Calling on President Kibaki to Assent to the Alcoholic Drinks Bill 2009, ASAP

Dear Mr. President, receive greetings from a humble citizen yearning for justice

Sir, your assenting to the Alcoholic Drinks Control Bill 2009 will go a long way in ending a historical injustice that Kenyans have had to contend with for years. It is most unfortunate that 46 years after independence Kenyan citizens continue to be barred from exercising some of their ought to be freedoms due to laws and restrictions that were retained even after the exit of the colonialists, a good example is the Liquor Licensing Act.

In law, we do refer to the spirit of the law and the letter of the law. A good law MUST have a good ‘’spirit’’ or a rationale of noble intentions, in short any good law must mean well for the populace, this therefore means a good law ought not derive from bad faith or aim at enslaving the majority. The letter of the law merely refers to the law as it appears on paper/as drafted.

The challenge we find ourselves in is that we have laws whose ‘spirit’ and intention was in bad faith and they have also been bypassed with time/events. For example, when the colonialists introduced cash crops such as tea and coffee they were largely resisted by the Africans who preferred the crops that they were accustomed to eg Cassava, Maize, sweet potatoes, ground nuts etc. A law was thus passed compelling Africans to care for the cash crops – it became illegal to uproot or to cut down the coffee and tea crops. The ‘spirit’ of this law was crystal clear, the preservation and protection of these precious cash crops whose value the African mind could not comprehend (after all the natives didn’t take coffee!!).

Surprisingly 46 years after independence, this law still stands!!!!!. Even though we now know the value of cash crops it still remains illegal for a citizen to uproot coffee from his own shamba!, one needs special permission to uproot a crop that he himself planted in his own farm.

Sir, the Alcoholic Drinks Control Bill of 2009 thus seeks to remedy a situation similar to the one mentioned above.

Long before the colonialists arrived, our people had traditional brews made from millet, sorghum, coconut, cassava, banana, maize and honey. These were Muratina, Busaa, Mnazi, Chibuku, Chang’aa among others.

Our people used their liquor in a number of ways and in various ceremonies, for example there would be a poring of libations so as to appease the ancestors, liquor was also vital in inter-community forums such as peace talks and meetings bringing together previously warring groups. It was also of significance in marriage and dowry negotiations as it smoothened the talks.

Simply put, liquor was central to the social lives of our communities

However, the colonialist arrived with the sole intention of reaping as much as they could from Africa hence they came up with laws that would make their stay in Africa/Kenya more profitable. A law was thus invoked making all traditional brews ‘’illicit’’. An excerpt from the British East African Ordinance for regulation of the sale of wines, spirits and malt liquor, reads like this “No person shall sell, give or otherwise supply any native intoxicating liquor’’

With a stroke of the pen it even became illegal for one to give another Busaa, Mnazi etc as a gift!!. The African way of life and culture in general was thus under siege. The traditional brews played a crucial role within the African community hence banning it and making it ‘’illicit’’ was an act that was done in bad faith and for selfish reasons.

In making our brews ‘’illicit’’ the spirit of the law at the time sought narrow imperialist agendas and interests which were
  • By making ALL the traditional brews ‘illicit’ it was assumed that the Africans would have to make do with the bottled beer which the colonial settlers had introduced, this was thus a means of promoting their own companies and breweries.
  • Secondly, if Africans had to take bottled beer then it meant they would need money, money that they could only get by working on the settlers farm – what a clever way to get people to work for you!
  • The colonial regime was also insecure and deeply suspicious of gatherings of the natives.
Since our people would usually gather in the evenings as they sipped their drink the colonialists feared that as people talked they would enlighten each other and even incite each other against the forced labour system which was quite rampant those days. The move to ban the traditional liquor was thus aimed at mitigating against revolt brought about by community deliberations arrived at during drinking sessions. Since it was assumed that the natives would not gather in the absence of liquor this proved to be a superb strategy to delay and even derail the push for independence.

Simply put, even as we speak we continue calling our traditional brews ‘’illicit’’ based on unjust laws that had been coined with the sole aim of subjugating Africans. Even after 46 years of self rule we continue retaining pieces of legislation that were mooted to keep us in bondage, are we really free? Is there any reason why such laws remain in place?

Sir, by accenting to the Alcoholic Drinks Control Bill 2009 you will be reaffirming that we are indeed a sovereign state whose laws are reflective of our cultural values, practices and way of life. It is a shame that all along the state has been promoting foreign drinks while impeding the use and growth of local ones.

That Kenyans do view their country as the pride of Africa has never been in doubt, it thus baffles me that it is in this sector that we have been bypassed by other African countries.

South Africa for example, moved fast and acknowledged the key role played by the traditional brews. Their version of Chang’aa the ‘Umqomboti’ was fully embracrd and even popularized by Yvonne Chaka chaka in her song that declared the Umqomboti to be the African beer.

It is quite sad we are actually the only ones lagging behind in the region as traditional brews are most popular in all the neighbouring countries. Uganda leads the way as their version of Chang’aa the Uganda Waragi is loved by all, they also have supplementary and equally popular brews such as Inguli, Kwetee, Omwenge etc.

Never being the ones to be left behind, our Tanzanian brothers have their equivalent of Chang’aa which they call ‘’Konyagi”.

Sir, I thus see the Alcoholic Drinks Control Bill of 2009 as a Godsend as it will open up the sector and even help in regulation by the authorities.

Whereas the traditional brews such as Mnazi etc may have some shortcomings it is embarrassing that they remain referred to as ‘illicit’ due to an old, brutal and insensitive colonial law – this is indeed a historical injustice that remains begging for attention.

Today’s reality is that quacks, con artists and counterfeiters have flooded the market, we thus have in our shops fake batteries, contraband and harmful cigarettes, even most of the cheap medical tablets going around are fake and harmful. In short, even though we have witnessed cases of people taking lethal brews this is not an isolated case as even some of facial creams, bottled mineral water, milk etc are harmful as they have been adulterated by those seeking quick profits.

By legalizing the traditional brews the state will be able to reign in those brewers who seek to make lots of profits by shortening the brewing process only to later on add some harmful chemicals to the otherwise would be sweet and nutritious drink. What we need is merely stiffer penalties for all those who sell lethal or below standard goods be they cigarettes, juice, Chang’aa, mineral water, milk etc

Sir, our pride as a people now rests with you, our fate is solely within your hands.

Sir, please accent to the bill to not only put us at par with the other independent African states but also to reaffirm our independence and a break off from the oppressive colonial laws.

Thanks in advance


Humble and patriotic Citizen

Alan E Masakhalia

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