UDA pressures Mt Kenya governors to wage war on alcohol abuse

Government has launched the war on alcohol use.

Photo credit: Pool

Recently, the war on alcohol abuse has become a powerful voter attracting tool in Mt Kenya region and is now being viewed as one of things that will determine the fate of first-term governors seeking a second term in 2027.

This follows a new strong ‘activism’ by President William Ruto, Deputy President Rigathi Gachagua and the National Authority for the Campaign Against Alcohol and Drug Abuse (Nacada, in collaboration with the, piling pressure on governors to reduce number of bars in their counties.

“This is not an idle directive…mark you, the president’s United Democratic Alliance (UDA) and affiliated parties will make sure that they do not support re-election of politicians who do not support the war against reckless alcoholism and narcotics,” DP Gachagua said in Murang’a County on August 5.

While the President’s UDA party believes that it has the goodwill of majority voters and the clergy in the region regarding the fight against alcoholism, past profiles on politicians who took alcohol head on do not serve as inspiration for these governors.

Pioneer Nacada chairman Joseph Kaguthi told Nation.Africa that “alcohol is believed to have compromised Naivasha politician John Mututho’s political career. He came up with the Mututho Laws to limit liquor trade and also largely contributed to piling up of anti-President Uhuru Kenyatta passions in Mt Kenya when he launched a war against alcohol in 2015.”

He added that alcoholics are also perceived to reward those in the business of minding their thirst affairs “like in picking Keroche brewer Tabitha Karanja as Nakuru Senator”.

However, Mr Kaguthi argued, “those are just escapist justifications with no scientific evidence, since alcohol remains widely unwanted by majority in the society”.     

On August 8, at Sagana State Lodge, President William Ruto in a meeting with governors reportedly read the riot act to governors, accusing some of ignoring the order to reduce bar licences in line with his administration’s policy.

The governors threatened in this onslaught are Nairobi’s Johnson Sakaja, Kiambu’s Kimani wa Matangi, Nakuru’s Susan Kihika, Murang’a’s Irungu Kang’ata, Joshua Irungu of Laikipia, Nyandarua’s Kiarie Badilisha, Meru’s Kawira Mwangaza and Embu’s Cecily Mbarire.

Kirinyaga’s Anne Waiguru and her Nyeri and Tharaka Nithi counterparts Mutahi Kahiga and Muthomi Njuki respectively will not be seeking re-election.

Mr Gachagua has since declared that “many people opine that fighting alcohol is a risky political undertaking and can erode a politician’s popularity”.

“Personally, I and the president are not concerned about our popularity dipping…We want to preserve generations and if that is where my popularity will collapse, so be it…We cannot sit idly as the future of this nation drinks itself silly to ill health and death”.

On August 10, second lady Dorcas Rigathi was in Kahuhia Girls High School where she claimed that there were bars in the region that were organising drinking binges for students, citing Murang’a and Nyeri counties.

“It is not amusing that unscrupulous bar owners in pursuit of profits are now targeting our school children…our pocket money that we parents give our schooling sons and daughters is now being trapped to be spent in bars,” she said.

While in Murang’a County, Interior CS Kithure Kindiki on August 11 announced that “we are not amused that three months later since we made it a government position that we reduce [the] number of bars in the society we are still being seen to dilly dally”.

He said there were bars operating within precincts of learning institutions and gave a one-week ultimatum for area security bosses to close them up.

A crosscheck by Nation.Africa in several areas found bars close to schools still operating uninterrupted.

“We need Prof Kindiki here at Muthithi Secondary School in Kigumo Constituency to see that all four bars are within a radius of 50 metres from both a secondary and a primary school,” said Muthithi Residents Association Chairman Joseph Kariuki.

On August 27, Nacada released a statement saying that “the government’s noble cause of reducing uncensored accessibility of alcohol stands greatly compromised because our crosscheck indicates that all the bars that had been ruled as unfit to be licensed for the 2023 financial year have been approved”.

The statement added that “security agents are saying their hands are tied since they cannot raid or order licensed establishments to close down…This is the challenge where governors have adamantly refused to arm security agents with justifications to enforce the president’s directive”.

As the debate rages, with the National Intelligence Service (NIS) discreetly compiling lists of drug dealers and unscrupulous alcohol dealers and passing them over to the president and his deputy, the affected governors feel set up.

“The president led us in giving out ambitious pre-election promises…We need revenues to support those promises. The lowest annual revenue from bars in these Mt Kenya counties stand at Sh75 million…In total, the region rakes in at least Sh1. 5 billion from bars only,” said a governor who asked not to be named.

The governor added that besides the estimated 200,000 jobs that bars create for the non-skilled in the region, it is hard to get a formula of criminalising legally recognised trade without the Interior ministry giving out legally backed guidelines.

“A bar has been in operation for the past 20 years and all of a sudden we are being told to withdraw its licence. Those issuing those directives appear ignorant of the fact that we are being challenged in court on legality of how we are seeking to withdraw licences,” said the governor.

These intrigues have also threatened governors’ popularity ratings given that some of the bar owners are politicians, security personnel, powerful power brokers, and some being their supporters.

But Prof Kindiki has since argued that “the government cannot always sit back to look at limiting excuses and citing them as defence.”

“We are government because the buck stops with us and we must always look at avenues that afford us progressive and transformative service by complementing each other”.

As the Interior ministry seeks to coordinate the war and salvage it from collapse, Nation.Africa has noted that it has detailed its Sub-County Security Committees to be holding sittings and draw minutes that rule some problematic bars as a threat to security, hence justifying ordering them closed.

“In Murang’a South for example, we have mapped several bars that are operating within 300 metres radius of schools. We also have profiled bars that have been reported to be notorious in breaking the law. We have bars where even murders have happened inside them. We are moving out to close them up regardless of whether they have county licences,” said Murang’a South Security boss Gitonga Murungi.

Kenya Cultural Centre Board Chair Kung'u Muigai said, “We must rescue the Mt Kenya region from those who package death in bottles and sachets and who have made our men to be laughing stock as women take to streets to protest against diminished vitality among their husbands.”

“Alcoholism is one factor that is making the Gikuyu, Embu and Meru Association (Gema) to rapidly lose its critical mass to a point we are being projected to be relegated to third block in numbers in the next 15 years,” he added.