Punitive laws not the only solution to the perennial illicit brew problem

Quite a good number of people equate enforcement of the law to punishment. This is based on a belief that law is only effective when it is backed by threats and sanctions.

While this may be true; it does not apply to all cases as punitive laws primarily serve as a deterrence. This is perhaps the case with regard to the perennial twin problems of illicit brews and alcoholism that have broken the family units; moral fabric; economic strength and morals of the habitual consumers of the brew. Illicit brews have also resulted in loss of lives and instances of partial or permanent blindness. The Kenyan government has in recent times stepped up in dealing with this issue through the enactment of punitive regulations and laws; it is perhaps important to ask why things have remained the same over time with little signs of change. Could the solutions to this problem be somewhere other than in the tough punitive laws and regulations concerning the consumption of alcohol?


Think about the drinking culture? In years gone by and in many African cultures; consumption of alcoholic drinks was quiet restricted. The restrictions may be broken down to age; gender; occasions; the amount of alcohol that one could take and the time of indulging. This culture was embedded into people and it formed part of the value system. This is however not the case today.

illicit brewsUnlike in the past; there are very few restrictions on when one may indulge in alcohol. While the practice in the past may have been a bottle or two after work; for a lot of people in today’s generation, drinking is the work. If you listen to young people in the streets of Nairobi; they would tell you aluta continua, adopted from the Portuguese slogan of the FRELIMO party but this time meaning some sought of “back to back” alcohol imbibing. When a people more so young people get used to a life of alcohol yet have very little money; they often fall into the trap of illicit brews which are cheaper and accessible.

Changing the drinking culture has more to do with values as opposed to punitive laws that look to only impose sanctions. In traditional African culture there was some kind of basic education concerning drinking liquor; could that help today? Isn’t that the role of the National Authority for the Campaign Against Alcohol and Drug Abuse (NACADA)? How can drinking responsibly be taught as a value?

Joblessness and idleness are the other factors contributing to the increase of persons who indulge in illicit brew. As much as those in authority may not want to see the connection; the truth is when young people are jobless; they are also idle most of the time and with very little money to spare. This therefore often drives them to cheap alcohol which is often illicit. As much as there is need to develop a drinking culture; there is also need to consistently try and engage people in their productive age. The hard economic times and the challenges of getting or creating a job for the young people and the active generation create a market for illicit brew. There is therefore need to try and create opportunities for young people. Those in power must understand that joblessness for the active population in Kenya may lead to an unintended consequence. The other related cause of the rise of or increased imbibing of illicit brew is social-cultural. In many Kenyan communities afflicted by this problem; women are often the bread- winners and the ones expected to hold their families together, this often leaves the men free to drink and with little money in their pockets; the destination is illicit brew. Again, punitive law cannot change these social-cultural patterns. This is cultural and may be changed through progressive education to the communities.

The other major cause of the rise of illicit brew is expensive liquor. Genuine alcohol is very expensive and with time; it has become unbearable for those in the lower income households bracket and sometimes even the middle income households to afford. This leaves the illicit brews that are not only dangerous but cheaper as an alternative for a lot of people. As much as the industry is a fertile area for taxes both for the local governments and the national government; it is important that the genuine products remain affordable. Looking at the tax laws and striking a balance as opposed to punitive laws and stringent measures may be another solution. The thinking that high taxation and therefore high prices of alcoholic drinks limit the amount of alcohol that people take may be a misnomer. Some also argue that the State may consider working with alcohol manufacturers to produce cheaper brands that are affordable to those who may want to imbibe but have lower incomes.

The other issue is corruption. Corruption and bribery always play a big part in the thriving of the illicit brew industry. Where officials tasked with maintaining certain regulations with regards to genuine alcohol sale and consumption are compromised; then eradicating illicit brews through the law alone becomes a difficult task.

Corruption in itself is a cultural issue that needs to be looked at. Closer to this there may be also a need to open the scope of what is referred to as illicit brew and try to regulate and give them certain standards- perhaps with the help of the Kenya Bureau of Standards (KEBS). This will keep the industry cleaner and protect the persons who continuously consume these illicit alcoholic brews.


 The fight against illicit brews in Kenya is very necessary. There is need to try and put a stop to this madness, however, there is a greater need to look at the issue in an all-inclusive and encompassing manner. Employing the use of punitive law may not be enough.

Guest author The Platform Magazine