Kenya: Powerful brewers thwart war on illicit alcohol, Kisii police lament
Countless family properties in Kisii have illicit brewers and the few without them have a former brewer who has given up on the business.
Those without a brewing history have in one way or another benefited from the brewers involved in the illicit trade.
Trade is rampant and many people in the region depend on the business for their livelihoods. A stroll through the villages reveals that it is a lucrative business.
Residents will indicate the houses where illicit beers are brewed.
“That big house you see over there belongs to a brewer,” you will say a lot.
For most residents, it doesn’t matter whether it is an offense to consume and sell illicit beer.
The relative wealth of the brewers encouraged trade, those who join the business are confident that they will make money and get rich quick.
Impunity characterizes the business, and a complex web of criminals, administrators, court workers and law enforcement officials team up with brewers and traders to make it prosper.
The illicit liquor market involves an elaborate network of brewers.
Kericho, Bomet, Nakuru, Narok and Homa Bay are the main markets for Kisii chang’aa while kangara and busaa are mainly consumed locally.
Carriers use sedans to transport the product. A vehicle can carry more than 1000 liters. Illicit beer is usually transported in jerry cans, with the transport usually taking place at night.
Police presence is usually not a very big deal, as traders are usually willing to hand law enforcement large bribes to avoid arrest.
Locals say brewers don’t fear reprisals from local administrators and continue to brew more beers with impunity.
Father Lawrence Nyaanga, partner of the anti-drug agency Nacada, says brewers and traders are so powerful that police determined to fight the trade end up giving up or becoming accomplices, earning money by offering a protection for traders.
Notably, the Covid-19 restrictions allowed the business to thrive even more and prompted locals to turn to illicit liquor now that licensed bars are operating at reduced hours.
The Catholic priest says this has made the situation worse as residents now face the danger of illegal beers and coronavirus infection.
“We risk more by allowing the local alcohol tanners to operate. The authorities should step up their surveillance,” said Father Nyaanga, accusing the chefs and their assistants of doing little to stop the sale of illicit beers in the region.
Brewers have a powerful association that ensures their well-being.
Kisii County Police Commander Francis Kooli said the association’s members are funded and have thwarted all government efforts to tackle crime.
“The Kisii Brewers Association is powerful. When a member is arrested, he rushes to pay bail or fines for him. Mr Kooli said.
He adds that with brewers who buy their freedom easily and cheaply, they can comfortably return to the business.
“They do it with a lot of impunity and have little respect for the police,” said the police commander.
It is important to note that most local administrators have long denied their role in the fight against illicit beers.
Because they live in the same villages as the brewers, they must remain silent and sometimes even cover them up to avoid a backlash from the community.
“But we have warned the administrators. Those who continue to monitor crime in their jurisdiction will be banned,” Kooli said, adding that courts now impose heavy sentences on those convicted of the crime.
He explains that in the past, courts have issued fines and lenient bonds, thereby encouraging crime.
The police are currently carrying out raids in the depths of villages where traders and brewers have long carried on their trade without any interference.
In Motonto village, Bonchari constituency, kangara, which is common and is also processed to produce chang’aa, is abundant.
When poured, it forms a stream of liquor which flows from the farms where it is brewed to the roads and down into the rivers and streams.
In July and September of this year, police handled 424 cases, of which 356 were concluded. A total of Sh2.2 million was collected in fines.
In May and July, 328 cases were reported, of which 30 were finalized. A total of Sh1.99 was collected in fines.
Mr. Kooli says that all of the Kisii sub-counties are notorious, but Kisii Central is in the lead, followed by Marani and Kitutu Central.
“This time around we decided to conduct impromptu raids and that’s something that will not stop. Initially we would conduct the raids for a certain amount of time and we would stop. Kooli.
Possession of illicit drugs and beer is the main crime in Kisii with 65% compared to a national percentage of 17, according to the latest statistics from the National Crime Research Center.
Being drunk and messy is the fifth most common crime in the county at 27%.
“We are determined to fight this particular crime and change the trends,” Kooli said.
The consumption and trade of illicit beers is an issue that the national government, through the Home Office, has recognized and committed to addressing.
Home Secretary Fred Matiang’i has repeatedly called on residents to quit the illicit beer trade.
At the end of last year, he said the performance of national government administrators will be assessed on how they tackle illicit beer and alcohol abuse in their jurisdictions.
“Their Key Performance Indicators (KPIs) will largely depend on how they deal with these societal issues,” said CS.
Dr Matiang’i said county commissioners, chiefs and their assistants who tolerate illicit beer and drug and substance abuse in their jurisdictions risk being fired.
He spoke at Kebirigo High School in Nyamira County after meeting with local chiefs and their assistants.
“The use of alcoholic and narcotic substances has contributed to the increase in defilement, rape, murder and other forms of crime in society,” said the SC.
He warned that every administrator, from chiefs and their assistants to the county commissioner, will be held personally responsible for any illicit brewing and cases of taint in their jurisdictions.