Crack down on sources of illicit alcohol first
Any government worth its salt must protect its citizens’ lives and create a conducive environment for them to source for their own livelihood. This twin challenge has never been as manifest as in the mounting crisis of alcohol abuse and the challenge facing bar owners.
Deputy President Rigathi Gachagua is rightly concerned about the excessive alcohol consumption in the central region and wants the scourge stamped out. As a top national leader from this area, Mr Gachagua knows first-hand about the adverse consequences of alcohol abuse.
However, the bar reduction directive he issued to county administrators last week raises a number of questions. How practical, for example, is this idea? There are numerous bars in any town and they are licensed businesses. The owners are entitled to a return on their investment.
How will the administrators determine which bars will be spared the axe and what will the rest do with those facilities? The consequences of such decisions must be seriously considered before enforcement.
The trouble with the Kenya Kwanza Alliance administration’s approach is whether this is an attempt to impose a theocracy, complete with moral police. DP Gachagua has also declared that entertainment joints must only operate from 5 pm to 11 pm. What of the ones licensed as nightclubs?
The bigger problem is not even these licensed bars, restaurants and nightclubs, which employ many people. It is the ready availability of illicit drinks. The licensed operators are easier to monitor, but rampant drug and alcohol abuse is happening outside these compliant premises.
The focus should be on identifying and blocking the sources of the deadly cheap alcohol, mostly imitations of popular drinks that are imbibed by young men and women.
Instead of attempting to criminalise alcohol and antagonise the owners of legal businesses, the campaign to flush out the local manufacturers and importers of illicit drinks must be intensified. The owners of licensed bars and nightclubs are also a source of revenue for the government. The campaign against alcohol abuse should not be used to kill legal businesses.