Kiambu county has been grappling with a plethora of dingy bars and illicit brews dens that have turned youths into “zombies” and at its height killed “18 to 20 people a month” due to alcoholism.
During the 2017 general election campaigns, then Kabete MP Ferdinand waititu declared war on illicit brews and alcoholism in the county if elected governor.
Soon after winning, Waititu pushed for a County Alcoholic Drinks Control Act, which put stringent measures to lower the number of bars and also abolished wines and spirits outlets.
The county assembly passed the act and Waititu signed it into law. However, the Kiambu Bar Owners’ Welfare Association and other stakeholders challenged it in court, saying it is not conducive to business.
But Waititu was not finished. In a bid to help the many youths addicted to alcoholism, he started a county alcoholic addicts rehabilitation programme called "Kaa Sober" on February 4, engaging youths in casual labour in return for daily wages. He launched it in Makwa village, Gatundu North constituency, which had the highest number of bars and changaa dens.
"Youths in Makwa village, where there were many people brewing changaa near river Chania, looked like zombies and had lost hope. That is why I stepped in to save them by raiding the dens and pouring all the illicit brews with the help of the youths," Waititu said.
HOW IT WORKS
Following public outcry over the excessive consumption of alcohol, data was collected across the county from Nacada and the Health department, as well as from clergy men and women, who said they were burying 18 to 20 people a month killed by alcoholism.
The programme started by recruiting 100 youths and illicit brew dealers from Makwa and Gatukuyu villages in Gatundu North, who were fed up with drinking and wanted to change.
The addicts were engaged in manual jobs of clearing bushes, collecting garbage, unclogging trenches and drainage systems, and raiding and destroying illicit brew dens in their villages.
In return, each addict gets Sh400 a day, with Sh100 going to providing them with breakfast and lunch. They are also offered counselling for free in the afternoon.
Alcoholic Drinks director Geoffrey Kaara adds that the county spends Sh70,000 a day to fuel land rovers, which are used to transport officials from the department in the ongoing illicit brews crackdown. All in all, it costs Sh2 million a day to run the programme.
However, the programme and use of taxpayers’ money is yet to be approved by the county assembly, with Waititu still pleading with MCAs to adopt it. He has vowed to soldier on, saying nothing will stop him from dealing with illicit brews.
WHY IT COULD BE A HIT
Encouraged by its impact in Makwa and Gatukuyu, Waititu rolled out the plan in all the other wards in the county. Each of the 60 wards was to identify 50 addicts who were ready to be rehabilitated, potentially bringing the number of recruits to 3,000. But due to demand, the enrolment rose to 5,000 youths across the county.
"I worked with MCAs to identify alcohol addicts in their wards, with the help of parents, family members and well-wishers, and to my shock, most of the addicts welcomed the idea, and others even joined the programme voluntarily," the governor said.
Beneficiaries are happy. Recovering addict Charles Kimani said he was hooked to second-generation brews, which cost him his family and job. But after enrolling to the programme, he was employed by the county government as an enforcement officer, and he has since been able to reclaim his family.
Fellow recovering addict Everlyn Wanjiru said the programme has helped her feed her child. She said it was lack of a job and desperation that led her to take illicit brews to forget her troubles.
"Right now I am feeding my own child, who I had left with my mother as I became an alcoholic. But I have been given a second chance to turn my life around by the Kiambu county government rehabilitation programme," Wanjiru said.
Bishop Peter Gachara of Furaha Worship Centre said he is happy the county government is doing something to tackle the menace, saying most bars have closed due to lack of customers.
Kiambu MP Jude Njomo threw his weight behind the governor’s initiative. "The programme you have started is good and I support it. And if you need help from us, I will grant it so that we fight the alcoholism menace," he said.
WHY IT COULD BE A MISS
Other Kiambu leaders have been critical, saying the programme is unsustainable and that Waititu did not consult them. Woman representative Gathoni Wamuchomba said some of the youths confessed they are using money given to them by the county to buy alcohol, which could worsen the situation.
Senator Kimani Wamatangi said he has no problem with alcohol addicts being rehabilitated, but the money used to conduct the programme should be allocated according to the confines of the law.
He said a list of all the addicts should me made, accountability be upheld and follow-ups be done on whether the programme is helping or not.
Thika Town MP Patrick Wainaina said giving money to alcoholics is not the best option, saying they should be taken through a proper recovery programme in rehabilitation centres, and the money being spent being on them be put to proper use.
Nominated Senator Isaac Mwaura termed the programme “open theft” and one that could not be sustainable.
“What they are doing is misuse of public funds of the highest order. This is only a scheme to rip off public money in the name of fighting illicit brews,” he said.
The senator said the county should be putting the money to more meaningful use instead of spending it on a programme that is unsustainable.
Bishop Gachara said an unintended consequence of the programme is that the illicit liquor trade has gone underground. He called for investigations.
"It is known that since bars have been closed and wines and spirit outlets be done away with, it is being done in homes and rental houses,” he said.But Waititu is bullish about the project and is determined to see it through. “Those leaders castigating me over the programme should come up with their own projects. This is mine and they should therefore leave it alone,” he said.