Across the African continent the legal age for consumption and purchase of alcohol is 18 years old. This is generally the case worldwide too.
Kenya has been nicknamed “the drinking nation” and this is not a very cool reputation especially if alcohol is one of the leading causes of road accidents. According to the road safety report for financial year 2016/17 by the National Transport and Safety Authority, 91% of the traffic crashes were attributed to human related factors. They included; speeding, reckless driving, dangerous overtaking, drink driving, drink walking, drink riding, motorists using unfamiliar roads during weekends and lack of use of helmets.
Access to alcohol is fairly easy in Kenya. You can buy it in the supermarket, pop in to a roadside bar or enter a restaurant and drink up. While the age limits in all these places is strict, there remains pilferage. The situation remains grim too at the teenage level in the secondary schools. Over 40% of students in secondary schools are taking alcohol and drugs, according to a recent survey by the National Authority for the Campaign Against Alcohol and Drug Abuse (NACADA).
More on the report says:
“The students were also asked to mention the period when alcohol and drugs are most likely to be used in schools. Data shows that alcohol and drugs are more likely to be used during school holidays (48.5%) and on their way home (35.1%). Within the school environment, students are more likely to use drugs during weekends (30.4%). Other times mentioned include during inter-school meetings (27.8%), during school outings (27.3%), during entertainment in school (24.4%), during games (23.7%) and during school trips (21.8%).
The students were also asked to mention the possible sources of alcohol and drugs. The most commonly mentioned source of these substances of abuse is from friends (32.2%). The drugs and substances of abuse are also carried from home (29.3%), bought from other students (25.7%), bought from a bar near school (22%) or from a local brew den (19.1%). Other sources are kiosks or shops near school (16.9%), relatives (16.7%), supermarkets (11.3%), non-teaching school workers (7.4%), parents (5.3%), teachers (4.8%) and school canteen (3.9%).”
In the county of Kiambu, Governor Fred Waititu wants to change the legal age to 21 years old. It was on 21st May 2015 that President Uhuru Kenyatta signed The Alcoholic Drinks Control (Amendment) Act, 2015 and declared that alcoholism is a disease in Kenya. Meanwhile it still maintains:
- Drunken behaviour
(1) A licensee or an agent or employee of a licensee may refuse to admit to, and shall expel from, the premises to which his licence relates any person who is drunk and disorderly, violent, or quarrelsome, or whose presence would subject the licensee to a fine or penalty under this Act.
- Persons not eligible for a licence
(1) The District Committee shall not grant a new licence or transfer a licence to any person who—
(e) is under eighteen years of age;
- General penalty
Any person convicted of an offence under this Act for which no other penalty is provided shall be liable to a fine not exceeding five hundred thousand shillings, or to imprisonment for a term not exceeding three years, or to both.
Yes alcoholism is a disease. Raising the legal age is an important step into curbing the access to alcohol for the youth of Kenya. However there are several other initiatives that can be taken to help this situation. The youth are at their most vulnerable, with hormones raging, self esteem crisis and even circumstances at home can divert their mind. Thus, the problem is not that they are drinking alcohol, it is what is going on in their lives and how can they be productively distracted. The local schools need to have useful workshops that will allow them to be job ready and use their talents in competitions and accomplishments rather than idling and focusing on unhealthy activities.
Their schools need to be their creative and scholarly sanctuaries and not an arena for the hottest couple in town. Sports are a great way to keep them on track too. When the alcohol is commercially difficult to buy and consume, they will be discouraged but if frustrations persist in school and at home, they will still find a way to buy and use it.
The Kiambu Governor’s idea is a start and that a good one too.