African Policies Must Focus on People
Kenya made history by adopting a constitutional dispensation where the political leadership swore allegiance to the people, as opposed to the president. This is a momentum that ought to be replicated in the policy formulation arena which has over the years “pledged allegiance” to “agencies” but not the people. However, allegiance without a culture of measurements and evidence based information may prove to be a disaster. Clear safeguards to protect the people (as we did with presidents) ought to be put in place; or else we may end up with no people!
|Alcohol measuring gadget Photo courtesy|
Policy makers currently meeting in Malabo, Equatorial Guinea to develop strategies that will reduce the harmful use of alcohol in Africa ought to focus on the people as a key pillar of society. According to the World Health Organization; only 10 out of 46 African countries have recent policies governing alcohol consumption. Only 16 are said to have advertising regulation in place. Deaths attributable to use of alcohol has been on steady increase in Africa from 2.1% in 2001 to 2.4% in 2004 (figure could be higher because measurement culture still low on continent). Africans are swimming in an alcohol market where 50% of alcohol produced and consumed is not commercially produced or consumed. This translates to no data on content and possible harm!
Kenya ought to export the spirit of constitution making that puts people at the center and also it’s Alcoholic Drinks Control Bill 2009 that seeks to formalize non formal brews to other African countries. It is crucial that African governments drive towards facilitating measurement based balance between economic development and public health. Clear studies ought to establish whether a link exists between alcohol consumption and spread of HIV-AIDS; whether increase in tax on alcohol reduces alcohol abuse; alcohol and people’s productivity and whether focus on regulating commercially produced brews reduces intake of the non formal brews among other issues. African countries could also borrow from the Sixty-third World Health Assembly’s (held in May 21, 2010) global strategy to reduce harmful use of alcohol. African countries ought to move with speed and domesticate their own strategies to address the threat posed by unregulated consumption of alcoholic beverages.
The culture of measurements and evidence-based assessment of issues drives decisions in wealthy nations. The European Union for example, enforces 50mg of alcohol per 100 ml of blood for drivers. Many African countries will be hard-pressed to state the amount of alcohol say in local Chang’aa and busaa gins. We still operate in generalities such as: “It’s a strong beer,” “he/she is drunk” and “he/she took something.” Similar generalities are used to describe causes of accidents in Africa – Toyota may never have discovered it had an acceleration problem had the Lexus hitch début on the continent.
The momentum set by Kenya’s new constitutional dispensation that puts people at the center of focus calls for clear policy guidelines to protect the same. Imagine pledging allegiance to people bogged down by harmful effects of alcohol. Worse still, committing to people who are Kenyan in body but not mind; the quest for a new constitutional order will have failed to deliver on its key purpose. Africa’s youthful population is under serious threat unless a clear framework is developed to govern consumption of both commercial and non commercial alcohol.
Kenya must take the lead in driving a measurement culture to safeguard her people. Public health is as crucial to a country as is its political health. May the policy makers assembled in Malabo, push for a measurement culture in developing strategies and policies that will safeguard Africans from alcohol related harm.
By James Shikwati.
The author firstname.lastname@example.org is Director of Inter Region Economic Network
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