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AfricaLive Tuesday, 27 August, 2002, 10:36 GMT 11:36 UK
Kenya's love of 'poison'
Alcohol is now a major part of Nairobi's economy

Many years ago football was a craze in Kenya - but the new craze is alcohol.

Indeed, partaking of alcohol has become almost a national pastime, and teetotallers are an endangered species in this country of 30 million.

Many Kenyans have been driven to heavy drinking by the ever declining value of the Kenya shilling, and a poor economy has forced many Kenyans to develop what can only be described as highly innovative ways of getting drunk.

It works like this. A Kenyan leaves his or her place of work and visits a den where a lady known only as Mama so-and-so serves them several glasses of a lethal concoction.

They then walk to their local bar, ask for a couple of beers, and go on to pretend that they got drunk on bottled beer.

A Kenyan who drinks bottled beer is regarded as civilised.

The so-called "civilised" Kenyans swallowed 17.6 million metric cases of beer from Kenya Breweries Ltd alone in the year 2000-2001.

This might look staggering, but it averaged a decline of 4% compared to the previous year.

The decline was occasioned not just by the country's poor economic performance, but also the liberalisation of the beer market, which saw new players enter into the local beer market, such as South African Breweries Ltd.

Illegal brew

Figures on the drinking trends of the "uncivilised" Kenyans are not readily available.

Woman brewing grain beer
A woman makes grain beer - mild but illegal
But when poor - and sometimes not-so-poor - Kenyans go looking for what they call happiness, they end up swallowing illegally brewed and often poisonous liquor which maims and kills thousands each year.

The most common nowadays is "kumi kumi", which means "ten ten" in Kiswahili, a reference to its selling price of ten shillings a glass.

Made from sorghum, maize or millet, the alcoholic drink is common among Kenyans living in the country's low-income urban and rural areas, who are too poor to afford a half litre of conventional legal beer, which costs 55 shillings.

The additives in the poisonous liquor vary. For example, "kumi kumi" contains methanol.

Other additives include car battery acid and formalin - a poisonous chemical used to preserve dead bodies in mortuaries.


In November 2000, at least 140 Kenyans died, many went blind and hundreds others were hospitalized after consuming "kumi kumi" in the poor neighbourhoods of Mukuru Kwa Njenga and Mukuru Kaiyaba, both located on the outskirts of Nairobi's Industrial area.

relatives await news
More than 400 fell victim to an adulterated illicit drink in Nairobi in Nov 2000
And the Mukuru deaths were not an isolated case. In 1999, about 100 villagers in Mai Mahiu, 60 kilometres west of Nairobi, died as a result of drinking adulterated alcohol.

The police have tried, sometimes half-heartedly, to crack down on the brewing and consumption of illicit liquor but with minimal success.

Religious have cried foul from the pulpits. But Kenyan partakers of alcohol seem to shout back at them from the mountain top. The message - We ain't quitting.

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See also:

24 Nov 00 | Africa
27 Aug 02 | AfricaLive
22 Aug 02 | AfricaLive
08 Jul 02 | AfricaLive
04 Jul 02 | AfricaLive
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