03-05-2023 by Freddie del Curatolo
The Kenyan government has decided to wage war against a scourge almost as old as the world, which often makes one wonder how the devil's celebrated 'apple' to Adam is but a great metaphor.
The artisanal fermentation of any sugary product with alcohol, as well as other kinds of drugs or harmful products that damage the brain and are addictive, is no longer just an ancestral tradition in Kenya today, but has encompassed other deviations of contemporary society, such as smuggling, the mafia, the exploitation of women and children, and misery in its most aberrant forms.
We are talking about Chang'aa, a distillate originally made from millet and sorghum that is produced 'at home' and which, according to estimates by the National Authority for the Campaign against Alcohol and Drug Abuse, destroys or almost indelibly marks the lives of more than 400 thousand people a year in the country.
Kenya, needless to deny, is a nation with a high rate of alcoholism. It is estimated that 13% of the inhabitants are habitual drinkers. And it is not just the arcane Tusker beer or western spirits whose abuse belongs to a select few, but mainly cheap and therefore more chemical than naturally produced liquors and the fateful craft spirits. If on the coast it is palm wine (mnazi) that is depopulated, in the centre and north of the country it is chang'aa.
In the slums of Nairobi, particularly in Kibera and Korogocho, they call it 'Kill me fast', it is estimated that more than 2.5 million people in Kenya are addicted to it and that it kills a good proportion of them either directly or over the years. The average age of the first glass of Chang'aa for those who take the path of abuse and addiction is 9 years. If they once called it 'beer' and in the Kikuyu regions around Mount Kenya they served it in amphorae made from empty gourds, today the fermented sorghum and millet is often treated with methanol and other acids, including that of car batteries, if not even petrol, as well as being filtered through used feminine pads and other filth often recovered from landfills.
Every year, newspaper headlines are filled with dramatic reports of mass deaths or blindness after weddings or funerals at which 'defective' Chang'aa was circulated.
Unfortunately, however, since 2010, under obvious pressure from 'lordships' who profit from its trade, Chang'aa, if produced in compliance with established standards, is legal.
Since then, not only the producers (almost always women, even gathered in some sort of cooperatives) have multiplied, but also the public places where chang'aa is sold and which host hopeless zombie populations at night. It is the price of a glass of the popular Kenyan schnapps that attracts its consumers: 12 shillings (less than ten euro cents) a glass. Much more potent than a local vodka, which costs ten times as much.
But which spoils much less. In fact, the habitual approach to Chang'aa leads in a short time to the loss of bodily functions and, in the long term, to forms of blindness and mental problems that make regular users often lose their jobs.
Hence, the new government has started waging war on the illegal producers of this national bomb. Yesterday alone, 13,000 people were identified in the Rift Valley, including producers and distributors of the accursed liquor. Many are the rehabilitation centres that have sprung up in recent times to try to recover those who have already fallen into the deleterious fumes of Chang'aa and 'kangara', the must that remains at the bottom of the barrels in which it is stored, which, rinsed with other alcohol, would kill a teetotaler or even a Western man in a single day.
Of course, Chang'aa is the tip of an iceberg from which it is good to start, but the serious problem of a country that has known the value of money and the culture of having everything and everything now, is increasingly evident and brings to mind all too often, with due distinction, the sadness of the American Native Americans and Australian Aborigines.
by Freddie del Curatolo
by Freddie del Curatolo
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