It has been six months since the President declared the crack down on illicit brews, which we all supported and applauded.
Nonetheless, we all have different memories of this period. While the exercise initially attracted public goodwill, the ensuing confusion resulted in the destruction of legitimate businesses, property and loss of trust in government agencies to govern with a measure of regularity and predictability. Many businessmen and women are still counting their losses.
I have my memories too.
My saddest memory is an early morning visit to Keroche Breweries by my local MP accompanied by an unruly mob threatening to break in and “inspect” the plant for unspecified ‘second generation’ brews.
His action came barely three months after Industry Cabinet Secretary Aden Mohammed launched our Sh5 billion, state-of-the-art brewing plant, the first of its kind in Africa. In attendance was the said MP, who lauded Keroche’s feat for elevating his constituency to national and global status.
The MP was there to “inspect” an 18-year-old company that had invested in global brands, won international awards, created thousands of jobs, pays billions of shillings to KRA and been touted as Africa’s new entrepreneurial model.
I knew the agenda had changed and we had lost the war. The confusion was clear evidence that the institutions mandated to regulate the liquor industry had failed.
The Kenya Bureau of Standards stands accused. Kebs mandate is to provide standards, which must be consistent for businesses to thrive. In essence, regulatory institutions worldwide stand for what they have built. Kebs cannot certify and approve then one morning claim that a product that has been in the market for 15 years, that is annually inspected, approved and built by them, is now suspect.
To build a brand to international standards takes huge investment, innovation, time, research, hard work and collaborative partnership with mandated institutions such as Kebs.
Legitimate brewing companies have been pleading for a long time for the government to regulate the alcohol industry because it has been in a mess. The benefits of regulation cannot be over-emphasised. It will enhance provision of quality products, level the playing field for all businesses, create more professional jobs, support innovation and remit more revenue to the government. We must do this to restore order and discipline in the industry and be respected worldwide.
Ultimately the big question we should all be asking, six months down the line, is, did we succeed in this war? Are our families and our youth safer from the merchants of death?
We cannot afford to fail as a nation in the fight against illicit brews. Whenever these campaigns fail, we collectively fail as Kenyans. Each one of us knows the pain so many families and homes have endured. We do not need convincing. We need to act.
The war on illicit brews must be a joint effort between government and legitimate businesses that offer innovative alternatives. It must never be used as a decoy to fight turf wars. We must believe in our ability to create relevant local solutions. To brand Kenyan industries as second-generation is the worst form of self-destruction.
It is a false argument that there is first, second, third and fourth generation alcohol when we all know that nothing of the sort exists. The formula to make quality beer, vodka, whisky, spirit, wine, etc, is the same worldwide, whether produced 500 years ago, today or 500 years from now. Whatever falls outside this established formula is illicit. That is what we should focus on. This is not rocket science.
I appreciate the High Court for rising up to the occasion and stating the correct application of the law. Their judgment is clear: the war on illicit brews must continue to the full extent of the law. However, legitimate companies must be protected and supported. The abdication and dereliction of duty by government agencies and the open bias and discrimination against Kenyan-owned manufacturers will not be tolerated.
The decision reached by the High Court a fortnight ago in our case against Kebs must not be interpreted as a reversal of a presidential decree against illicit brews, but a clear message that government agencies must be consistent in their implementation of the law and that ours is a limited government governed by the rule of law.
Africa is rising.
Adherence to the rule of law and support for local enterprises is the only way to create companies that will reduce unemployment, eradicate poverty, create wealth and compete globally.
The writer is the CEO of Keroche Breweries.