Murang'a bar owners yet to heed Gachagua order

Rigathi Gachagua

Deputy President Rigathi Gachagua. Government officials in Murang'a have developed a mechanism to adhere to his directive on one bar per town.

Photo credit: Joseph Kanyi I Nation Media Group

Murang'a County Security Committee has revealed how it will reduce licensed bars by half as per Deputy President Rigathi Gachagua's order.

The move will see more than 2,000 new bar licences applicants denied approval and the current 2,291 trimmed to 1,000.

Already, new applicants for 2023 licences are 4,647 with Maragua constituency having 985, Kiharu 952, Gatanga 842, Kandara 597, Kigumo 573, Kangema 412 and Mathioya 406.

Those to remain in operation will have rankings like how hospitals are categorised--From Level 1 to 6.

County Commissioner Karuku Ngumo said the task at hand is about two levels of the fight against killer brews--ridding the market of substandard liquor and ensuring we remain with bars that reflect the aspirations of a working nation.

Village bars will be Level 1 bars, followed by those in small towns at level 2, medium towns (level 3), major towns (level F4) with nightclubs being level 5. Level 6 will be reserved for exotic clubs.

The drive is expected to attract spirited resistance from bar owners but Mr Ngumo warned that "there will be no favourites in this restructuring".

Briefing the media on behalf of the working committee on bars, Murang'a South Deputy County Commissioner Gitonga Murungi said, "bar owners should ready themselves for a crackdown".

He said several parameters will be used to determine the number of bars to apply.

"We will hold public participation with members of the public as well as the owners to develop working guidelines. People will be critical in the drive," he said.

He added that in all levels of bars to be licensed, none will be allowed to exist near schools, hospitals and places of worship.

Major towns

"We will not have nightclubs in villages, small and medium towns and in major towns, only one will be licensed," Mr Murungi said.

He said bars with a history of impunity will have their licenses cancelled.

"If you know you have been at loggerheads with the law where you have repeatedly been arrested for flouting the operation rules, selling substandard brands and being a hub for crime, simply forget your license," he said.

County police boss Ali Nuno said the county government has been licensing bars in a haphazard way and moving forward it should reevaluate.

"Once we raid these bars for justifiable reasons about consumer and society protection, their owners brandish all manner of licenses. This has complicated our work a great deal," he said.

Mr Ngumo said the liqour licensing court will be reconstituted afresh and all critical stakeholders will be included.

"We want security to be in that court. We want public health officer in it. We want women and clergy...That decision to licence a bar will on raw merit while adhering to population restriction," Mr Ngumo said, adding that "there will be no in-between power plays".

The challenges that have perennially been cited by the security officers on policing bars include politicians, government officers and tycoons coming together to form a protective cartel.

This came as area Liquor Investors and Workers Union chair Agnes Njoki said "we will go to court if the government attempts to discriminate against us".

Ms Njoki said "it is not illegal as per our law to apply for bar licences and also to trade in in liquor".

She accused both President William Ruto and Mr Gachagua of pursuing a populist line not backed by both law and common sense.

"The sector directly employs hundreds of thousands non-skilled parents. What is required of them is to regulate the alcohol standards...You cannot burn the granary to rid it of rats," she said.

However, she agreed that criminal licenses are many "where some are illegally awarded nightclub status others operating without any approval and many others flouting the law with impunity".

In 2007, then Naivasha MP John Mututho came up with a law that was popularly known as "Mututho Laws" to streamline the sector and since then, his political fortunes dipped.

In 2015, President Uhuru Kenyatta said that Mt Kenya region had a drinking problem and ordered a serious crackdown.

“We cannot allow this to continue”, said Mr Kenyatta when he met politicians from the central region at State House, Nairobi and proceeded to announce a crackdown on what he described as “the business of death.”

Mr Kenyatta said that nobody has a licence to kill other Kenyans "and that is why all these businesses selling moonshine must be closed.” 

He proceeded to influence closure of manufacturers who were suspected to be behind substandard brews in the market.

The fight marked part of his political woes with the region, him being accused of being insensitive to the plight of investors. The fight against manufacturers of moonshine were claimed to have formed part of the rebellion that saw Mr Kenyatta's support for Mr Raila Odinga as his Statehouse successor rejected in Mt Kenya.

The pattern puts Mr Gachagua in an interesting political path in the region said to love bars and their alcohol Ina passionate way, regardless the obvious serious effects on area wealth and health.

But Murang'a Woman MP Betty Maina says "this is a battle we must win this time round since death, poverty and violence that we have witnessed as effects of addiction has made us wiser now".

She said, "there is no economic emancipation programme in the bottom-up maxim that will ever work in an environment of alcoholic and drug abuse wrecks. What we will reap in it are tears and anguish".

"I have personally been engaging the security agents in Murang'a to help us fight this war. We are tired of being witness to our productive people killing themselves and annihilating their own population," she said.

She added that "even if we wanted, such a people on self-destruction mode cannot be beneficiaries of economic revolution that we aspire as a bottom-up government".

She said that alcoholism and drug abuse are the two-leading cause of family unit instability, suicides, mental health challenges and brutality.