Let’s tell the story properly is the title of Jennifer Nansubuga Makumbi’s 2014 Commonwealth Award Winning Short Story.
The story is written with a Ugandan conversation touch paying maximum attention to the details of interjections and sighs. That is how I would rather we tell the story of sachets in Uganda today.
When you take a walk around the nearest trading centre regardless of the time of day, you will not fail to see a young man or a group of them cuddling small sachets in their fists. They carry them as they execute their duties (for those who have). Unfortunately, this situation is not only among the youth on the streets but also at the work place. The sachets come at a very friendly and affordable price of UGX 500 for a 100ml sachet. And they come with a “kill me quick” element. This leaves you in company of drunk workmates should they be consumers.
The consumption of sachet alcohol began more than five years ago with Uganda Waragi. Then, the price was more than UGX 3000 and that made it hard for the youth to afford. Today, with numerous players on the market, there are so many available brands at a very low price. Whether they are all regulated, UNBS is yet to tell us. These mainly target the youth. Rogers Kasirye writes thus in his blog;
Research by Professor Swahn and UYDEL in 2014 shows that only 17% of youth in the slums, ages 12 to 18, find it difficult to purchase alcohol despite the minimum legal age of 18 years. The research also shows that nearly half of the youth report seeing alcohol adverts often (44%) and that they see ads in the city, on television, on radio and in newspapers and/ or magazines. More importantly, as many as 18% report getting free alcohol as part of promotional activities and as many as 20% report having items with an alcohol brand logo on it. Also, despite the mandated alcohol warning on the advertisements, our inventory of alcohol marketing in the slums of Kampala shows that as many as 25% of the marketing materials do not have any health warning.
In the recent past, there have been efforts by the government to regulate the distribution of these sachets but they have not yielded much fruit.
There is need to act and act quick. The challenge at hand is that the sachet has invaded the home, the workplace and the school. A friend tells me, at a recent school event they attended, they were surprised to find the school children drunk.
Uganda prides in having the youngest population in the world with a 78% below the age of 30 and 83% below the age of 15. These numbers can be a blessing or a threat depending on how we respond to them. As a country, we are already ranked high among the drunk countries in the world. That is mainly because we do not have working regulations on the consumption of alcohol. The two most dangerous avenues that need to be closed are;
- close the access to alcohol at any time of the day and
- regulate on who buys alcohol. If children and teenagers are deeply engrossed in the consumption of alcohol, there is a problem.
Unfortunately, politicians have not done any better in combating this threat, well knowing that alcohol is the oil used to lubricate their campaign engine. When you critically look at the video footage of the riots and campaign trails in the country, you will not miss seeing sachets doing rounds.
Because you are not seeing its impact next to you does not mean that it is not happening. Many of our leaders are distanced from the people they lead and as a result they do not necessarily know the problems directly affecting them. As a country, we need to act beginning from where we are. The minister of trade said earlier in the year while meeting the Uganda Alcohol Industry Association that the packaging of alcohol should stop by 30th September 2017, I pray it comes to pass.