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Last Updated: Thursday, 21 February 2008, 05:23 GMT
Kenyan beer stirs Obamamania
Tom Oladipo
BBC News, Nairobi

Senator beer
The Senator beer was named by drinkers after Barack Obama

The close battle between Barack Obama and Hillary Clinton to secure the Democratic nomination for the US presidency is captivating many across the world.

The charismatic Illinois senator is drawing big crowds at campaign rallies in a phenomenon known as Obamamania.

Kenya, where Senator Obama's father came from, is not immune from this either, but here, another Obama is riding on the crest of a wave.

This one, though, comes in the form of a brown bottle and is called Senator beer.

In many slums and low income areas, people who find beer too expensive often resort to cheap home brews.

But these potent drinks which include traditional spirits known as chang'aa have on a several occasions proved lethal.

Some consumers have died and others have been blinded. It's believed brewers spike the beer with deadly additives.

So one brewery, East African Breweries Limited (EABL), spotted a market opportunity for a cheap beer that is also safe.

The result: Senator Keg beer, known simply by drinkers as "Obama".

The beer became an instant hit when it was launched in 2004 at about the same time as Barack Obama was elected as senator of Illinois.

Fears of alcoholism

The product has proved as popular as the US senator in the intervening years, but with more beer for less money there are fears it could contribute to a rise in alcoholism in Kenya.

EABL's Corporate Affairs Director Ken Kariuki rejects this.

He says that normally poorer people are consuming drinks with an alcohol content of around 40%. By contrast Senator beer is only 6%.

Barack Obama in front of the White House Jan 2007
Barack Obama could be the first black president of the United States

"So you are almost forcing a responsible consumption of alcohol, only this time you're packaging the product in a more affordable and hygienic manner," Mr Kariuki explains.

But others are worried that cheap beer can create more alcoholics.

Dr Frank Njenga, chairman of the National Campaign against Drug Abuse, says more needs to be done to tackle alcohol abuse.

"Alcohol problems require the intervention by all the players, chief of which is the government through its agencies and also those in the industry," he says.

Dr Njenga, who is also a prominent psychiatrist in Nairobi, says everyone must work together to combat the rising trend of alcohol consumption.

Certainly bar owners are not complaining.

On a good day, John Kameta, who owns the Bro Jimmoh bar in Nairobi, can make up to $100 from sales of Senator beer.

"With the high cost of living, people from across all income brackets are turning to Obama beer each evening," he says.

So what do Kenyans make of the new liquid Obama?

"I like the way it is served - from a jug, instead of a bottle. Most people think you get a larger serving from a jug," one devotee told me.

So while the outcome of the US elections may not matter as much in Kenya as it does in America, here every visit to the local watering hole is a vote of confidence in their Obama.

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