Thursday, 15 September 2011

Rise of the Alcoholic Pandemic

Today in our Zambian society to mention you had a great weekend without intoxicating yourself would be treated as a joke or attending a wedding without alcohol is utterly boring. The classroom talk on Monday morning is who got ‘high’ with the strongest ‘dope’ and in the office the champion is the one who arrived at dawn after a night of booze and more booze. The perception of a person who does not drink is either they are a born-again Pentecostal fanatic or there is some loose screw in their head. Of course, the breweries and COMESA markets have continued to thrive. Regardless of the economic situation, recession or depression as long as the Zambian is alive they can never go bankrupt. Even though we have not yet realised there is a pandemic that is brewing in our country.
Everyday there are more bars, taverns, pubs and nightclubs opening than there are schools, parks, recreation facilities or sporting clubs. Our society is so consumed with the intake of alcohol that someone does not have to walk a few metres before they come across an opportunity to purchase alcohol. What was once an activity reserved for adults has been stripped of its respect and anyone regardless of age can partake. The restriction that ‘Do Not Sale to Anyone under 18’ are hardly enforced. With children now starting to drink as young as 10 years there is a serious time bomb in our back yard that is going to explode if we do not take a critical look at it. We are likely to face a generation of alcoholics in the near future.
In recent years alcohol has been made more accessible and consumable with the introduction of the infamous Tujilijili, how I loathe those bloody things. This deadly liquor is now sold side by side with groceries and can easily be stored into the pockets. The alcohol levels in Tujilijlis are north of 40% which is way more than your average lager at 5%. These Tujilijilis are so cheap that all that someone needs is K2, 000 to get high; this is an amount even a child can afford. If we thought we had an alcohol problem with the lagers we have seen nothing yet with the rising phenomenon of the Tujilijilis.
Zambia is already suffering for the effects of the HIV/AIDS pandemic and to add a population of alcoholics on top of that is likely to cripple this nation and bring it down to its knees. According to the World Health Organisation, “There are 2.5 million alcohol related deaths every year.” Sadly, Zambia does not even have statistics in regard to the gravity of the matter of alcoholism in this country. All we know is that we are renowned for our drinking and honestly this is nothing that we should be proud about. Besides the deaths alcoholism has led to road accidents, contracting of STIs and HIV, breakdown of families, psychological trauma in children, health problems and many other related issues.
                All of us perhaps know a friend, family member or relative who has or has had alcohol problems. We have experienced the effects it has had on the people around them and pain such an addiction have caused. We may have witnessed them throw bright futures away, drink away all their money, physically and verbally abuse their families and abandon their children for the company of the bars. We have made people with alcohol problems the discussion of gossip, the laughing stocks of the town and believing that they are just weak. We then hope that it is a phase that they will grow out of and their addiction to alcohol can be solved as simple as 1, 2, 3.  It is this rather passive attitude towards this social issue that is slowly cultivating the crisis that is being foreseen.
                The first thing we need to do is realise and admit that we do have a problem in this country. We should not be living in denial and sweeping things under the carpet or sugar coating them as a hobby someone will get bored of. Let us call it for what it is whether it is alcoholism or an alcohol addiction that is what it should be called. Then only can we begin to look for solutions towards this.
                Like everything else in this country we are blaming everything on the government and claiming that they are not providing jobs or that they are not building recreation facilities for the young people. The question is what are you doing about it. Why aren’t you building a recreation facility instead of the bars? Why isn’t the community complaining about the bars that are opening next to their houses? All we do is complain in silence and hope that someone will hear our quietness. We need to be more proactive in addressing this issue. Challenge the councils, Members of Parliament, councilors and any person who makes the decisions. The more we all begin to speak about it the more people will begin to hear.
                The sad part is that there are few places where the addictions that some people already have can be treated. There are no rehabilitation centres in Zambia where these people can go to get help. The only one that I am aware of is Chainama Hills Hospital. Even this one it is difficult to get people to go there for fear of being labeled crazy, mad, psycho or a lunatic.  The churches as well are not really doing enough to address the problem as well. We can preach that give your life to Jesus and boom the addiction will go away but that is not true. For some that miracle can happen but for others it does not happen that way. It is a daily struggle that they need to be helped through and guided to come out of this addiction.
                To wind this up it is high time that we realise that this current generation is digging a deep hole for itself than it will be able to come out of. With a junior secondary school kid to be able to advise you what to drink between a Mosi or Castle and what the side effects of each are is a tragedy. We are not building a country of beer tasters.  It is time we took a stand and began to take notice of the crisis we are in. Finally as I always say where there is a problem there is always money to be made. I reckon setting up a rehab clinic will be a booming business in the near future.


  1. Reading through your piece, I find it very interesting how the Zambian and Kenyan societies are closely related. What you have described here is an exact reflection of the state of alcoholism in Kenya.

    I'm not sure what Tujilijili is but allow me assume that it is perhaps an alcoholic drink packed in a sachet or plastic bottle. If that is the case, then we had those too but they were banned due to health concerns and of course, competition issues. However, that did not stem the tide. The situation is getting so bad that certain areas in Kenya are experiencing a weird situation..empty classrooms. Not because, there are no teachers but, hold on for it, they are no children to teach. Sounds crazy but it's a worrying trend.

    So worrying is the trend, that a new law was passed last year or 2010, regarding the sale of alcohol as well as spelling out drinking hours etc. Once fully implemented, it will really go a long way in averting a major crisis in the country.

    As a final note, did you know that there is positive correlation between beer consumption and economic growth (though to a certain point)?

  2. It is a really sad state of affairs. Yes you are right Tujiliji's are alcohol sachets. The government is only recently attempting to ban them. However, I think there are a lot of people making money out of them and they may try to block the move.

    The one thing that I really complain about is that there are no rehabilitation centres where people can get work. It is also high time that people stop making excuses and admit that they have problems and so that they may get help.