Kenya is pushing its East African neighbours to have uniform laws and establish a regional court for trying and convicting dealers of poisonous alcoholic drinks and narcotics as their production and consumption escalate.
Consumption of illicit liquor has claimed hundreds of lives in Kenya and rendered thousands of youth unproductive, prompting President Uhuru Kenyatta to decree two weeks ago that all outlets selling cheap, low-quality liquor be closed.
Since then citizens, elected officials and administrators have raided alcohol dens, raided and disabled distilleries, raising questions over the legality of the actions and the decree.
The government now wants its EAC partner states to come up with laws that would allow the seizing of properties owned by illicit liquor merchants and drug dealers. Such assets would be auctioned and the proceeds used to support rehabilitation of addicts.
The chairman of the National Authority for the Campaign against Alcohol and Drug Abuse (Nacada), John Mututho, said a draft policy will be presented to the East African Legislative Assembly to lobby for joint laws to fight against substance abuse.
“The proposals will, among other things, seek to strengthen health sectors’ response to the menace, enact drink driving policies and counter-measures as well as regulating availability and sale of alcohol. We will also be seeking solid pricing and tax policies to reduce harm,” said Mr Mututho.
Distilled beverages containing essential oils or chemical products, which are injurious to health, with the exception of aniseed, are prohibited and restricted goods under the EAC Customs Management Act.
He said methanol, one of the most lethal raw materials, is traded freely across EAC borders, hence there is a need for member countries to regulate its trade and its end use.
“Another raw material that has wreaked havoc in the region is molasses, which is being used in the manufacture of illicit liquor,” he added.
According to Mr Mututho the region has about 9,000 alcoholic brands on the market, most of them unlicensed.
World Health Organisation regional representative Falicitas Zawaira said the East African region had a very high alcohol consumption per drinker, a lifestyle that contributes to 2.2 per cent of annual deaths.
As a result, she said, the region continues to suffer negative consequences manifest in high risk sexual behaviour among alcoholics, which burdens the region with the HIV/Aids epidemic.
“The region also suffers from traumatic injuries and deaths while under the influence of alcohol; 25 to 30 per cent of hospital admissions are alcohol related,” she said.
Nyumba Kumi Security Initiative chairman Joseph Kaguthi said that for a long time, the region has been operating without any co-ordination regarding substance abuse and so there is a need to have regular and systematic surveillance of production and consumption of alcohol.
“This region is targeted for marketing illicit alcohol and other substances due to weak regulatory systems. The end result is poverty, crime and diseases directly related to intoxicated societies,” he said.