Monday, April 28, 2014

What can be done about alcoholism in Zambia?

My last Blog post focused on the problem of alcohol abuse in Zambia:

Zambia's problem with alcohol abuse

In the post I concentrated primarily on the problems facing the country but did little by way of offering solutions. In my follow up articles I will consider some of the positive steps that Zambia might consider in reducing the drinking epidemic.

First and foremost it is essential that young people are educated about the dangers of alcohol. Education is arguably more important in Zambia than in any other country in the world given the fact that approximately half of all living Zambians are under the age of eighteen. Unfortunately many young Zambians are not exposed to good role models as many of their parents and relatives may be heavy drinkers. In most societies, where women drinking to the excess that Zambian women do is taboo, a mother is usually a model of sobriety for her children. Given that 42% of Zambian women are likely to drink to excess at least once a week, according to the WHO, it is likely that many young Zambians lack the guidance of even one sober parent. Bear in mind also that the statistics from the World Health Organization do not highlight the frequency with which Zambian women drink each week. Casual observation would suggest that for many of these women drinking is part of their daily routine and that drunkenness is the norm. Not a great environment for the education of the young given that the first educators of any child is the parents and actions most certainly speak louder than words.

Aside from the family the next group of people to have a real influence on youths and children is their teachers. Given that most young people are first tempted by alcohol in their teens it is important that their teachers in Secondary school are excellent role models. This is imperative especially in the circumstance where heavy drinking is the norm in the home. Most teachers in Zambia are professional and are serious in their duties. It is only a minority who fail to report for work or are drunk whilst on duty. However, even if a teacher is an excellent role model in school their responsibility does not end there. A teacher has a duty to uphold good moral standards at all times when their students may be of witness. Thus it can never be appropriate for a teacher to drink heavily in front of his/her students. Should a teacher wish to drink of an evening or a weekend - which is their right - they should be cautious of their audience. Drinking in the same bars as their students is most certainly inappropriate but one might argue that being seen intoxicated by the young people they educate and guide is also morally wrong. There are of course grey areas in this aspect of the debate but in the majority of cases a teacher should be a beacon of moral virtue for his/her students.

It is not helpful to demonize alcohol or those people that enjoy a few drinks. Drinking in moderation is socially acceptable in most parts of the world. My personal experience of life in Zambia is that I made many great friends over a few Mosi's or Castle's after finishing work. It is important that the consumption of alcohol does not become one's raison d'etre and that the individual is always in control of their relationship with alcohol. Once alcohol gains the upper hand it becomes a dagerous drug that destroys productivity, families and communities. In this respect it is important that Churches speak out and offer guidance but this should not be to condemn alcohol or those who drink.  After all Scripture only criticizes drunkenness and not the consumption of alcohol per se. Churches condemning all those who enjoy are a few beers or ciders are not helping the situation in Zambia. Abstinence is not the only answer! Christians should remember that Jesus' first miracle was to turn water into wine and that there was wine present at his Last Supper. Let's not be selective when quoting scripture if that's a justification for the condemnation of alcohol one seeks. Instead Churches must support those with alcohol problems and their families. Pastoral care and Christian love should be shown to those with alcohol dependency and never rejection. After all Jesus came to save the sinner!

Saturday, April 26, 2014

Zambia's problems with alcohol abuse

Zambian's the world biggest drinkers

WHO evidence shows that Zambian women are the biggest consumers of alcohol in the world. The horrible reality is that alcohol destroys lives in Zambia. 

The survey shows that Zambia as a nation has the worst problem with alcohol that any other country in the world with men and women consuming enormous amounts of alcohol. Perhaps the most worrying aspect of the statistics presented by the World Health Organization is that the problem is worst among Zambian women with the evidence suggesting that 42% of Zambian women drink to excess at least once a week. The statistics unfortunately do not lie as wherever and whenever one travels in Zambia one will witness drunkenness. The statistics only partly reflect the reality as well as it is commonplace to see men, women and children drunk to an extreme one might consider impossible at all times of day and night. I have seen elderly women barely able to walk due to intoxication in the middle of an afternoon and have witnessed teenage girls taking drinks from much older men in bars across Zambia. Many teenage girls fall into dependency upon alcohol and often will take drinks from men in return for sex. Alcohol abuse in Zambia is explicitly linked to prostitution and subsequently to the spread of HIV/Aids, teenage pregnancy and other associated social evils. The situation is out of control across the country.

The situation isn't confined to cities either - alcoholism extends into the compounds and villages. Cheap alcohol is readily available across the country. Some is sold legally in shops where other brews are made in homes and sold to unlicensed shebeens for sale within communities. One can buy alcohol at any time of day or night from markets that trade all night. Although such trade is illegal the law is not enforced by the authorities.

The problem permeates across the whole of society but as always those who suffer most are those living in poverty and tragically the biggest victims are often children. The most tragic aspect which the statistics do not reflect is the level of drunkenness and alcoholism among children. It is no wonder children turn to alcohol. After all what sort of example are they set by their parents, uncles and aunts and even grandparents? One of the busiest nights of the year in Zambia is when Grade 12 children complete their exams. Children flood into bars and nightclubs and often subsequently in to a life dominated by alcohol abuse.

 I only hope that the Zambian government is now stirred into action and legislates to reduce access to alcohol in the country. President Ian Khama in Botswana adopted hardline measures to reduce alcohol abuse in his country and I would suggest it's time that President Sata adopted similar measures to his neighbours. The banning of “Tujili jili” in 2012 showed the political will to address the issue of alcoholism in the nation but unfortunately little has happened since and traders have now circumnavigated the legislation but repackaging cheap alcohol for sale to the Zambian public.

Wednesday, April 23, 2014

Death on the Roads - A humanitarian crisis for Zambia

Many people with limited knowledge of Africa probably think of Poverty, Malaria and HIV/Aids as the major causes of death in countries like Zambia and other parts of Sub Saharan Africa but add to the list Road Traffic Accidents.

 35 people killed in Easter Weekend Accidents

This is horrendous news but it barely ruffles any feathers in Zambia because death on the roads is so frequent. First and foremost drivers must start taking responsibility for their actions as most "accidents" (I prefer the term collisions as accidents implies a lack of accountability to any party!) are caused by recklessness. Such recklessness is often due to driving under in influence of alcohol. In many countries driving under the influence of alcohol is stigmatized. There is little sympathy from the public or court when a driver causes an "accident" while drunk.

Meanwhile in Zambia it is commonplace to drive from bar to bar during all day drinking sessions and even to drink while driving! This is where individual responsibility is essential. Obviously the driver is blameworthy but I would argue so are all of his/her passengers if they are aware of the amount of alcohol he has consumed. Moreover, I would also apportion blame to the bar/pub that allowed him/her to drink when inebriated and in charge of a motor vehicle.

Individual responsibility should also be applied to those who knowingly drive vehicles that are unfit for use upon a public highway. Zambia's roads is full of such unfit vehicles and these are often the cause of fatalities. Major highways are strewn with broken down trucks (that have passed through weighbridges and roadblocks!) and countless cars can be spotted without headlights.

In each of the above scenarios though the accountability lies not only with the individual but also with authorities. Government must take the lead and ensure that credible education programs are implemented. Police must enforce high standards of road-worthiness upon vehicles and investigate how clearly unfit vehicles came to be granted "fitness certificates." Everyone knows it is because of "back-handers" and corruption but little is ever done to deter RTSA (Road Traffic Safety Agency) employees from issuing such certificates in return for bribes. Government and RTSA also have a role to play in ensuring that the quality of roads are improved in Zambia and that less "accidents" are caused by potholes and roads which are not fit for purpose.

Over the Easter weekend the Zambian Police Force issued a statement reinforcing a police presence over the holiday period. This included the setting up of roadblocks to promote road safety. Unfortunately reality of a roadblock is a license to make money by the Police Officers on duty. Drivers will often be fined for minor indiscretions in order for the officers to raise some capital for Mosi, Castle and Hunters Dry (for the side-dish!) so that they can enjoy the weekend festivities too.  Such dereliction of duty is a crime and a crime committed by those entrusted to uphold the law!

The tragedy is that similar events occur every day in Zambia. Every day mothers bury their children and people grieve over "accidents" that could have been avoided. May the souls of those who passed away this past weekend rest in peace.