The Mututho Law And Death From Alcohol In Kenya – Alex Ndungu Njeru


A while back there was fervent fever in Kenya over the introduction of a new set of laws, which were supposedly supposed to streamline the alcoholic beverages industry in Kenya. The laws ‘Alcoholic Drinks Control Act (2010)’ otherwise known as the Mututho laws after the member of parliament who introduced the bill to usher in the laws to parliament divided opinion like the proverbial iron curtain between east and west during the cold war era.  Yet the law has failed to do exactly what it was brought in to do and perhaps this vindicates the wise voice that says, ‘there is folly in trying to regulate industry.’

How exactly did this happen? The laws envisaged controlling the production, sale and consumption of alcoholic beverages, which was hitherto considered anarchic before the introduction of the laws. Whole new rafts of measures were put in place in order to deliver the ends of controlling the alcoholic beverages industry. These included everything from controlling the hours permissible to consume alcoholic beverages, establishment of strong licencing regime and quite over the board licence fees, fines and taxes (exercise duty) on alcoholic beverages.

It is the licensing though that has been the bane of the ‘Alcoholic Drinks Control Act’. For general retail of alcoholic beverages the licence fees range between 50,000 KSHs and 7,000 KSHs depending on the location of the premise. Clubs within a city pay 100,000 KSHs for a licence whereas brewers with a capacity of 1 million litres and above pay 1 million shillings for the licence. The licence fees seem fair enough for big businesses but they could be debilitating for small business, this accompanied by the corruption that characterizes the District Alcoholics Regulation Committees that are the licencing bodies goes along way into pushing small businesses to undercut the regulator.

It is thus not surprising that a report of the National Authority for Campaign against Drug and Alcohol Abuse reported that between May 6 and May 11 2014 over 96 people lost their lives because of consumption of dangerous alcoholic beverages. Over 98 people were hospitalized for the consumption of the same dangerous alcohol. This dangerous alcohol, mostly in the strong alcoholic spirits distilled in areas of squalor and informal settlements has been the major cause of death, and health risks. It is this sort of scenario that the Mututho laws were supposed to check in the first place.

There are number of reasons why the Mututho laws have failed and failed spectacularly at that.  Altruism reasoning led the drafters of the bill to think that they would drive down a moral code down Kenyans throats through legislation. That has not been the case because; legislating on issues that are quite rightly issues of personal choice and morality is a task arduous in itself and secondly because drinking has become a cultural issue in Kenya, drinking is both deep set in societal culture and contemporary culture, as such no law would be effective in addressing; when, how and in what manner Kenyans partake of their favourite drinks. Whilst we all acquiesce that the consumption of alcohol without abandon is detrimental to national productivity and individual well being, there are other better equipped ways of dealing with the alcoholic abuse other than the approach the Alcoholic Drinks Control Act took.

The Alcoholic Drinks Control Act seemed to dwell more on the manifestation of the malaise of alcoholism more than it did on the causes. For good measure we want our men in the farms, in the workshops and generally engaging in other productive pursuits rather have them in bars and dens drinking themselves silly. We have to ask ourselves though what makes men and women choose drink over productive pursuits?

The word ‘joblessness’ is bandied around a little bit to much whenever the problem of alcoholism is mentioned in the country. The question we should ask ourselves though is alcoholism an expression of joblessness? Or is joblessness the cause of alcoholism. Now lets give ourselves context. It may seem like Kenya has drinking problem but it ranks a distant 118th  off 189 countries in terms per capita alcohol intake annually. The other dragon of a myth that we need to deal with is that the informal ‘traditional’ beer industry is the most perilous to health. Well apparently, Kenya has the lowest informal beer market at 20% in comparison with her neighbours; Uganda at 89% and 87% in Tanzania, yet Kenya gets the lion’s share when it comes to alcohol related fatalities.

What’s the problem? What are the facts? Well the Kenya revenue authority places exercise duty on alcoholic beverages; the exercise duty for a malted beer is 54 KSHs per litre, wine 70 KSHs per litre, and spirit at 120 KSHs per litre.  This coupled with the fact that the Kenya Revenue Authority scrapped off an exercise duty reprieve on Senator Keg, a brand by the Eastern Africa Breweries Limited has conspired to enfeeble the ability of low income earning Kenyans to purchase non-perilous alcohol from the market place.

Unless an objective policy review of the Alcoholic Drinks Control Act is carried out and exercise duty on alcoholic beverages is drastically reduced, Kenyans will continue dying from alcohol brewed and distilled in nondescript and squalid conditions and the policy makers and the regulators will keep on racking their heads whereas the solution could be as easy as deregulate more and tax less.


Alex writes on how to help Kenyans drink less of illegal alcohol