News comes like a bad hangover - Monocolumn | Monocle


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8 December 2010

Kenyans like their beer. Tusker, the most popular brand, advertises under the banner “My Country, My Beer”. Every night of the week bars stay open until the last man – and it’s always a man – leaves. On Sundays, families head to “nyama choma” joints, eating roast goat and sharing a few beers.

That may be all about to change.

A new law has been introduced this week which – if fully implemented – could completely change Kenya’s relationship with alcohol. Bars will have to stop serving at 23.00. Supermarkets will be banned from selling any alcohol at all. And children will no longer be allowed in bars, calling time on those Sunday afternoons.

There are good reasons for the crackdown. Hospitals, already overstretched, often have to deal with drink-related injuries. Domestic violence, a sadly common crime, is exacerbated by drunk husbands. Drink driving plays a large part in the country’s extraordinarily high death rate on the roads. Some 13,000 people are killed every year on Kenya’s roads.

“In some parts of Kenya alcohol has become a social problem,” said Kenya’s government spokesman, Alfred Mutua. “The sale of alcohol has been abused.”

But to many Kenyans the new law seems a little excessive. Take the clause of banning children from entering licenced premises. After church on Sundays families tend to decamp to the nearest “nyama choma” joint, many of which now provide playgrounds for children.

Last Sunday at the Garden, a popular outdoor bar in the middle-class area of Lavington, children played on the swings, messed around in the sandpit and hurled themselves head first down the slide, while their parents worked their way through a crate of Tuskers and a plate or two of roast goat.

Whether the new law will work is another matter. Last time the government tried to stop Kenyans drinking quite so much it ended in an embarrassing court defeat. A breathalyser was introduced in 2005, just before Christmas, in an attempt to crack down on drink driving. Kenya’s notoriously corrupt police force saw it as a new way to make money, setting up roadblocks near bars and pocketing as many fines as they could from inebriated drivers. Then someone asked whether drink driving was actually illegal. A court case ensued and a judge ruled that while dangerous driving was an offence, there was no law preventing anyone driving while drunk so long as they weren’t driving dangerously.

Hotels and high-end bars, worried that tourists won’t be able to have a beer on the veranda at lunchtime, have already expressed concern that the new law is too draconian. The government has given alcohol sellers a nine-month grace period to get in line.


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