‘Business of death’: Illicit liquor creeping back to Nakuru

A house belonging to a suspected brewer is broken into during a crackdown on illicit brew at Hodi hodi in Bahati Nakuru following the death of 10 people after consuming the brew on August 12, 2021

Photo credit: Cheboite Kigen | Nation Media Group

When former Rift Valley regional commissioner George Natembeya ordered a crackdown on illicit brew dens in Nakuru and other parts of the region in August 2021, much success was recorded in curbing the trade that many described as the “business of death”.

At the time, illicit liquor had killed 16 people in Nakuru and left many fighting for their lives in hospitals.

The first incident was on August 8, 2021, when 10 people died after consuming ‘poisoned’ illicit liquor in Hodi Hodi, Bahati, Nakuru County.

Two months later, in December 2021, six more people died after consuming illicit brew in Jawatho village, Njoro.

Several government officers, including chiefs, their assistants, a deputy county commissioner and a sub-county police commander, were interdicted, in a move Mr Natembeya said was intended to end the sale of illicit brew in the region.

On Mr Natembeya’s orders, illegal liquor dens were also stormed and destroyed.

But hardly one year later, illicit brews are creeping back to parts of Nakuru.

The Nation has established that enterprising traders in illicit brew have devised innovative and unconventional ways of doing business without raising suspicions.

Illicit brew merchants in areas such as Molo, Njoro, Bahati, Kuresoi South, Kuresoi North and parts of Nakuru city conduct their business in odd places like toilets and cemeteries, away from the eyes of state agencies.

Informal settlements in Nakuru city, Molo, Njoro, Gilgil and Naivasha have been hit hardest by the trade.

In Nakuru, the trade has retreated to slums of Kaptembwa, Kivumbini, Kwa Rhonda, Murogi, Kanyon, London and other densely populated areas where it is concealed from law enforcers.

In these areas, liquor is sold in sachets in dark alleys away from the police and administrators.

The situation is so bad that in the past one month, four people have died after consuming illicit brew in Molo sub-county alone.

Molo residents said illicit liquor had also turned dozens of young people into zombies.

“We have lost many of our people, especially the youth, who have died after consuming illicit brew. Most of the youth who engage in crime also do so under the influence of drugs and illicit brew," Mr John Maina, a resident of Molo, told the Nation.

The selling and consumption of illicit brew has increased the rate of crime in various parts of Molo, claimed Margaret Wambui, another resident.

“The crime rate in Njoro has shot upwards due to illicit brew. A few months ago, thieves stormed a funeral home, broke in and made away with valuables,” she said.

“We have witnessed several other incidents of insecurity in Molo municipality and far-flung areas.

“Many of the youth have died after consuming illicit liquor and left their young families suffering.”

Surprisingly, the most recent death was that of Charles Mwangi Kinyanjui, who was an assistant county commissioner in Vihiga.

Mr Kinyanjui, 30, died after a nightlong drinking spree in Molo. He was laid to rest last Saturday at his home in Elburgon.

“He was on a short leave to visit his family in Elburgon when he died. He is just an example of the worsening situation,” said David Maina, a neighbour.

Administrators and security agencies in Molo and other parts of Nakuru County are now in the spotlight.

With the problem of alcoholism reaching alarming levels in parts of the region, locals feel little has been done to check the vice, which has seen many young people drown in the cheap and readily available brews, turning them into zombies.

Residents who spoke to the Nation yesterday heaped blame on the police and national government administrators, saying they had done little to combat illegal alcohol.

Many said the police and local administrators are abetting the production and sale of illicit liquor, leading to the mushrooming of brew dens.

“Police and local administrators only react after these deaths. They move with zeal to fight the illicit brews for only a few days, but soon after, it becomes business as usual,” said Naom Njeri, a resident of Kabatini, Bahati.

But with reports that illicit brews had returned, Rift Valley Regional Commissioner Maalim Mohamed on Tuesday warned those abetting the sale and consumption of the alcohol.

The tough-talking administrator said regional security teams had formed multi-agency groups to fight the trade.

“We have been focusing on having a peaceful election and we succeeded. We will now not condone the sale and consumption of illicit liquor,” Mr Mohamed said.

“Chiefs, their assistants and police officers abetting the sale and consumption of illicit liquor will face the law.

Youth carry illicit brew they impound during a crackdown at Hodi hodi in Bahati Nakuru following the death of 10 people after consuming the brew on August 12, 2021

Photo credit: Illicit brew kills

He directed administrators, including chiefs, their assistants and county commissioners, in the 14 counties in the region to fight the trade jointly.

“We have devised ways of getting information about illicit brew dens and hideouts. We shall follow them and arrest them. We won’t relent in the fight against illicit brew,” he said.

It has emerged that many of the illegal alcoholic dens are located near police posts.

For instance, Kanyon in Nakuru city lies a few metres from the Bondeni Police Station.

Local leaders and youth groups have complained that illicit brews were back in the market, alleging that some were being licensed through backdoor means.

“It is sad that drugs and illicit liquor are turning our youth into zombies,” said Elburgon Ward Rep Njuguna Mwaura.

“I want to call upon [national government administrators] to take the fight against illicit brew and drugs seriously, otherwise it will finish our youth.

“I also ask church leaders to join the fight against illicit liquor to save our youth, who are our future.”

Civil society groups also warned about the killer brews.

“The business has left dirty marks inside the hearts of elderly parents who, contrary to their wishes, have buried their children [who died] after consuming the lethal substances. We want immediate action,” said Jesse Karanja of People Power Watch.