Editor's Review

The death toll hit 23 within three days; the victims consumed liquor believed to be containing ethanol.

The village of Kangai, Kirinyaga county, has been hitting the headlines after revellers in a joint died, with others losing sight after consuming alcohol believed to be laced with ethanol.

The death toll rose to 23, from the initial 6 reported on Tuesday, February 6.

In his reaction, Deputy President Rigathi Gachagua faulted the judicial system for giving the brewers the latitude to continue with business.

Meanwhile, Interior Cabinet Secretary Kithure Kindiki recalled senior government officials over the tragedy.

Seeking the government's audience in addressing the menace of illicit liquor, stakeholders in the alcohol industry counselled both tiers of the country's political administration to involve all players in the sector while effecting the law.

According to the Alcoholic Beverages Association of Kenya (ABAK) and the Bar, Hotel and Liquor Traders Association (BAHLITA), the involvement of all stakeholders would help seal the loopholes leading to such incidents of death.

The drinking entities' bodies held that one of the main pillars of these efforts had been the enactment of laws in the County Assemblies.

ABAK chairman Eric Githua said the Bills under consideration in some of the assemblies in the region were likely to drive underground alcohol trade and create circumstances that enable illicit alcohol to thrive.

Deputy President Rigathi Gachagua expressed concern after people died in a Kirinyaga drinking joint.

The Bills are based on the Model Alcoholic Drinks Control Bill developed after a meeting in April 2023 in Nyeri that brought together leaders from the Mount Kenya region and parts of the Rift Valley.

“While the intentions of the leaders and elected representatives are noble, we foresee a host of unintended consequences of shifting the attention to enforcement officers from the transportation and sale of illicit alcohol to that of legitimate alcohol," said Githua.

"As the Alcoholic Beverages Association of Kenya (ABAK), we are of the view that the Bill now in discussion in various County Assemblies needs to be put on hold so that it can be redrafted in line with the best interests of all stakeholders,” he added.

According to Githua, the proposed laws are not only overzealous but, if enacted in their present form, could result in the proliferation of illicit alcohol trade, impact the revenue generation efforts by both the national and county governments as well as lead to loss of livelihoods for families that depend on it.