Sunday, September 27, 2020

Govt must apply targeted interventions in its war against alcohol abuse

Somebody last week , a South African for that matter, ┬áasked what kind of cosmic misfortune did Botswana suffer to be more miserable than Chad ÔÇô they were of course referring to the Happy Planet Index survey┬áwhich ranks Batswana as the most unhappy people on earth.

We are tempted to state here that some of the reasons Batswana may be a bitter nation may be traced to the fast pace at which a culture of civil liberties and freedoms is fast going up the air.

The reduced trading hours for alcohol and the alcohol levy may further contribute to the unhappiness of the people. This week government formally started to ban the sale of traditional beer in homesteads.

This brings to an end a centuries’ old tradition.

Alcohol has been sold in homesteads for years putting bread on the table for many families.

We can however not run away from the fact that alcohol has for years contributed to both physical and emotional scars among our people.

Drunken driving is one of the biggest causes of both accidents and deaths on our roads.

We do not know what makes people happy in the survey carried out by the Happy Planet Index. We can guarantee, however, that the regulation of Chibuku which is regarded as a traditional beer by the government is bound to add further misery to our people.

And these are not just alcohol consumers but also the traders and their families.
Research has proved that Chibuku is mainly sold by women, many of whom are uneducated, unsophisticated and with no alternative sources of income.

These are the biggest losers under the new alcohol regulations.

Lest we are taken out of context, we are not against the regulation of alcohol consumption and we think we understand where the Minister of Trade and Industry is coming from.

We support interventions by the government geared at protecting children in particular from exposure to the indirect and direct abuses that come with the selling of alcohol from homes.  There are dangers, serious ones at that, of raising children in an environment where alcohol is sold. We need not overemphasize the downside of such.

It is however not enough for the government to give those who sell Chibuku (opaque traditional beer which is commercialized) about six months before effecting the regulations without giving them options. The government cannot seriously show us places from where those who have been selling alcohol from homes will operate from. Few can afford to rent places.

There are more potent drinks than Chibuku which the government has declared traditional beers that can be sold from homes ÔÇô khadi comes to mind.

It is against this background that government should have been looking at the root cause of problems such as the one of alcohol abuse and come up with targeted interventions.

We are of a strong view that the new alcohol regulations are going to be counterproductive. Not only are people likely to resort to more dangerous brands, there is also a high potential that the land barons will become the new Chibuku sellers because they have ready access to land that is required to comply

Chibuku is mainly consumed by lowers classes. We do not expect government to address the drinking patterns of its poorer citizens using the same tools for the wealthy.

Once again we call on Government to reconsider the new regulations, especially viewed against the backdrop of unavailability of land for selling points.

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Sunday Standard September 27 – 3 October

Digital copy of Sunday Standard issue of September 27 - 3 October, 2020.