The deputy president, in another of his brand of executive pronouncements, has directed county governments and administrative officers of the national government to “eradicate alcoholism” among the youth by, among other things, only permitting the issuance of a single liquor license “per town”. The reason for the draconian decree is that the youth are being destroyed by alcohol and drugs. The logic of the decree is that if the bars are shut down, the youth will not have access to alcohol (or drugs), and therefore, they will be saved from destruction.
It’s a simplistic argument and it is, in my opinion, uninformed. It is true that the prevalence of alcoholism among young people is very high. As is drug taking. But it does not follow that the reason why young people are becoming alcohol and drug addicts is because of the prevalence of bars. Correlation is not causation.
There are many reasons why alcoholism is affecting more and more younger people. One reason may be easier access to alcohol. In my opinion, there are several other reasons: the liquor licensing regime contemplated in the Mututho Laws has been observed more in the breach. There are more licensed premises where alcohol is served in residential areas than there are playing grounds. There are more bars within 100 metres of basic education institutions than there are libraries or book banks. There are more social media influencers promoting alcoholic beverages than there are those promoting sporting events or book fairs. In short, planning regulations have been ignored, the rule that bars should not be licensed near schools has been violated, and the ban on advertising has been subverted through social media paid promotions by non-traditional advertisers. Closing down bars is not the silver bullet that the deputy president thinks it is.
The solution that the deputy president proposes will not eradicate alcoholism; what it will do, especially if it is enforced the way he wants it to be enforced, will be to re-establish the primacy of the provincial administration that was the bane of this nation since the day it was created by the colonial government. It will give police and administrative officers free license to harass law-abiding Kenyans and lead to new ways of violating the rights and fundamental freedoms of restive, unemployed, despondent young people.
One of the mistakes that Uhuru Kenyatta made was to resort to simple, and often violently draconian, solutions for complex problems, and using the security services to implement those solutions. He didn’t appear to be interested in the hard work needed to analyse problems, and promote multi-pronged solutions, as all socio-economic problems demand. This is a mistake that the new regime seems partial to repeating. It is as if the mistakes of the past 12 years have been erased from our collective memory, and we are hell-bent in doing them over again, in the same way, with the same tools, and the same outcomes.
If, for example, we acknowledge that by the time a young person has become an alcoholic and drug addict, merely shutting down the local bar will not stop him from getting his fix. It impossible that the much-maligned “illicit brews” sector is about to enjoy a resurgence. Which will lead to tax evasion and other administrative wrongs. Which will lead to petty and property crimes. Which will eventually lead to violent crime. Which will lead to the resurgence of protection rackets by the likes of the Mungiki. And eventually, policemen will get in on the lucre that the criminal networks will have re-established. The one-bar-per-town, a bastardised version of the USA’s Prohibition Era, will end in disaster.