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TIME TO THINK AGAIN GENTLEMEN PLEASE?

The Alcoholic Drinks Control Act 2010 came into force on Saturday. On the face of it the Act seems quite a good idea (it’s certainly well intentioned) aimed at curbing the excessive use of alcohol that can cause so much damage and of which we see all too much in Kenya today. On the face of it… but thought through (which this Act hasn’t been) it’s a bad idea as currently drafted.

The Act requires bars to be at least 300 metres away from schools; that parents who take their children to establishments selling beers and the like can be heavily fined; and that those declared to be drunk and disorderly will also face heavy fines.

That’s all well and good and the Forum agrees with it (although surely ‘drunk and disorderly’ is covered under our existing laws).

But there are ‘buts’.

The new law states that ‘a licensee who permits any drunkenness leading to violent, quarrelsome or riotous conduct to take place on their premises to which the license relates, commits an offence’. And the police will be able to write to the chairperson of the district committee to cancel a licence. That will be a nice extra income for the forces of law and order (sorry to be so cynical).

More to the point, the restriction as to the hours during which alcoholic drinks can be served (from 5pm on week days and 2pm on Saturdays) is seriously misguided and probably counter-productive.

Prohibition was a disaster in the United States in the 1920’s and 30’s and restricted drinking hours have been dropped in many countries because they lead to ‘binge drinking’ (i.e., you’ve got two or three hours to have a drink so drink quickly).

Add to this the likelihood that the consumption of illicitly brewed alcohol will increase and the damage the new Act will do to Kenya’s tourism and hospitality industry and it all starts looking like a bad idea after all.

Writing in The Nation (28 November), Dr Mukhisa Kituyi, a former minister for Trade and Industry, stated that “When legitimate alcohol trading is made difficult, most consumption moves underground” and that, “A solution which assumes the guilt of those running drinking enterprises will have a bumpy time in implementation”.

Dr Kituyi is right. The Pubs, Entertainment and Restaurants Association of Kenya and the Kenya Association of Hotelkeepers and Caterers who are asking for the law to be revised, are right. The government should think again.

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Raila Odinga Speech at the CSIS Washington DC, USA

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