Why Kenyans no longer flock Uganda for 'cheaper' beer

The beer lovers blame the weak shilling for their woes and hope economy will stabilise

In Summary
  • Bars dealing in both commercial beer and local brew no longer fill to capacity.
  • Some beer joints have closed shop as the number of customers continues to dwindle.
Image: FILE

The number of Kenyans along the Kenya-Uganda border crossing over for beer drinks has significantly dropped.

Bars dealing in both commercial beer and local brew no longer fill to capacity.

Some beer joints have closed shop as the number of customers continues to dwindle.

Proprietors of some entertainment joints have also relocated to other towns as the beer business continues to slow down.

Kenyans, one year ago, and back, formed a sizable number of beer consumers in the landlocked country, primarily along the border.

The frequency at which they crossed the border to merry-make in Uganda has scaled down.

The beer lovers blame the weak shilling for their woes and hope the economy will stabilise and return activity at the border to normalcy.

President William Ruto in March told the country to prepare for an economic take-off as he strives to cut down the cost of living and generally improve household income.

Just before December 2022, the Kenyan shilling was worth 30 Ugandan shillings. This implies if one crossed the border into Uganda with Sh1,000, he or she would receive Ush30,000.

At the time, a bottle of Uganda’s most common beer brands – Nile Special and Club Beer retailed at Sh100 (Ush3,000). With Sh1,000 (Ush30,000) one would have 10 bottles of beer at their disposal.

Besides, a bottle of Ugandan-made Tusker retailed at Sh100, but that is not the case today as the same sells at Sh150.

Lovers of Ugandan liquor who frequently interact with the Star occasionally joked that with the Sh1,000, they would cross into Uganda, drink and return home with balance sufficient to buy family food for the evening and the following day.

But with the weakening shilling, they say things have changed for the worst.

On Thursday when the Star filed this story, the Kenyan shilling in Malaba town retailed at Ush27 (buying) against the Ugandan shilling and Ush28 (selling) against the same currency.

In March the Kenyan shilling had dropped to a low buying at Ush26 and selling at Ush27.

The weakening Kenya currency has necessitated Ugandan bar owners to increase the price of beer – to the disadvantage of their Kenyan clients. The majority of Kenyans pay their bills in entertainment joints with Kenya currency.

Since January, a bottle of Nile Special or Club Beer has been retailing at Sh150 in most bars across the border, up from Sh100 in December last year and back.

“It is a tough balancing act,” Benjamin Etyang, a local contractor who used to frequent Uganda for his favourite beer brand said.

“The economy is unstable and pay is not coming on time. To make matters worse, the shilling has lost value and this has pushed beer prices up. We may be forced to look for other options.”

A spot check done by the Star at the Malaba-Uganda border between Monday and Wednesday revealed some bars closed shop and have no prospects of re-opening.

Their woes, residents said, were triggered by the Covid-19 pandemic that came with lockdown when entertainment joints were shut as the general movement was also restricted.

Even with the re-opening of borders, some entry and exit points have partially remained closed to date.

Magdalene Akiru who hails from Kumi in Eastern Uganda and used to operate a local brew joint said she is folding up the business due to low customer numbers.

She plans to relocate to her hometown in Kumi where she intends to try her luck in the same business.

Majority of Kenyans who cross the border for entertainment, most time, have a set amount of money intended for expenditure.

“Initially when the Kenyan shilling was still strong, Sh100 was enough for a customer to sip a tin of local beer popularly known as Ajon,” Akiru said.

“But with the weakening shilling, today, one will need Sh120 to enjoy the same quantity of beer – unless they come with Sh3,000 Ugandan money. You see how tricky it is?”

On April 6, the Kenya Shilling was ranked among the worst-performing currencies in Africa, having plunged heavily against major international currencies.

The latest analysis of Africa’s currencies by UK-based Azi Finance shows the shilling is the fifth worst-performing currency in the continent after Zimbabwe’s Dollar, the Sudanese Pound, Nigeria’s Naira and Egyptian Pound.

The shilling has shed almost 14 per cent in the past 12 months, leading to high investor flight from capital markets and high inflation as the dollar crisis persists.

“We expect negative pressure to remain elevated towards mid 2023 for the Naira, Zimbabwe’s Dollar, the Sudanese Pound, Egyptian Pound and Kenyan Shilling,” Azi Finance said then.

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