So far we have lost 45 people and this number might rise as time goes by. A good number have lost their sight while others have been hospitalized. Just like before, we are once again shouting at the top of our voices and calling for the arrest of all those who were involved in selling the illegal brew. I am tempted to think that this will just last for the few weeks that we will be moaning and then things will slide back to normal to await another time that more people will die of the same cause.
In 1998, 80 people lost their lives in Narok and Mai Mahiu. A number lost their sight while others were hospitalized after partaking of illicit brew. In September 1999, Embu district awoke to a tragic incidence when 21 people died and quite a number went blind after taking illicit brew. In the year 2000, 130 people died, 22 lost their sight and more than 500 were hospitalized and treated of stomach cramps in Nairobi and its environments after taking kumi kumi. This story was much publicized and sparked calls for effective regulation of alcohol brewing and consumption. Two women who were suspected to have sold the killer brew were arrested, charged and jailed for four years but on appealing, they were acquitted by the high court judge Msagha Mbogoli as he found the evidence given against them wanting.
Come September 2002, 10 people died in West Pokot after taking a local brew known as manduli. The tests revealed that the brew had been made using highly toxic industrial chemicals that affect the internal organs. In January 2003, 12 people including a police constable died, more than 100 were hospitalized and treated of stomach cramps while more than 20 lost their sight in Makueni.
What is the lasting solution to these disasters? Tanzanians have maintained their culture and thus legalized the brewing of traditional brews Konyagi and Mbege. These brews are prepared under good conditions and sold at relatively fair prices. Those who take beer are free to access these brews. If the product does not meet the required conditions, the owner can be arrested and charged in court.
In Uganda, they have the Uganda Warage which is a traditional brew. Proprietors have been licensed to produce, park and sell it. It is even sold in the market places. They too like Tanzania have never experienced the disasters that keep on occurring in Kenya.
Listening to Dr. Simon Mueke, the district hospital superintendent on the conditions of those who had been admitted and what they were doing, one would be surprised that they were using Vodka which is a traditional brew from Russia and which is legally available in the local market to treat the patients and yet in Kenya if one is found taking a traditional brew that he has even prepared in his house, for his own use, he is arrested.
It is time we found a lasting solution to this problem. Banning of beer adverts or increasing the prices will never be a solution. When this yearís budget was presented, the finance Minister raised taxes on beer but if one visited the clubs, even with increased prices, those who can afford will continue drinking and those who canít afford but will revert to the illicit ones. Thus, the problem is here.
If our government borrowed a leaf from our friends in Tanzania, Uganda and Russia, set health and hygienic conditions that should be met by the producers and allowed the production and sale of traditional brew, most of these problems would end. This is because those preparing these brews will have the freedom; they will take the time preparing instead of resorting to the use of dangerous chemicals to act as catalysts. More so, if they are allowed to legally sell it, they will have to indicate what the components of their products are and thus one will be aware of what he is taking.
With more than 51% of Kenyans living on less than a dollar, not everyone can afford what is produced by Kenya Breweries. If people canít afford this, they will have to find an alternative and they will always go for what is available and affordable to them. Traditional brews should be legalized and conditions set on hygiene. If this is not done, it will not take long before another tragedy occurs. Who knows when and where it will strike and who the victim will be!
from Hillary Irungu