By all indications, Keumbu shopping centre on the busy Kisii-Keroka highway is a town full of life.
The town in Nyaribari Chache constituency is well known for its abundance of sugarcane.
Whenever motorists slow down, traders often rush to sell sugarcane, alongside avocados and passion fruits, to travellers.
What happens on its backstreets, however, is a cause for alarm.
There are numerous dens where illicit brews and bhang are sold in public.
In the afternoons, a visitor will encounter clusters of young people in an open field adjacent to the home of an elected leader smoking bhang while gambling.
Locals complain that their children have dropped out of school because of the drugs that are easily accessible.
Their lives have been ruined by money-minded individuals who do not care about the young lives that they are ruining.
During barazas conducted late last year, Keumbu elders cited drugs and illicit brews as major issues among young men.
This followed disturbing statistics that at least 15 male adults were taking their own lives every year in Kisii Central sub-county, a majority aged between 15 and 35.
At the Kisii GK prison, it was revealed that 85 per cent of the inmates were male, with 60 per cent convicted of sexual offences.
Illicit brews and drugs
It was in this regard that Kisii Central Deputy Commissioner Wilberforce Kilonzo organised forums, called the Baraza la Wanaume, to allow them to talk about the issues affecting them.
The initiative, started in December and still underway in other parts of the constituency, provided an ideal avenue for the elders of Keumbu to voice their frustrations about illicit brews and drugs that have corrupted their children’s lives while at the same time accusing authorities of doing little to stop them.
“Drugs are all over. Gambling is the order of the day in Keumbu,” lamented Mr Josephat Machuka, an elder who attended a baraza in December.
“Things are not the same anymore and our children have lost focus. They hardly listen to us and when pressed, they will walk out or even become violent,” he regretted.
Slightly over a year ago, atrocities were committed in the area by gangs that were said to plan their escapades in the drug dens.
The gangs would get out at night, loot and rape.
They would engage police in dramatic shootouts and vanish into thin air.
Locals said the gangsters donned police regalia, which they used to cause confusion when staging attacks.
Residents have urged law enforcers to ensure that sanity returns to the town and those engaging in the illicit businesses are apprehended.
At the Keumbu public baraza for men, Assistant County Commissioner Joshua Muthoka promised that the government would do all it could to ensure drug sellers are arrested.
“The government will not sit and watch while you ruin the lives of our children. We will catch you,” Mr Muthoka warned.
Offer interventions and advice
During the December public barazas, men gathered to hold heart-to-heart conversations on issues affecting them, amid concern over rising suicide in the sub-county.
Pressure to provide for their families amid the harsh economic times, the feeling that they are not heard whenever they have problems and the consumption of illicit brews are some of the issues that came out.
Organisers of the programme that kicked off in Riangabi sub-location sought to offer interventions and advice aimed at minimising the issues affecting men. The forums were also held in Kiogoro and Amariba.
Youths in attendance opened up on why some of their colleagues have been taking their own lives.
Organisers were, however, concerned that only a handful of young people attended the forums, with a majority giving it a wide berth, leaving the barazas for old men in their 70s and above.
At Keumbu Social Hall, one of the issues that topped the discussions was of youths demanding their inheritance from their parents, including land, only to end up selling the property.
It emerged that many squander all the proceeds from the sale of their inheritance.
Some sink into depression when this happens, with many ending up as squatters on their inherited land.
Lose hope and decide to take the rope
“That is when they realise their mistakes, and because it is too late, they take their own lives," said Mr Andrew Mogaka.
Another issue that dominated the conversations was early marriages.
Many fathers said that some of their sons had decided to marry at a young age. Some drop out of school and rush to start families with few basic skills to earn a living.
"When burdened with the responsibilities of providing for their families, they lose hope and decide to take the rope," Mr Isaiah Michira added.
During the forum, elderly men decried the open selling of bhang and chang'aa in Keumbu and its outskirts.
Parents said drug traffickers were selling drugs to schoolchildren, calling on authorities to take action.
Mr Muthoka, the Keumbu assistant county commissioner, challenged parents and young people to face their tribulations head-on.
He promised to take tough action against illicit brewers and drug peddlers.
Mr Kilonzo, the Kisii Central deputy county commissioner, said the forums will be useful in drawing up a programme for psychosocial support.