Drinking now the official pastime for Kenyan men

Drinking now the official pastime for many Kenyan men.

Photo credit: Photo I Pool

What you need to know:

  • But the bare fact is that alcohol is destroying, especially the younger generation of men.
  • Due to conjugal failure, a popular jibe is that in some areas, newborns look like either the local pastor or police commander.

One would be forgiven for thinking that Kenyan men are being paid to drink alcohol, going by the proliferation of bars, liquor stores and drinking dens in both rural villages and urban settlements.

In fact, drinking can be called the official pastime for the Kenyan man. The punctuality with which they report to drinking dens and the alacrity with which they boast of bingeing exploits is simply legendary. But the bare fact is that alcohol is destroying, especially the younger generation of men.

At a funeral last weekend in one village in Siaya, it was cited that five deaths of young unmarried men have occurred in similar fashion in the recent past, all related to alcohol in one way or another. In reaction, the community started confronting brewers, sellers and consumers of the dangerous liquor with an ultimatum to stop the business.

In the traditional set-up, young men would be so busy with their livelihoods that they would have no time to patronise drinking dens. But today, a breed of them spends all waking hours drinking—a betrayal of African masculinity, which requires men to be economically productive and self-reliant providers for their families.

The net effects of drunk idleness are food insecurity, transfer of men’s roles to women, domestic violence and pilferage.

Global statistics show that men are the main abusers of alcohol, although women are catching up. Some scientific studies hypothesise that men are more predisposed to abuse of alcohol because their brains generate more dopamine than those of women.


Dopamine is a chemical that stimulates feelings of pleasure activated by rewarding experiences. The studies also show that the male body has a higher natural capacity to metabolise alcohol, hence men’s proclivity to be heavy drinkers. But abuse of alcohol is also a function of social construction of gender – how men are brought up.

Socio-culturally, consumption of alcohol is a demonstration of masculinity, a performance to express total freedom, display might, exhibit machismo and out-compete peers. This informs the famed “one for the road” culture that a man can always have another drink offered by a colleague even when he is obviously inebriated.

There is also a tacit belief that the ability to hold copious amounts of alcohol is a virtue, hence the quest to be the “last man standing” on a binge drinking night. Related is the sense of invincibility, captured in the phrase “the car knows the way home” phrase. The reality is that for many men, “home” ends up being premature pushing up of daisies.

Various masculinity myths encourage consumption of alcohol among men. One is that alcohol is an aphrodisiac. Science shows otherwise, that although alcohol reduces inhibitions thereby boosting sexual confidence, it is actually a depressant that, to paraphrase the late Phillip Ochieng’, increases the desire but takes away the performance.

Two is that consuming certain brands of alcohol assures the conception of sons, which is informed by the cultural premium on male children. Three is that men who do not drink are effeminate, which creates peer pressure to conform.

The negative effects of alcohol abuse are obvious: crime; impaired judgement; family disintegration; wastage of resources; low savings; addiction; violence; promiscuity; accidents; poor performance at work; chronic illnesses; death; and conjugal failure.

Of the last, a popular jibe is that in some parts of Kenya, newborns look like either the local pastor or police commander, thanks to alcohol! This is certainly not a compliment to men from these communities. And enraged women from the same have invaded drinking dens to flush out men and destroy the brewing equipment.

Prof Martin Njoroge, of the United States International University, writes that consumption of alcohol in traditional society was regulated by strict rules and values. These have been eroded by modernisation and urbanisation that glorify alcohol and encourage its consumption.

He says alcohol has become a mandatory ingredient of “ceremonies such as weddings, funerals and circumcisions”. This has legitimised, normalised and romanticised its consumption among all age groups.

In a conversation between a parishioner and a priest of Italian extraction, the latter sought to demonstrate our obsession with drinking. “A white man can stay with alcohol in the same house the whole night,” he said.

“But an African cannot. He either finishes the alcohol or the alcohol finishes him”.

The racial undertone aside, the statement aptly demonstrates the problem of obsession with alcohol, a fight to see who will blink first. The answer is rather obvious.

Abuse of alcohol, especially among men, has reached epidemic proportions that require social re-engineering and decisive action at all levels. Men and women of courage must stand up to this scourge without any further delay.

The writer is an international gender and development consultant and scholar. ([email protected])