Cases of killer alcoholic beverages in Kenya are deadly common. However, as in Uganda, the core issue here is alcoholism: our people, especially men, are drinking themselves to early grave. And it does not matter whether their drink of choice is legal, bottled or bootlegged; it’s the frequency and high dependency on it that raises alarm.
In early every village in Uganda today, there is a little trading center with numerous outlets for alcohol. These joints operate from morning to mid-night and beyond, without any formal licensing or inspections.
Back in early 1980’s, then-Zambian President Kenneth Kaunda repeatedly cried out in public as he lamented the rate of alcoholism in his country. Unfortunately, Zambians never felt embarassed enough by his public display of helplessness, and today, Zambia still retains the dubious title of the “Most Drunkard Country” in Africa. Next to alcohol is tobacco; ciggarates also are sending our young to early grave.
I don’t believe that abolition of poll tax left Ugandans with disposable income, or eliminated the incentive for work hard work, and thus gave men more free time that they now squander in booze and sex.
Rather, using your own timeline for this epidemic, I see a correlation between the systematic breakdown of our society and alcoholism. When folks are depressed, they resort to stimulants to numb the pain. These come in the form of alcohol, drugs or sex.
As Ugandans started dying untimely deaths in large numbers – under Amin, Obote, and then Museveni – we resorted to drugs and alcohol to seek peace with our losses. Unfortunately, the more we lost our loved ones, the more we drunk.
Coupled with general helplessness we faced – no jobs, limited sources of support – it’s entirely plausible that we have raised a generation that might not see the age of 50.
Communities that experience these kinds of hardships will also resort to some form of religious identification to seek Godly intervention; thus the mushrooming of churches in Uganda. Even here in US, the more depressed a community, the more churches they have.
What we sorely need in Uganda today is mental health service. We have all sorts of suppressed conditions that have turned into serious mental disorders. Community counselling is a good start here.
Until then, let’s be prepared to watch in despair as our boys, and now even girls, continue to kill themselves.