Addressing The National Paradox Of Alcoholism

Morris Komakech

The reading from Hon. Nobert Mao in the Daily Monitor of November 16, 2016 left me wanting more.

The debate on Hon. Betty Nambooze’s proposed bill to regulate alcohol business in Uganda is one that needs courage and sober recollection.

It is unfortunate that the proposed bill has already cultivated bad blood between ”School Teacher” –Hon Betty Nambooze and the ”Classroom Monitor” – Hon Moses Kasibante.

Both of these people are amiable, however, disagreement should not translate into hate mongering.

I find such feuds unnecessary because public issues must be debated in public realms, and not personalised.

Unfortunately, the unpolished egos of our politicians makes the distinction between public and private very grey. Any challenge to their causes ends up brewing a storm in a class of mwenge, as Hon. Mao put it.

However, that aside, there is merit in paying keen attention to Hon. Betty Nambooze’s preposition, that should actually become a bipartisan affairs for MPs from all aisles of the House.

A caveat should be placed here, that if there are MPs who feel that the proposed bill, in its current form may infringe on particular interests of their electorates, then s/he should move a motion to amend, not to kill the bill.

While debating the perils of this matter, one should ask the fundamental question – is alcoholism a national problem?

I spent a number of months in rural Uganda, working silently on some projects in 2014 and mid this year. My experiences attest to Hon. Nambooze’s concern: Alcoholism is a national problem.

I believe that many would agree that this problem of alcoholism is a national catastrophe. How then can we address it? Even before we address the matter, what are the causes and social structures that transmits and sustains it?

It is quite easy to enumerate the effect of alcoholism. After all, the tradition in Uganda is always to jump onto the signs and symptoms, or to mitigate effect, rather than locate triggers and turn it off  from the source.

Ugandans have resorted to excessive alcoholism to the point that we are already in the Guinness book. It is not that consumption of alcohol is bad per se. However, if it deleterious devours the work force, rip apart families and disposes a large chunk of our population into mental health state, then we must address the matter with some dedication.

There is need to conduct an assessment of the economic cost of this vice to the nation. Would regulating the hours of sale make a difference? Would a combination of taxation, regulations and penalties reduce the vice? There are many questions because this is social and behavioural matters that are complex and inextricably intertwined within our cultures and politics.

First, it is absolutely important to view this alcohol consumption in the context of substance use. Many youths in Uganda consume both alcohol and marijuana simultaneously. Some even snort petrol and smoke tea bags to get high.

These behaviours are signals of culpability to a more profound street drug misuse – cocaine, methadone, etc.

Second, the chain effect of all these leads to various risky health behaviours, such as unprotected sex, rape, suicide, crime, and violence. The one that must concern the nation the most, is the decay in manpower, but also the redundancy of the nearly 80% youthful population. If every able bodied person in Uganda gets inebriated by 9:00am in the morning, and remains vegetated for the rest of the day, when do they partake in economic production?

The issue of alcoholism also erodes our values. Uganda is a highly Christian society where the sanctity of family and the fear of the Lord rests heavily in their hearts. Alcohol has ripped apart families, made people impotent and sterile.

The attendant violence has negative impact on women, children and the elderly. Even Muslim youths now hide alcohol in the Kanzoo! The Nambooze bill therefore requires the exercise of probity.

Lastly, and most importantly, these negative or rather suicidal mannerism should be carefully traced to the role and nature of our governance. The government runs an economy that creates losers and winners in absolute terms.

The winners are those who feed off of the muscles and benevolence of the state as active agents in economic production. The losers are those who have fallen through the crux of the liberalized markets.

The politics of repression then kicks them hard into a narrower economic space designated for such losers. The socials pace dynamics shared by such “wretcheds” of the liberal economy tend to reproduce itself. Those ensnared in it have limited options, mostly risk prone and that, to them are the means and an end to life.

Mr. Komakech is a Ugandan Social and Political Analyst based in Canada. Can contact via