part of the campaign.

The mobilisation of vigilante gangs in the fight against illegal alcohol creates a new problem in that high levels of testosterone and hooliganism feed on their own energy, which will be hard to stop when the objective is achieved.

There is also the issue of uniformed policemen breaking doors that one would have thought to be unbreakable, providing good training to thieves.

Someone once told me that it is extremely difficult to eradicate “sins” such as prostitution, alcoholism and gambling. During the early period of the last century there was a Protestant-led campaign for abolition of alcohol drinking, intended to conserve grain reserves before World War I.

Laws were passed abolishing alcohol drinking but new problems emerged. Alcohol drinking became a criminal underground activity resulting in formation of gangs to protect the stakeholders. There were dirty cops, the government was not receiving taxes and police expenses were going up.

Other forms of crimes increased in double digit percentages, including drug addiction, homicides, black market violence and other organised crimes. Poisoning of industrial alcohol could not stop the entrepreneurs who hired chemists to re-nature it to make it drinkable.

By the time of the Great Depression, it was clear that there was need for a sober way to deal with alcohol use than abolishing it.I met a second-hand clothes dealer who said her business had gone down with the crackdown on alcohol. Probably, the feel-good effect that alcohol provides is good for the economy.

Hollywood was credited with helping the US get out of the Great Depression through provision of that feel-good effect. Legalisation of alcohol may also have helped.Research also indicates that the poor and those at the bottom of the pyramid do not compromise on small luxuries. This means that making cheap alcohol inaccessible or expensive has a negative effect on kitchen budgets, which can lead to malnutrition among the poor.

With such moves more people are pushed into drinking illicit brews leading to deaths as a result of poisoning. It can be argued that the initial increase of tax on low-cost Senator Keg beer led to the problem of illicit brews and the resulting deaths.Another mistake was failure to define what second generation alcohol is. This has resulted in many genuine investors being targeted in the crackdown. This will contribute to a decline of the manufacturing sector, which is regrettable.

Finally, involvement of anti-alcohol extremists at the policy level could be a mistake. The American case is a good example of extremist Protestants pushing for bad laws against alcohol consumption. People like Nacada chairman John Mututho are too emotional about alcohol to provide the best direction.

The writer is the marketing director of SBO Research. E-mail: bngahu@sboresearch.co.ke, Twitter @bngahu

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