The government has been greatly concerned over the harm that drug and substance abuse causes in the youth, the entire labour force and the economy in general. As part of the effort to protect citizens from the harmful effects of drug and substances abuse, the governement has over the years put in place measures to address this problem. As a result various laws have been promulgated towards this end.

In additiion the government has ratified three major United Nations Conventions on Narcotic drugs and Psychotropic Substances. These include the Single Convention of Narcotics (1961) the Convention against illicit trafficking on narcotic drugs and Psychoptropic substances (1968) and the Convention on Psychotropic Substances(1971)

Nearer to home there is the East African Community’s Protocol On Combating Drug Trafficking In The East African Region and the Organisation Of Unity’s Declaration And Plan of Action On Drug Abuse And Illicit Trafficking Control In Africa which was adopted by the 32nd. Ordinary Session of Assembly of Heads of State and Government. This was in Yaounde, Cameroon. (8th. – 10th. July 1996)

Despite these efforts the harm to the country caused by drug and drug related use, substance abuse continues. There are the cases where 30 people died in Kiambu in 1999 after consuming an illicit brew. In 2000 a total of 130 people died in several parts of central Province and Rift Valley from alcoholic substances that were unfit for human consumption.

In 2001 Kumi Kumi another highly potent local brew killed many people in Nairobi. In its most recent effort to stamp out drug and substance abuse in the country the Government has set up the Office of the National Coordinator for the campaign against drug abuse

My lifelong battle with the bottle

Alcohol does not cause alcoholism. To date, doctors, scientists and even psychologists are unsure of the precise cause of the scourge. What they do know is that it is to a large extent due to a genetic predisposition and it is for this they have coined the term the ‘X-factor’

As a bright yooung kid from one of Kenya’s most prominent families, and three novels to my name by the time I was barely out of high school, the sky was the limit – until I discovered too late that I was a child of the X-Factor.

I am an alcoholic. This is the story of my rapid, bewildering descent, my crushed dreams and my fight to climb out of the deep and dark recesses of the almost bottomless bottle.

How do you find out that you have the X-factor? Well, the only way you can find out is by starting to take alcohol. By the time you do realize that you do have a problem it is often too late.

Alcohol Consumption And Kenyan Society – Bottled Heaven Or Canned Hell?

“Alcohol paralyses the senses, makes one lurch and vomit. Extinguishes the feeble glimmer of reason, which flickers in our poor minds. It soon overcomes the strongest man, and turns him into a raging beast who with empurpled face and bloodshot eyes, bellows forth oaths and threats against his surroundings and insults imaginary enemies. Never in any animal species, not among pigs, nor jackals, nor donkeys, is such ignominy to be found. The ugliest thing in creation is the drunkard, a repulsive being, the sight of whom makes one ashamed to belong to the same living species.” (Italics my emphasis).

Nobel Prize winner Dr. Charles Richet a Nobel laureate in physiology.

This statement bluntly sums up the mind set with which the majority of Kenyans regard alcoholics. Thus any suggestion that alcoholism is a disease is met with skepticism, or outright hostility.

As far as most of the clergy are concerned, it is a case of sin. Simple – black and white. The alcoholic is merely a sinner. So if only he would repent and forsake his evil ways all would be well. So on and on thunder many clerics with their “demon rum” sermons which are in turn lapped up by their congregations thus further alienating the alcoholic from themselves, God and even members of the alcoholics family who are part and parcel of that church.

Yet other clergymen are not sure exactly where an alcoholic stands in the scheme of things, whether it is a disease, madness or a vice and thus choose to ignore the problem hoping it will go away or resolve itself on its own. They resolutely keep quiet on the issue, stubbornly forgeting that alcoholism is like a pregnancy. It does not simply go away, but only gets bigger. Finally it reaches full term and out pops the consequence catching everyone unprepared.In this way the drug alcohol continues to cause chaos unchecked in the Kenyan society affecting all aspects of our life and causing misery to millions.

The consumption of alcohol is an issue that no Kenyan can afford to ignore, whether they do not drink it all or who drink only occasionally. This is because directly or indirectly this consumption affects nearly every Kenyan and at one point or another casts a pall over their lives.

Current figures available in Kenya show that one alcoholic affects to the core six Kenyans whereas if that alcoholic is a professional then that number is multiplied by 10 and thus shoots up dramatically to 60 Kenyans affected. Now throw into this equation the fact that out of the estimated 2 million alcoholics in Kenya 1 in 10, is a professional which thus gives us the mind-boggling 26 million total of Kenyan’s affected by alcoholics.

Man has used Pombe (beverage alcohol or ethyl alcohol also known as ethanol) for centuries and this drinking culture seems to persist mainly because people like the effects if causes. In fact drinking of alcohol is now such an established fact of Kenyan life that very few people realise that it is a drug and one which can and does cause great anguish.

Confusion and ambivalence towards its use arise from the fact that on one hand you ‘feel good’, and use it while socialising at happy functions like weddings, birthdays or after work or weekend recreation while on the other hand people get addicted and beat their wives, loose their jobs and kill others with their drunken driving.

Even the fact of getting completely drunk is seemingly quite acceptable nowadays and in fact is even seen as the reason for drinking in the first place thus showing that the majority of Kenyans still understand alcohol and its effects no better than people did centuries ago. Let us now look at some of these effects.


Some short-term effects on the body:

  • Accumulation of fat in the liver which is a warning sign of other diseases often associated with prolonged use of alcohol
  • Increased production of urine, due to the diuretic effect of alcohol on the pituitary gland
  • Temporary increase in heartbeat and blood pressure
  • Dilation of the bodies surface blood vessels leading to a loss of body heat, while producing a feeling of warmth
  • Experiencing the hangover, which is the temporary yet acute distress following excessive use of alcohol

Some long-term effects on the body:

  • Irritation and inflammation of the esophagus, stomach, small intestine and pancreas
  • Alcoholic hepatitis (chronic inflammation of the liver) and cirrhosis of the liver characterised by the shriveling and hardening of the liver and replacement of liver cells with scar tissue. Both these conditions can be fatal.
  • Alcohol addiction or alcoholism in which one becomes controlled by alcohol irregardless of the harmful physical, mental, social, economic, and spiritual effects.
  • Various forms of cancer which are associated with heavy alcohol use such as cancer of the large intestine, rectum and pancreas. Also cancer of the mouth, tongue, throat and esophagus occur.
  • Major malnutrition due to the alcoholics lack of proteins, vitamins and minerals and alcohol’s interference with normal food digestion and absorption
  • Foetal Alcohol Syndrome (FAS) in women who drink during pregnancy. This can result in children born who are physically dependent on alcohol at birth and undergo withdrawal symptoms. These babies can also display a variety of birth defects and mental retardation which are collectively known as foetal alcohol syndrome (FAS)

Effects of alcohol on the individuals life:

  • Risky behavior – getting drunk leads to a loss of inhibitions and judgement. Many decisions are made which later have dire consequences on ones life and can even in many instances be fatal. Getting drunk leads to fights, drunken driving and accidents or death, loss of jobs, wives/husbands. It can also lead to careless sex with resultant unplanned pregnancies (abortions with resultant health complications or death) STDs and the big one – HIV/AIDS!
  • Using alcohol as a crutch – where alcohol is drank to mask or hide problems and stresses of everyday living and this is especially dangerous in young people
  • Compromises ones standards and morals – an individual who was previously responsible and hard working, lies, steals and cheats. They become careless of their appearance and even the kind of people they socialise with or the kind of places they frequent.
  • Jail – Often they end up in jail for crimes or offenses committed while ‘under the influence’. These range from theft and rape to murder.
  • Mental Institution – Due to the effects of prolonged drinking many individuals end up with psychoses, which necessitate mental treatment.
  • Suicides – Alcohol consumption often leads to suicide due to the feelings of guilt, frustration, despair and confusion and aloneness experienced by alcoholics


The effects of alcohol consumption on the society can be divided into several categories namely:

Cost to Industry:

  • Most alcoholics work as they continue developing their alcoholism and hence continue to draw salaries. Yet many of these people are unable to work to full capacity yet they are drawing full salary.
  • Absenteeism from work which then has to be covered by another employee thus reducing their efficiency or results in additional payments for overtime.
  • Accidents at work causing missed deadlines, increased medical bills, cancelled contracts etc.
  • Cost of retraining additional manpower to replace alcoholics who die or are sacked resulting in more lost time, cost of interviews, more overtime payments etc.
  • Inefficiency by members of staff who have an alcoholic family member for a wife will not be able to concentrate on work while trying to figure out if her husband or son she has not seen for four days is alive or dead.
  • Friction between employees due to the alcoholics tardiness, or aggressiveness etc. lowers production all round

Cost to Economy:

  • Medical and health expenses of treating alcoholic’s ill health, or injuries resulting from accidents or treating those alcoholics have injured.
  • Loss of skilled manpower in the deaths occasioned by numerous accidents (fires, murders and other deaths by ‘misadventure’.)
  • Drunken driving. Many Kenyan drivers including those of public service vehicles (PSVs) including the notorious matatus (mini-bus taxis) drive while under the influence of alcohol with no real checks on this. Visitors have marveled how even when one stops to buy petrol and have his oil checked there is a bar at the filling station tempting one to literally ‘drink and drive’. The result is a constant stream of dead bodies and this has made drunk driving one of Kenya’s most socially accepted violent crime.
  • Violent crimes many of which both the victim and the aggressor were drinking
  • Lost man-hours as families of alcoholics take time off from work to look after or look for their family members who are alcoholic.


The effects on the other family members are probably the worst and most painful. These again can be divided into two namely the family as a whole and the children.

The family as a whole:

  • Unhappy marriages
  • Broken homes
  • Desertion
  • Divorce
  • Battered spouses
  • Poor finances
  • Deprived , displaced and abused children
  • Stress from constant fights
  • Illnesses brought on by the constant tension in the house

The children:

  • This has led to a whole new problem namely Children Of Alcoholics (COAs) and Adult Children Of Alcoholics (ACOAs) a problem, which is still hardly even recognised in Kenya but which, is waiting in the wings to explode.

    Many times COAs develop feelings and behaviours that help them cope with a situation where there is a drinking parent. Unfortunately many of these children then carry these behaviours into their adult lives. The problem then is that they contribute to maladaptive and problem-producing behaviours that interfere with effective living and their personal relationships with others. Many of these children if not treated, will develop alcohol use problems or end up marrying alcoholics themselves thus starting another vicious cycle of raising COA’s.

  • Children end up missing schooling and other opportunities as the money has been squandered on alcohol.

So what then is to be done? For this river of alcohol seems to be increasing not decreasing? Our culture even seems to be encouraging Kenyans to drink by promoting numerous drinking activities as well as enshrining alcohol use as a status symbol and even accepting intoxication as funny or sophisticated. More specifically what can the Church do?

First and most important, is to realise that alcoholism is not a sin but a disease. In his enlightening book ‘Alcoholism And You’ by Fr. Maurice Gelinas, he explains it thus.

“Alcoholism is NOT A SIN. A sin is something judged to be (a) wrong, done (b) freely and (c) knowingly, with all three conditions fulfilled together. If any one of these conditions is absent, there is no sin.

  1. Drinking in excess of what is socially acceptable or to the point of intoxication is objectively wrong. No argument.
  2. Drunkards (given to excessive use of alcohol: often drunk) are not necessarily alcoholic. Generally the drinking alcoholic is a drunkard. The basic difference between the two is a matter of control: the alcoholic has lost the ability to control his drinking of alcohol (the main characteristic of his disease), while the drunkard still has the ability. If no ability to control, then no freedom of choice.
  3. The alcoholic does not intend becoming one, no more than the syphilitic intends his disease. In both cases there could have been and often were, objectively sinful acts linked to the disease but the disease itself that is linked to those acts is not a sin.

Further proof that the alcoholic did not intend becoming one is his vehement and adamant denial that he is one, even when confronted with irrefutable evidence, irrefutable to everyone but him, of his habitual alcoholic behavior and of the problems his drinking creates in one or other area of his life.”

From here a plan of action should be put together to fight the prejudice and ignorance surrounding this disease. The best way to do that is with education which means learning as much as you can about the disease.

Put together a team of interested persons which should include parents, youth and where possible recovering persons. Look for an alcoholic who has been in recovery for at least one year and ask them how your church can go about creating awareness.

Look at the attitude of your church members. If negative, this must be tackled. Learn about this disease by visiting rehabilitation centers, get literature, books, videos and above all discuss.

However slowly you start it is still a start. The Alcoholics Anonymous (AA) support group have a motto that goes “When anyone, anywhere, reaches out for help, I want the hand of AA always to be there. And for that: I am responsible.’ Alcoholics find Jesus in AA. They should be made to feel they can find him in a church. Do not look down from a morally superior position and be judgmental.

I have been to an awareness seminar where one of the presiding Reverends’ was openly derisive towards the recovering alcoholics who shared their stories’ with the massive turnout. This will only alienate the alcoholic and put him in a defensive position as he feels rejected and condemned.

In Alcoholism and Codependency by a former Pastor, a theologian and a recovering alcoholic Alexander De Jong, he explains how pastors, elders and other church leaders can be equipped to deal with alcoholism in their churches and beyond.

The qualifications mentioned in 1 Timothy 3:1-7 and Titus 1:5-9 are precisely those needed to handle the many problems one meets when confronting alcoholism. Timothy and Titus remind us that elders, pastors, and all servant-leaders in the church are to be “temperate, self-controlled, able to teach, not given to much wine themselves, gentle, not quarrelsome, and not a recent convert.” Attitudes born out of “not given to much wine” help one look objectively at personal decisions to drink or abstain. “Being able to reach” implies knowledge of alcoholism and its complex, confusing, and powerful character. To nature alcoholics and their families demands gentle sensitivity. Finally, the maturity that comes from “not being a recent convert” prepares one to wait for change patiently with perseverance and prayer.”

Thus through education and empowerment through knowledge will we alert those who have not started drinking of the dangers involved and help those who have been caught up by alcoholism and their families, that there is a way out. Show them that they should not continue to suffer needlessly.

It is through the churches active involvement that many a person like me who had previously been thought useless will be given their lives back, for as every recovering alcoholic knows, God does indeed love them. For to have made an unholy mess of ones life due to drink and then be told turn to a fresh page and start again is indeed a sign of love given to few other groups of human beings on this planet.

I see it everyday waking up fresh, knowing where I have slept, with a clear head ready to face the day. To see my children, and my wife begin to laugh again. To look into the sparkling eyes of a mother whose son or daughter I helped get into rehab and who many months later is out and getting their lives together and to hear that mother telling me ‘God bless you,’ is the greatest atonement I can ever make for the pain I caused. But that was yesterday. I don’t know about tomorrow, I only know for certain that I am sober today and that I had asked God as I do every morning to help me stay sober just for today. As I will as him everyday – one day at a time!

Ladies and gentlemen, thank you for listening and God bless you all.

First tot changed Ogot’s life

“I grew up on a staple of Hollywood moviews with actors like Clint eastwood, Robert Redford and John Wayne, who had one thing in common – they were macho, hard-drinking and smoking characters. They always ended up as heroes and rode into the sunset with the girl.

To emulate them as a 13-year-old Form One student at Lenana High School, Nairobi, I tried my first cigarette and alcoholic drink.

It was during the April holiday when I stole a bottle of whisky from my father’s cabinet. It tasted horrible.

Because we could not access liquor in school, my friends and I begun buying cigarettes from the subordinate staff. my first shot at smoking made me feel sick after a few puffs but I still continued taking part in group smoking escapades during which we would puff in turns.

Those who had mastered smoking would jeer at me for being a “weakling”. Determined to prove them wrong, I became an expert within a month.

By the end of the second term, it was no longer 7quot;cool” to only smoke without drinking. I began to drink again during the vacation, even though I could not down more than two beers without vomiting and getting headaches. But I wanted to forestall the taunts from my class mates.

When school re-opened, I would sneak through the fence to the shopping centre and drink beer.

By the time I was in Form Two, my tolerance level for alcohol had increased. before long, I was participating in “bottoms-up” competitions where people sought to know whoc could gulp down the highest number of beer bottles in the shortest time.

During school outings, we would be pre-occupied with finding out who held the party with the most liquor so that we could attend.

Within a year, I begun developing an urge for a drink every time. Soon I was not only taking beer but experimenting with chang’aa because my pocket money could not sustain a constant flow of beer.

One day I stole Sh50 from my mothers handbag but she did not notice. After a few days, I took some money from my father’s wallet which again, went undetected.

Back in school, I had enough money to by beer. But this was exhausted fast. We begun brewing our own liquor using pineapple peelings from the school kitchen. Then, we begun sneaking out to party all night.

Teachers would punish me for breaking one rule or other. On one occasion, of us escaped from school, went to the home of one of our friends and took his parents car without permission. This landed us in a police station and marked the beginning of my encounters with the police.

Miraculously I passed my ‘O’ levels and joined Aga Khan High School for ‘A’ levels. Here, I became the ring leader of a group of seven. Everywhere we went, we caused trouble. We even started stealing spirits and cigarettes from supermarkets.

Since the rest of my siblings were boarders, my parents noticed that whenever I was at home, they would lose money and other valuables. They started locking up everything.

Despite my wayward character, I had not given up the dream of becoming a writer like my mother, Grace Ogot.

Between 1980 and 1981, while in high school, I published three books, My Dear Prefects, Ghost Of Uhuru and Mission To Uganda which were recommended readers in school.

The ensuing attention massaged my ego. Needless to say, I failed my Form Six exams.

My writing earned me a trip to India to attend a writers workshop. When I returned, some family friends suggested to my desparate parents to send me to an Indian University because there, one needed a permit to access liquor. There was a total ban in some places.

I found myself on a flight to Bombay, India. On arrival, I was booked overnight at a hotel to wait for an internal flight to Udaipur in Rajasthan. I drank all night after purchasing spirits from a duty-free shop, beleiving that this would be my only moment for a long time.

When I arrived in Udaipur, my cousin informed me that not only was liquor freely available but also very cheap. I went into a partying orgy that lasted three months while other students went about registering for classes and looking for accomodation.

Life was cheap in India. I would move from one friends flat to another. When I was broke, I performed impromptu comedy shows in local pubs for a toekn. Three years passed and I was yet to join campus. My parents meanwhile, kept sending me money in the belief that I was studying.

I started feeling useless when my younger siblings completed university. I attempted suicide by cutting my wrists and stabbing my chest. Friends rushed me to hospital and informed my mother who took the next flight to India.

She wanted me to return with her to Kenya but I convinced her that I had learned my lesson and was determined to finish my studies. She bought me an air-air ticket and made me promise to fly home any time I was overwhelmed. before long I was back to my old self.

I blew all the money mother had left me on booze and sold out the ticket. Broke, I roamed the streets of Bombay, putting up stand-up-comedy shows which earned me the nameNyamabites. As usual I used the little money I got on drink. At night I would sneak into the Kenya High Commission through the window and sleep at the reception.

This continued until 1986 when the High Commision bought me a ticket and put me on a flight to Nairobi with no passport.

Back home and embarrassed, I would lock myself in the house most of the time.

By the time I left for India I already had two children with my wife, Eileen. For this reason my father got me a public service job. I was soon calling up my old drinking buddies.

I did not keep the job, and others which came later, for long because I was always drunk. The longest time I stayed on a job was two-and-a-half years when I worked with the Kenya Timesas a reporter. Perharps it was because it provided opportunities to attend coctail parties.

When finally I ran out of options, I started curtain raising with comedy acts for local artistes like the late Joe Mwenda.

But I soon gained a reputation for failing to keep appointments and lost the opportunities. I returned to performing stand-up comedy shows.

I would disappear from home for days on end. That was until patrons at bars that I frequented told the attendants to chase me away after I developed rashes on my skin one day.

It was at this desparate moment that I remembered my mother once telling me I should call her on the day I realised I had a big problem. I telephoned her and we met in a restaurant in town.

This led to my admission to a rehabilitation center for 28 days. But within four months I was drinking again.

In 200, I ended up at Asumbi rehabilitation Centre, where underwent rehabilitation for four months. except for one relapse, I have been sober ever since.

I cannot undo the past. My problem persisted for as long as I did not know where and who to turn for help. I have begun a website goinghomedotcom, to assist alcoholics and their families.

Last year, I launched a video, Nobody Kicks A Dead Dog, which gives a guide on where alcoholics and their families can seek help.”

Alcoholism and Spouses

Alcoholism is a disease that is tearing families apart and the most affected persons are the spouses and children.

However, the spouses are the ones who seem to carry the burden as they have to explain to their children what is happening as well as take all the responsibilities of the family.

Eileen Ogot first realised that her husband was alcoholic when he returned from India where he was studying in 1986.

At first, she thought it was the excitement of him returning home after being away from the country but she later realised that he was scheduling drinking into every activity that he would undertake be it with friends of family.

“It took a long time to confront him as I thought he needed to take control of his drinking, but when I did, he retaliated and told me that i was the one who needed to get control of my life,” she says.

The issue was pushed back and forth for a long time and after six years, in 1992, David accepted that he was an alcholic and agreed to go to a rehabilitation centre to seek help.

However, before he could accept his problem, the family had a rough five years as most of the time, David could go out an spend days and nights out and this slowly started stretching out to weeks.

During this time, the family would be restless as they wondered whether he was dead or alive in jail or even in hospital or even with other woment.

Eileen describes this period as an exasperating period of her life as she could not control her husbands drinking and this meant that she was automatically the head of the family.

Out of frustration, she treid many tricks that would keep david in the house by getting excuses to keep him in the house but this did not last for long.

“I was always in doubt as every time I would think of if he is planning to go out and if he does, will he come back or are we going to start looking for him again,” she posed.

She started feeling lonely and it increasingly became challenging and trying for her to handle children as well as the family resources as she was expected to foot the bills.

Out of these frustrations, she could not take it any more and she quit her job because her husband was not going to work.

Soon, the family started experiencing financial problems as they could not make ends meet and because she could not stand seeing her children suffering, she sent them to boarding school.

Even when they were on holiday, she did not want them to come home as she could not stand them seeing the suffering they were undergoing due to their father’s drinking.

“Children have a way of hiding their problems and their lives were full of pretenses and they treid to live as a normal family. It is now that I can see the problem manifesting itself in them as they are now grown-ups.”, she confesses.

She always had hopes that things would change and took life a day at a time. On several occasions, she contemplated on leaving but she all the time when she remembered the vows she took during her wedding, she could not leave.

The mother of four also felt that if she left and something bad happened to David, then people would blame her and she would never forgive herself.

According to Eileen, alcoholism is a family disease and symptoms are always there in the family though you might not see them immediately.

Family members are referred to as co-dependants as they are in the disease with the alcoholic member and they also tend to base their lives around the alcholic member.

However, when it is the father who is alcoholic, the problem is more emphasised as he is the head of the family and children tend to look up to him in most cases.

Eileen, who is also the director of goinghomedotcom, and NGO that assists alcoholics and their families through counselling and refers to counseling centres, compares the alcoholism problem in families to that of abusive marriages, as in both cases, one hopes that things will get better day in, day out and so they hang on.

her advice to families and, especially spouses whom their loved ones are alcoholic is that it is important if the alcoholic goes to recovery that the family goes to receovery in order to understand the nature of the problem and know why it happening to their family and not any other family.

The director notes that an alcoholic needs higher power to control oneself from going back to drinking and for one to manage to get their life in order.

She adds that families who notice that their members are alcholic should raise the alarm immeidiately and not wait till things get out of hand.

“Query when you think one is overdoing their drinking as this will help you avert many problems and seek help in early stages,” she advises.

Co-dependents have a weakness of providing an enabling environment for the alcoholic and this enables him or her to carry on with the disease.

“It is wise to practice tough love measures whereby if one comes home without say paying for a taxi, do not pay for it because sometimes he or she has colluded with the taxi driver who gets his cut after the deal is through”, Eieleen insists.

This would also assist them come to terms with anger and pains they will try to overcome and rebuild their own lives by doing the right things to the alcoholic and each other.

Many people shy away from family members and friends just like Eileen did and she shut out her friends and family from their lives but she later on learnt that sharing with others does help a lot.

To date, Eileen still suffers a lot of insecurity and she still does not trust David with some things.

She is sometimes angered by flashbacks of the days when she wanted to leave David but he convinced her to stay on and she feels a lot of pain and anger when she thinks about those dark days.

She concludes by saying that a spouse should not just sit there and think they can handle the problem on their own and that they can kill the habit but instead seek help from all quarters.

Alcoholism to her is a disease just like diabetes or cancer which cannot get better on its own and it manifests itself diffrently in different people.