Protests in Murang'a over closure of bars

Bar owners

Bar owners during a meeting in Murang;a Town. They protested the reduction of the bars by 70 percnet by the county government.

Photo credit: Martin Mwaura I Nation Media Group

There was drama in Murang'a after thousands of bar owners protested a move by the county government to reduce the number of bars by more than 70 per cent.

The traders claimed that the county government had not conducted a fair process of vetting and licensing bars, adding that it was riddled with corruption.

Deputy President Rigathi Gachagua's war on alcoholism appears to be taking a turn for the worse as thousands of bar owners have demanded that the closed bars be licensed.

Led by Bar Hotel and Liquor Traders Association chairman Simon Njoroge, the operators, who met county and national government officials in Murang'a town, vowed to push for the licensing of all bars, saying not a single outlet should be closed down.

Mr Njoroge said all the bars had been operating legally and in accordance with the law, and therefore the county had no basis to deny them licences, saying the closure of their outlets had disadvantaged them and put thousands of their workers out of work.

He also said the number of rejected applications clearly showed that the process was flawed, adding that the county should repeat the whole process.

Last week, the Murang'a County Government approved only 1,032 of the 2,971 liquor outlets that applied for licences.

Online portal

According to Governor Irungu Kang'ata, only 2,108 bars that applied for licences were inspected for approval, with those whose bars were rejected being asked to appeal through an online portal.

But the traders, who addressed Deputy County Secretary Bernard Wanyoike, expressed their displeasure with the process, saying the fight against alcoholism had turned into a fight against legitimate business.

"We know that there was no inspection of the bars and the approval of the licences was done after giving out money to those involved," said Mr Njoroge.

"If the county doesn't want to license all the bars, it should close them all down, but we won't allow just a few to operate," he added, noting that there were more than 4,000 bars in the area.

He said most of the traders would be impoverished because they depended on the business for their livelihoods.

The association's secretary general, Boniface Gachoka, alleged that there was a lot of political interference in the vetting.

Mr Gachoka said the association would seek legal redress over the matter, adding that the process had been botched.

"We will go to court and seek justice and ensure that all bars get their licences to operate," Mr Gachoka said.

He said instead of reducing the number of bars, the government should focus on fighting illicit brewing and counterfeit liquor, which had caused the menace in the Central region.

Some of the traders lamented that they have loans to service and if they close their businesses, they will lose their property to auctioneers.

They also said they have employees who will be rendered jobless if they are forced out of business.

Kenya Kwanza

Former Maragua MP Kamande Mwangi said the people of Murang'a had voted overwhelmingly for Kenya Kwanza leaders and that the same leaders had turned against them.

"We are just traders who make a living from selling alcohol, which is licensed by the government. Why are we being punished? They should know that we have the capacity to vote them out just like we voted them in," said the former MP who runs a club in Makuyu.
If the bars are not licensed, he said, there would be county-wide protests as business owners fight for their rights, saying they have families to feed.

Mr Maina Baba, another trader, said most of the clubs were operating on credit and risked being auctioned if their licences were not approved.

"I had 14 workers in my shop. If it closes, what will happen to their families? It will only increase crime because people will be hungry," he lamented.

"We were told to pay political debts, which we did, and voted for the current leaders, but that only got us into trouble. We are asking you to consider us as we have considered you or we'll fight you next time," he added.

It took patience for the deputy county secretary to persuade the angry, disgruntled traders to follow the appeal process when it was revealed that Sh10,000 was charged for an appeal.

A shouting match ensued and the deputy county secretary rescinded the decision.

"An appeal is part of the licensing process, which is still ongoing because licences have not been issued yet. You will not be charged for appealing the liquor board's decision to revoke your licence," said Mr Wanyoike. 

He was at pains to explain that the inspection was done by sub-county liquor committees, which have only one county representative.

Mr Andrew Thuo, another bar owner, said some bars were being targeted because of their owners' political affiliations.

He said the fight against alcoholism was being used to benefit unscrupulous traders while legitimate ones were being targeted.

He quipped: "Since this fight started, we have seen some bad brands of liquor flooding the market that had been eradicated before. The government knows the producers of substandard liquor. Why not shut them down?"

Mr Njoroge said the county government had carried out mass cancellation of bars as a way of collecting revenue through appeals.

He insisted that his association, through its internal mechanism, had kept its members in check and ensured that they only sold legal liquor.