Kirinyaga killer brew: Survivors recount ordeal

Killer brew

Some of the victims who lost their sights after consuming illicit brew in Kangai village, Kirinyaga County.

Photo credit: Courtesy

What you need to know:

  • The cheap alcoholic drink sold at a local bar belonging to a local tycoon has led to the death of 10 people and several left blind.
  • Area Deputy Governor David Githanda suspects there could be more victims who are still at home.

When Sammy Ngari Ndiga, 33 visited a bar at Kangai village in Kirinyaga county, he had no inkling that the worst would befall on him.

The events of February 5 will remain etched in his mind forever.

Ndiga had joined his friends in the bar popularly known as California in the evening to quench his thirst after working on the farm for a whole day.

He ordered his favourite brand of liquor and enjoyed it as they chatted the evening away.

After he had enough, he developed stomach pains and hurriedly left for home.

On arrival, he retired to bed and when he woke up in the morning, he discovered that he had blurred vision.

His feeble legs and general body weakness made it difficult for him to walk properly. This made him panic and asked one of his friends to take him to Kerugoya Hospital for treatment.

"When I explained how I was feeling, my friend agreed to take me to the hospital. On arrival, I was immediately put on a drip because I was dehydrated from a running stomach. That is how I survived," Mr Ndiga said from his hospital bed.

Mr Ndiga used to enjoy drinking after working on the farm where he was employed as a casual labourer but he never sensed that one day, things will change for the worse.

But the cheap alcoholic drink sold at the bar belonging to a local tycoon changed his life following the death of ten people who had consumed the illicit brew.

Ndiga is lucky to be alive as most of his friends died at their respective homes while others were at the hospital.

He said the killer brew had ruined his life and vowed to quit drinking.

He is among five people who temporarily became blind after consuming the brew from the unlicensed bar located in the sprawling village which is awash with all kinds of toxic brews.

Six die, several temporarily blinded after consuming illicit brew

Kangai is known as a place where unscrupulous traders sell brews unfit for human consumption.

"It is true in this village we have a lot of illegal brews whose sale should be discouraged," said the area Member of County Assembly James Wambu.

Mr Wambu said the Executive had been trying to eradicate the brews but it is more often frustrated by the judiciary," he said.

He lamented that it was sad lives had been lost due to greed adding that some liquor traders interested only in getting rich quickly had invaded the area and were selling toxic brews at the expense of the residents.

Among those who lost their lives is a 67-year-old woman, Stella Muthoni. 

"She died after taking the drink in the bar and now we have been thrown into mourning," said Mr Boniface Ngiri, the brother to the deceased.

Another resident, Leah Wakuthii said they had lost four relatives.

"Some died in hospital while others at home. Their bodies are lying in the morgue and we are now planning to bury them," said Ms Wakuthii as tears welled up in her eyes.

Another victim Paul Wachira, 40 first lost his sight after taking the drink and later breathed his last as he was being taken to Kerugoya referral hospital.

Relatives are now trying to come to terms with the loss of their loved one.

The lethal brew did not spare an 80-year-old woman Alice Wanjiru who was well known in the village.

Wanjiru went to the bar as usual and settled for a drink which later claimed her life.

She was being rushed to the hospital as she complained of stomach pains and vomiting when she died.

Mr John Mureithi was a young man who was also a victim of the deadly brew.

He was among the revellers who had flocked into the bar to drink but later died at home.

"It is a big blow to us as a family, Mureithi was a good and hardworking person but he is no more alive," said Mr Julius Muriuki, an uncle to the deceased.

The incident which sent shockwaves across the region has baffled both the residents, leaders and senior national and county officials.

The Central Regional Commissioner Friedrick Shisia who visited the village said the owner of the bar where the lethal brew was being sold will face the law.

Fredrick Shisia

Central County Commissioner Frederick Shisia. 

Photo credit: File

He revealed that the prime suspect had been arrested and interrogated at the local police station.

Mr Shisia said it was a disaster and the suspect will face murder charges.

"The suspect has killed close to 10 people and will soon be arraigned in court to face capital offences and other charges," he said.

He asked the Judiciary to work closely with other government agencies to tame rogue brewers.

Mr Shisia lamented that the prime suspect had been arrested fifteen times before but he was always freed by a local court.

He observed that the bar had not been licensed by the county government and the prime suspect had been operating illegally.

torched bar

A bar set ablaze in Kangai village, Kirinyaga County, after six people died after drinking an illicit brew believed to have been laced with ethanol.

Photo credit: George Munene | Nation Media Group

So far five people have lost their sight and are being treated at Kerugoya referral hospital.

At the same time, the Kirinyaga county government has appealed to people who could have taken the illicit brew to present themselves in the hospital for medical check-ups.

Area Deputy Governor David Githanda said there could be more people who are still at home and asked residents to check on the well-being of relatives known to frequent the said bar. 

“We call upon those who could have consumed the illicit brew at this particular outlet to visit our medical facilities for examination and treatment,” he said. 

Mr Githanda said the majority of the dead had been brought in by relatives while in critical condition after being picked from their homes.

He said that 20 cases were brought to the county health facilities out of which six have succumbed, while four others are still admitted in critical condition. Ten of the victims were stabilized and discharged. 

Liquor outlet owners have been asked to only sell products that conform to standards set out by the Kenya Bureau of Standards (KBS). 

“The County Government of Kirinyaga is committed to weed out all unlicensed liquor outlets. We wish to remind bar owners that they have a responsibility to protect lives by ensuring they are selling products that conform to standards set out by the Kenya Bureau of Standards,” Githanda said. 

Further, the Deputy Governor said the county is in touch with the families of those affected the incident and was working together with local leaders to assess the assistance needed.

He asked all state agencies to work hand-in-hand with the county government to eliminate illicit brews.