I belong to a clan! But in Kenya “clan” is a four-letter word – harassers (and inheritors!) of widows, dis-inheritors of orphans, practitioners of weird burial rituals – from sitting-upright interments to energetic tero buru! My clan is not as well-known as Baengele or Umira Kager – but we too have our claim to fame, that I shall shortly tell you about. However, in the interest of maintaining harmonious consanguineal relations in life, and avoiding riveting drama in death, my clan shall remain nameless!
Now, about our claim to fame – my clan are the pre-eminent brewers and imbibers of chang’aa in the entire East Africa region, including the new State of South Sudan from whence we imported the art of riverside distillery at some point after the First World War. The national media reported our celebrations at the enactment of the Mututho Rules – for that little clause that legalised chang’aa! When first introduced, the brew was known as Nubian Gin – to distinguish it from London Dry Gin I suppose! The name was derived from the Nubi people of Sudan who introduced the drink and the art of brewing it, they having been settled in Kenya as a reward for serving the British Crown in the great war. In fact, in those early days the best brewers were Nubi women, but my revered clanswomen (and men!) soon claimed the title. Of course the drink has since acquired other less dignified names, and a really terrible reputation! It is now called everything from Machozi ya Simba, to Mulika, through Kuona Mbee to Gun and Mung’are! I understand there is even a version that originated from a famous institution of higher learning that was known as Chiromo Champagne! And in some regions of our neighbour to the south, Tanzania, it was once known by the typically artistic name of Supu ya Mawe! And amongst my people, when they burst into song in praise of the stuff, they often refer to it as the the sweat of the basin, an allusion to the distillation process that involves condensation on a metallic basin of cold water!
The tipple has been blamed for all sorts of ills – teacher absenteeism and pupil truancy in our schools (very probable); decline in agricultural productivity (almost definitely); male impotence and general depopulation (hilarious!); loss of eyesight (arguable!) and mass deaths (debatable!). Yes yes yes … I have read the periodic reports of mass die-offs of alcoholic populations in different parts of the country, and I have seen the good women of the former Central Province stage demonstrations, and occasionally thrash some irresponsible drunk out of their gelded stupor! But to the best of my admittedly limited medical knowledge, ethanol (the active ingredient in all “good” alcohol) does not in “normal” or even “excessive” usage cause immediate blindness and death, or lead to the kind of generalised and chronic loss of libido and “breeding power” that is reported from parts of the nation. If indeed it did, I would be one of only a very few members of my clan still alive, for alcoholism amongst my brethren has reached calamitous proportions – just as it has in many other clans and communities!
Whatever is killing our people , emasculating the young men, potentially bankrupting obstetricians and paediatricians, is not alcohol! It is the “spice” that the dealers are adding to it – the wood spirit, the paint thinners, the methanol, the jet fuel, the battery acid, the transformer oil, the tail of a rabid cat, the remains of a large rat, the formalin … assorted stomach-churning mind-boggling concoctions of dubious origins and indiscernible pedigree!
Friends, Kenyans, Countrymen – tragic as the alcohol abuse in our nation is, the worst is yet to come! I belong to a clan, but I also have my own little clan – I am a husband and a father. And today’s papers sent a chill racing up and down my spine, caused me great vicarious suffering and heartbreak. Caused me to weep with every affected parent, and every other parent who may or may not be affected, but lives with the nightmare all the same: DRUGS!!
Citing a report from NACADA, the National Campaign Against Drug Abuse Authority, The Standard reported that almost 7% of students in Nairobi are addicted to cocaine while another 4% abuse heroin. About 3% of the students interviewed use Mandrax and Amphetamines, with another 3% hooked on inhalants such as glue. That is 17% of the students, almost one in five! The story told of drug dealers literally living next door, pushing their poison to kids as young as 8; of drug dealers now packaging their product in “pocket friendly” quantities going for as little as ten shillings, the coin you toss to that Standard 2 nephew or niece just for being them! A counselor that they talked to observed that the dealers now appear to be targeting young people – actually TARGETING! Even in war, children are never a legitimate target – or combatants. The only wars that target children are wars of genocide, wars in which the combatants have been reduced to soul-less brutish mindless beasts! Is nothing sacred any more? And yet, this just reflects the sewers we have descended to as a nation!
Do you know which is the world’s most ratified human rights treaty? It is the Convention on the Rights of the Child – virtually ratified by all the nations of the world, following an arduous 9-year drafting process and 4-year ratification period. Article 33 of the Convention on the Rights of the Child categorically says that: States Parties shall take all appropriate measures, including legislative, administrative, and educational measures to protect children from the illicit use of narcotic drugs and psychotropic substances, as defined in relevant international treaties, and to prevent the use of children in the illicit production and trafficking of such substances.
Kenya ratified the Convention on the Rights of the Child (1989) on July 31, 1990 and the African Charter on the Rights and Welfare of the Child (1999) – which makes the same provisions in almost identical words – on July 25, 2000. The enactment of the Children’s Act of 2001 (reviewed 2007) gives domestic effect to the obligations of Kenya under the Convention on the Rights of the Child and the African Children’s Charter. Clause 16 of the Children’s Act provides that: Every child shall be entitled to protection from the use of hallucinogens, narcotics, alcohol, tobacco products or psychotropic drugs and any other drugs that may be declared harmful by the Minister responsible for health and from being involved in their production, trafficking or distribution.
Yet, as long ago as August 1998, Catherine Mgendi, in an article entitled Corruption and drugs in Kenya at page 9 in Africa Recovery, Vol.12#1, observed: Corruption seems to be a major part of the Kenya drug problem. In one recent case where 20 tonnes of hashish — the largest haul ever — were seized, the suspects were released for lack of evidence. Making his ruling, Mombasa Chief Magistrate, Aggrey Muchelule, said the case had been “interfered with by the Mafia and riddled by police cover-up.” Even more amazing, she writes: In another case, it was revealed that 600 acres of the Mount Kenya forest reserve had been cleared for a bhang (cannabis) plantation. Administration police and forest rangers were used to guard the plantation.
Kenya is now suffering corruption that is on a drug high – hyperactive, supercharged, irrational, without boundaries or values of any kind! And who is behind it? In the report Termites at Work: Transnational Organized Crime and State Erosion in Kenya, published by the International Peace Institute in September last year, Peter Gastrow points out that …powerful criminal networks constitute a direct threat to the state itself, not through open confrontation but by penetrating state institutions through bribery and corruption and by subverting or undermining them from within. Governments that lack the capacity to counter such penetration, or that acquiesce in it, run the risk of becoming criminalized or “captured” states. Rampant corruption in the police, judiciary, and other state institutions has facilitated criminal networks’ penetration of political institutions.
In their article in The Star on 17th December 2011 entitled Kenya: Drugs – the Final Frontier in the War Against Corruption, John Githongo and Ndung’u Wainaina summarise these findings very succinctly: What the drug traffickers found in Kenya is a weak criminal justice system, an easily corrupted police force and judiciary, and an easily ‘bought’ political elite. To paraphrase, some countries have a mafia, but in Kenya, the mafia owns the country! Or do they?
Where are our legislative, administrative, and educational measures to protect children from the illicit use of narcotic drugs and psychotropic substances? Where are the laws that make the sale of drugs to children exquisitely painful, extremely unprofitable? Where is the outpouring of outrage, the Parliamentary Select Committee?
Fellow parents, it is not “other people’s children” doing drugs – it is our children! Because we have also failed them right in our homes! We are busy making money for their food, their clothes, the roof over their heads, their school fees and their birthday gift we really have no time for them! We would rather they went to boarding school where they can be “safely” locked in, attend holiday tuition and church youth camps so that their heads do not become the devil’s jua kali sheds! We may not be able to pre-empt youthful experimentation, but we should have adequate contact to know when experimentation is descending into addiction – and a short brutish life of hopelessness, crime and disease!
The trafficking of narcotics in and through Kenya is a major and growing problem that has permeated all strata of the society, according to a report on the global drugs trade by the US State Department that has been presented to the U.S. Congress to inform legislative policy. Drug trafficking is linked to the prevailing culture of impunity, and presents serious ramifications to the nation’s health, security, and stability, states the 2011 International Narcotics Control Strategy Report.
Drug abuse is a real monster and is one of the most devastating and crippling scourges facing mankind, the then Nairobi Provincial Director of Education, Mr. Erastus Kiungu, told a meeting of head-teachers in March 1998, the same month in which the Child Welfare Association, released findings of a study that revealed that one in every 15 Kenyan students is on drugs!
The fourteen years since 1998 is almost half a human generation, during which time the putrid fundamentals of this situation have become even more malodorous – now it is one on five children on drugs, and foreign “meddlers” tell us that the traffickers are in Parliament, in the Executive, in the Judiciary, in the Police, in the Customs Department, everywhere! We have failed our children by not installing a leadership that will not let such things happen, that will relentlessly bring to account those that will without a care destroy the future of this country; those that have corrupted and usurped the organs of state to perpetrate this insidious genocide!