What you need to know:
- Law-abiding Kenyans are perplexed, dismissing these reckless people as individuals with a death wish.
- He adds that abuse of alcohol is likely to be high for those in unhappy marriages.
When the government shut down bars and ordered Kenyans to be indoors by 7pm in an effort to check the spread of the coronavirus, a cross section of Kenyans who love their drink were horrified. What, pray, were they to do on Friday evenings and Saturdays when most let their hair down and ‘thank’ themselves for a week of hard work?
It almost went without saying that the government’s directive would not go down without a fight from people determined to have their beer, the law be damned.
As it is, in Nairobi alone, police records show that at least 300 people are arrested every week while out drinking past the dusk-to-dawn curfew. Not only that, they are doing it in the company of other law breakers, flouting the social-distancing rules.
Law-abiding Kenyans are perplexed, dismissing these reckless people as individuals with a death wish.
However, psychologists are not surprised that there are people risking their lives for a bottle of beer.
One of the explanations for this kind of irresponsible behaviour is stress, says Ms Sylvia Okwaro, a clinical psychologist. A majority of Kenyans, she says, are going through a stressful period characterised by a number of factors, the foremost being loss of income, which means they are unable to buy food for their families and pay rent, among other basic needs.
“This may prompt them to engage in maladaptive behaviour to cope with this stress that caught them unawares, such as going to a bar — which should not be operating in the first place — to drink, the aim to numb their fears,” says Ms Okwaro.
She added: “Before the virus came along, people would wake up and go to work, whether work was in an office, or running a business, now they wake up and have nowhere to go — people have lots of time in their hands and don’t know what to do with it.”
There is also the group that feels no one has the right to curtail their freedom.
So, what to do?
The clinical psychologist says there is a need for lots of psycho-education among Kenyans. “It is not enough to tell Kenyans that Covid-19 will kill them, they also need to know how to deal with the various psychological factors affecting them now because being individuals, we process the situations we find ourselves in differently.”
Mr John Gachoka, a counselling psychologist, said addiction is also to blame. “Addiction is a disease. They can’t help themselves, if they don’t drink, some of them will die.”
“Addicts need alcohol to be sober, without it, they cannot function, they are literally sick — at this stage, which we call the compulsive stage, they will do anything to get alcohol, including breaking the law and placing their lives and those of their loved ones in danger — frankly, the coronavirus is a non-issue to such individuals,” he says.
He adds that abuse of alcohol is likely to be high for those in unhappy marriages.
“And as parents drink at home, they are recruiting their children into the habit — it is a case of monkey see, monkey do for children, it doesn’t matter how old they are.”
But it need not come to this, he says. “The only solution is to face your problems. This is the time to mend your relationship with your children and wife if it is in disarray. There is no perfect person or family, and when you separate the addiction from the person, what you are left with is a good person. Let’s start from here,” he advises.