What you need to know:
- There was an outcry from the young people in the area who, over the years, began to question why alcohol was banned.
Locals who voted against alcohol businesses called on both the national and county governments to increase funding for youth activities to empower the idle.
In 1976, elders in Lelan, Pokot South sub-County in West Pokot County, voted to ban the brewing and consumption of alcohol by locals.
This was under the leadership of former Paramount Chief John Muok. Since then, over the last four decades, Lelan has remained an alcohol-free zone and the locals are used to it, making it a unique area.
Those who wish to quench their thirst must travel to the towns of Makutano, Chepareria, Ortum, Kacheliba and Elgeyo Marakwet.
Last week, however, Lelan, administratively known as Pokot South Constituency, revisited the 1976 decision, using the same electoral strategy. The locals were involved and the elders teamed up with women to defeat the youth and vote against the brewing and sale of alcohol.
This time the vote also included a decision on whether to allow gambling and pool games, which the elders won with a resounding "no".
Last week's vote took place in three locations: Kabichbich, Tapach and Sonday. The elders won with 171 votes to the young people's 41.
The verdict was recorded in a Memorandum of Understanding (MoU) in the presence of government officials and community members. Police authorities and provincial administration officials signed the MoU, which will help with enforcement, and a copy was deposited in the office of the sub-county commissioner.
The repeat vote after more than four decades was prompted by a push by the youth who wanted bars and clubs opened in the area. Gambling and pool games have also recently sprung up in the area.
There was an outcry from the young people in the area who, over the years, began to question why alcohol was banned. They decided to petition the local government to allow the nightclubs, only to be met with a rebuff.
The voting forums were chaired by Deputy County Commissioner (DCC) David Bowen, who supported the local people's decisions, saying they would go a long way to instilling family values and reducing crime.
According to DCC Bowen, the local administration was forced to hold public participation after young people complained that they were being denied the opportunity to enjoy themselves by playing pool and drinking alcohol.
“As government representatives, we were not siding with any of the two groups, but what they have passed is what we shall ensure is implemented. We are here to ensure that residents have their will respected,” the DCC said, noting that the residents had their reasons for opposing such businesses in their area.
William Ruto, 53, a resident of Lelan, said: “Alcohol was banned a long time ago, but we have seen pool games being introduced and its effects are proving to be detrimental. So as elders, we advocate for its ban in this area just like alcohol since many youths have abdicated their responsibilities, spending most of their precious time in pool dens, resulting in broken families.”
He said he had grown up knowing that alcohol consumption was banned in his area and was comfortable with it, noting that the status quo should be maintained.
Ruto said youths have been gathering in social joints, leading to fights and the emergence of criminal activities.
Locals who voted against the businesses called on both the national and county governments to increase funding for youth activities to empower the idle.
Michael Lopokoit from Kaptabuk said the youths were selling family property and wasting the proceeds on pool games and gambling, causing misery in their families. “Elders will not watch the youth being ruined without taking decisive initiatives,” he said.
Pokot South sub-County Police Commander Said Shungi noted that although the forum had witnessed heated discussions between the youth and elders, it should not be a source of division among the locals. He said the area should continue to enjoy the peace it has enjoyed over the years.
Reflecting on the days before the initial ban in 1976, former Paramount Chief John Muok said many residents had, at the time, become so addicted to alcoholic brews that they were neglecting their responsibilities and slowing down the region's growth.
“We summoned the then Pokot District Commissioner Francis Cherogony for a public baraza at Kabichbich, and all elders in Lelan. The DC told the people who supported the brewing and sale of alcohol to stand on his right and those against it on his left. Those against were the majority—200 against 30,” Muok, 76, explained.
Now the chairman of the Pokot Council of Elders, he explained the measures taken to help farmers take out loans to improve their economic fortunes – a plan that worked well until some farmers started defaulting on loan repayments due to alcohol abuse, instead of investing and using their earnings properly.
According to the elder, the situation got so bad that men were selling their animals and land just to pay off the bills from their drinking binges.
“We voted against alcohol and it became the law of the land. It is now over four decades since we enforced the ban in Pokot South,” he said, explaining that elders were worried that the brews would drown the county and leave residents destitute because of the hours spent in drinking dens.
“Cases of family wrangles had increased at an alarming rate and elders unanimously agreed to ban bars in the region. We were happy when the majority of the community supported the ban on bars and alcohol brewing in this region,” said Muok.
Fast forward to 2023 and the elders say the economy of Pokot South has grown, with the larger constituency even boasting of being the bread basket of West Pokot County.
“Our area has been sober for many years. The community fears violating the decision because they fear being cursed or being chased away,” he said.
The community respects and abides by the decisions taken because elders are respected in the region.
Muok praised the government for respecting their decision, saying it had helped to spur development in the region.
“We thank security officers for respecting our decision since they have not interfered with the elders' decision set 48 years ago,” he said.
Ann Cheruto, a resident, praised the elders' decision and said the ban had allowed residents to farm.
“The whole county depends on us to feed them. Bars and alcohol dens would have barred many youths from engaging in farming,” she said.
Another resident, Kenneth Lomoipong, said that after the ban, the community had formed dairy cooperatives and this had helped residents to send their children to school.
“The ban helped in establishing milk cooling plants and this has led to the setting up of a milk processing plant by the county government in this region,” he said.
Pokot South has favourable climatic conditions for both crop and livestock production. Farmers in the region grow onions, cabbage, Irish potatoes and pyrethrum, and are involved in dairy farming. There are over 30 milk cooling plants.
The ban on alcohol has also helped to increase school enrolment.
Pokot South MP David Pkosing strongly supported the recent vote, saying it would go a long way in improving security and promoting education in the area.
The lawmaker said that they also voted to abolish gambling and pool games because idle youths were wasting their time in these entertainment joints.
“If you want to drink, go and do it from another place. We don't condone the use of liquor in Lelan because we don’t want to tamper with the security of our place for leisure,” he said.
Pkosing added that the Pokot community respects its cultural values and cannot go against the decisions of the elders who have banned any form of alcohol in the area.
“The community agreed to close all bars and drinking dens in the area. We don't want alcohol to spoil school-going children at an early age, even if they have legal licences to operate. Our security is more important than their bars,” he said.
Pkosing said the community agreed not to compromise with anyone on this decision, and that anyone found breaking the community’s law would face the full consequences of their actions.