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January 22, 2019

Kenya Was Built On A Hangover

Last week, I spent an evening on the phone with a friend chattering about many things – weddings, men, me on Jeff Koinange’s show with Binyavanga Wainaina, Kenya’s first openly gay man , and of course the new traffic laws.

The more we talked, the clearer it became that our entertainment budgets are going to have to grow to accommodate a taxi to get us home, or we will have to imbibe less to foot that bill.

Alternatively we will grow accustomed to having a designated driver; one person who remains sober all evening to make sure that everyone gets home safe.

It just does not sound cool does it? We work hard and we should be free to drink responsibly, right? We are adults, right? It feels like we are being punished and you know what? We should be punished if our behaviour puts the lives of others at risk.

We should be punished for drinking and driving. We, as a country, have just invested heavily on roads and the death toll has risen to staggering numbers. Roads that were meant to advance our economy now look like they could become a curse and we have to manage that.

With the new devolved government, our spending in counties and the huge wage bill, we must keep all tax payers alive and working if only so they can pay the bills.

That alcohol is poisonous is not new information. That we need to consume less of it is also common knowledge. What isn’t common is that if we knew how to control our drinking, we would have done it by now.

Alcohol is not only eating away at our livers and other vital organs, it is destroying our families. In 2012, women in Central Province were twangaing their husbands out of frustration over how much they drank, how little money they made and how poorly they performed in the bedroom.

I am afraid it is only a matter of time before this type of frustration becomes common place for wives (and husbands). Every so often I joke that this country was built on a hangover – drunken dating that leads to unhappy unions; bleary-eyed parents reaching for a mara moja before dropping kids off a school and heading to the office; dehydrated workers who are two steps away from a full-on temper tantrum and a truth that few of us like to admit: we all know someone who died in a road accident.

Nairobi and Kenya as a whole are being celebrated as a hub for economic growth and wealth creation. Foreign investment is streaming in and we are excited about job creation and entrepreneurial opportunity. It is all there and ours for the taking but frankly we have to be sober or all we'll be is employees curing a hangover.

I am happy about the new traffic laws and I think they should be followed up with education on how to drink responsibly [we are told to do it but few of us know how], and perhaps a specific tax imposed on intoxicants can fund addiction recovery programmes.

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