We can all appreciate the late-night shock of an exorbitant bar tab. Personally, it doesn’t help that I normally sound like this when I’m out: “you want a drink?…hey, you want a drink?…let’s get a drink!….can I get you a drink?….what are you drinking?!…I got it – no worries!” Luckily, most of us have the financial freedom to blow through our “personal entertainment budget” and the consequences are usually no worse than a throbbing headache and a ‘low account balance’ warning.
However, in impoverished parts of the world this is, of course, not the case; the ‘cost-cutting’ alternatives for a cheap buzz are pretty tough to swallow. The Independent recently published an investigative news story entitled Why Africans are dying for a drink, delving into the world of illegal alcohol across the continent. Highly-taxed imported spirits and beer are untouchable for many, costing 12 times more than the homegrown options. Though the saying definitely rings true in this case…you get what you pay for. These illegally produced concoctions are often laced with deadly additives, such as lethal levels of methanol, fecal matter and formaldehyde.
In Nairobi, the drink of choice is kumi-kumi or chang’aa, literally translated to mean “kill me quick”. Other local ‘spirits’ include “Hustle” — a mix of fecal water, rats and cockroaches spiked with formaldehyde from a nearby mortuary, and then there’s “Jet 5” with the special ingredient of stolen jet fuel. Mouthwatering!! Despite being flat out nasty, these illegal options for imbibing can kill depending on what’s been mixed in. Independent reporter Daniel Howden elaborates:
“For the most part, this underground flow remains hidden from view until a particularly lethal batch makes the headlines. Last month 80 people died in Western Uganda after drinking banana gin, called waragi, which had been cut with industrial alcohol. Those who died first went blind before suffering from massive liver and kidney failure. The fatalities are not surprising — as little as 10ml of methanol can burn the optic nerve, just 30ml will kill.”
The purpose of Howden’s story is to identify the factors that have driven this plague of alcoholism and the resulting health crisis, including colonial prohibition, “sin taxes”, poor quality of life, HIV/AIDS, etc. While some minor successes include the Ugandan legalization of waragi (war gin) regulating small-scale production of the beverage, and also tax breaks allowing East African Breweries to increase distribution of local barley brew Senator beer, the recent events Howden reports on prove there’s a long road ahead…and it reeks of jet fuel-marinated rats.
Posted by Sam