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Drunken youths and the mountain 

by kenya-tribune

Deputy President Rigathi Gachagua is not a man given to mincing his words, which is why he often gets into trouble with social media habitues.

Obviously, he does not have too much time to waste on diplomatic niceties on matters of national importance but as a result, sometimes his message, which may be well-meaning, is lost in translation, thus giving fodder to his professional detractors.

This seems to be what happened last week when he told county authorities in the Mt Kenya region to restrict the number of bars licensed to operate to one in every town. The reaction was immediate and mainly negative, especially from bar owners in the region.

He was to clarify later that he had been referring to the number of bars licensed to operate 24 hours which, in his view, are far too many.

This, of course, is not a secret. Too many dingy alcohol dens throughout the country were transformed into nightclubs by dint of creating room for kitchens—which were rarely ever used — on the pretence that they were also restaurants, and were therefore licensed to sell alcohol day and night.

But if you look at the matter from its right perspective, that is not even the issue. The major problem is the proliferation of illicit, often deadly, liquor all over the region, and what to do about it. 

I don’t purport to speak for the DP on this or any other issue, but it is a pity that a huge cross-section of Kenyans failed to look at the bigger picture or to understand why he should be so emotional on the matter of excessive alcoholism in the Mt Kenya region and the havoc it was wreaking on the region’s youthful generation.

A huge number of youths have turned into zombies during the day and useless baggage at night. The only question is why this has become so prevalent in the region for so many years.

Instead of carping about the DP trying to kill the businesses of alcohol retailers, perhaps it is time everyone asked whether he is not quite correct.

Many fellows in the region are still living with their parents well into middle age. Either they won’t start their own families because they cannot rise to the occasion when required due to daily inebriation, or because they don’t feel like working since their mothers will feed them anyway, or even because few women would be crazy to get hooked up with men who have no viable means of support.

As a result, they lose all sense of responsibility and loaf all day at trading centres waiting for bar-opening hours so they can cadge a few drinks from their more industrious pals who toil doing casual jobs.

Gainful employment 

On that note, perhaps lack of gainful employment may not even be the issue. 

As any small farmer will attest, some of these chaps simply don’t want to work; they would rather steal to get money for their deadly doses than work for it. Try hiring them as farm hands and you will have problems on your hands. 

As a result, most of the available menial jobs are taken up by people from outside the region who do not loaf all day and then complain the government has neglected them. 

This is more serious than it sounds. According to some of the more level-headed people who commented on the issue, the main problem is not even the proliferation of bars in any locality, but the pervading sense of hopelessness among youth.

“Even turning all bars into churches won’t save them”, says Mr Stephen Mutoro, a notable consumer rights defender, adding that the chaps have given up on life and their tomorrow doesn’t exist, so they take refuge in alcohol. But others rightly retort that joblessness among youth is not exclusive to Mt Kenya. How come youths in other areas do not turn into certifiable lushes who can’t survive without alcohol?

The other problem has to do with the easy availability of illicit liquor in the region. This historical oddity has never really been explained satisfactorily.

The past two regimes battled mightily to curb this pervasive menace, but both ostensibly gave up midstream, apparently defeated by a force mightier than state machinery—corrosive corruption among government administrators and law-keepers.

Still, one question remains: what are the sources of these addictive poisons? Who has been making millions out of the misery of youth? Once the government answers this question and deals with the mass producers, a solution will be found.

On a cantankerous note, perhaps it is the politicians who conspire to keep them that way because such hopeless fellows are easy to influence with propaganda or bribe with a few shillings during election campaign periods.

Whatever the case, one thing is clear; something has to be done to curb the appetite for cheap liquor in the Central region if we are to save the next generation, and it should not be left to the national government.

As the DP suggests, perhaps it is time the county authorities took up the role. It is in their interest.

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