Wednesday, May 7, 2014

GREED AND CORRUPTION MAY BE BEHIND THE LETHAL KASUFURIA BREW DEATHS

They say when it rains it pours.

This idiom has nothing to do with the sudden atmospheric changes in Kenya in which some parts of the country are enjoying sporadic to heavy precipitation even as other parts are staring at imminent famine due to a creeping drought.

It refers to the events of the past few days. Not since the Westgate terrorist attack last September have Kenyans found themselves in a quagmire of deaths, pain and anxiety. Just when they were trying to come to terms with increased insecurity following terrorist attacks in Mombasa and Nairobi last week, an unexpected calamity of a social nature made breaking news. Within hours dozens of people had died after imbibing a killer brew; and since Monday the number has been rising.

In the next few weeks, many families will bury their loved ones and just as many will be lamenting the bodily and psychological devastation visited on their fathers, mothers, sons and daughters following the weekend spate of reckless drinking binges.

The deaths occasioned by kasufuria, also known as kosovo, the lethal brew that killed scores of people across five counties, has once again sent the country into a sudden state of mourning. Apart from those who died, the number of those unable to see has also gone up exponentially as a result of drinking what is suspected to be methanol.

This is not the first time people have died after voluntarily consuming a deadly substance, but this is the first time that so many people have perished within a short period of time and across a large area of the country. Many of the victims were young and middle aged men and women in the prime of their lives. The only common denominator among them was their level of poverty and hopelessness.

The sorrowful events in Embu, Makueni, Kitui, Muranga and Naivasha, have once again exposed the nauseating greed of some Kenyans. Without regard to life, one or more rapacious money-makers have killed more people than Westgate, Likoni, Mwembe Tayari and Thika Road terrorist attacks combined. It is feared the number of fatalities could go beyond 100 as more people succumb to the deadly poison. If there is one thing that confirms the common adage that greed kills, then it is this sad event.

As the bereaved collect their dead from mortuaries and as medical personnel struggle to stabilise those in critical condition in hospital wards, the focus should now be on government officials responsible for regulating and licencing of alcoholic drinks. Of course, the main culprits - the manufacturers - must be on top of the list of those who must be arrested and prosecuted. Then you have the chain of distributors and retailers. The good news is that a number of government officials on the ground have been sent home pending completion of investigations.

To avoid cover-ups, independent investigators from outside those counties must be brought in to steer the probes. Anti-corruption officials must also be involved since there is already suspicion that corruption may have played a part, and allowed illegal dealers of the killer brews to thrive with impunity.

However, it will be up to Nacada, the government body responsible for drug and alcoholic abuse, to come up with effective measures that will ensure no such senseless deaths occur in future.

And that is my say.