The death of Alex Kayanja Ssekandi, the son of former vice president Edward Ssekandi, at only age 39 serves as a warning to this country about the danger of permissive excessive consumption of alcohol by young people.
Uganda is one of the top most alcoholic abusers globally. Government’s failure to regulate alcohol consumption and irresponsible alcohol adertivising is part of the causes. Let Ssekandi’s family mourning be the best time for national soul searching.
Government of Uganda (GOU) made no moves during Edward Ssekandi’s tenure as deputy speaker of parliament and later vice president to regulate the opening hours of bars, and alcohol advertising!
Out of respect, let us steer clear of whether Mr Ssekandi drinks alcohol, but the truth is that families where one or both parents drink alcohol - even moderately - are four times more likely to have children that abuse alcohol. What is most perplexing is how we have a permissive alcohol environment under a lifelong teetotaler president!
Some outdated Ugandan cultures regard alcohol drinking as a rite of passage to manhood. I am sure Alex Kayanja (RIP), like many other alcoholics in our midst, was never at his manly best when drunk. As an ex-Catholic, I still don’t understand why this church is permissive about alcohol.
Jesus turned water into wine - once as a miracle, at a wedding event. The Bible is clear. Jesus never encouraged drinking alcohol. Years ago, some civil society organisations pursuaded GOU to ban tobacco advertising. GOU had kept picking revenue from a tobacco industry that knew tobacco adverts fuelled addiction but couldn’t stop itself.
GOU knew that the cost of treating the 20 tobacco-related diseases far exceeded tobacco tax revenue in a partnership that seemed set to continue. For alcohol, the time to act is now. GOU must realize that the cost of treating diseases of alcohol: liver and heart disease and alcohol-inspired sexually transmitted diseases is higher than the tax revenue from alcohol sales.
Our judiciary spends inculculable hours adjudicating alcohol- inspired cases. Many public health programs are undermined by alcohol. Add to this, countless broken homes and relationships, ruined businesses, economic productivity lost through binge drinking, innocent lives lost as collateral damage of drink driving.
Once promising professionals end up in jail or the grave. The Anne Kabayas of this world! The young life of this lovely bubbly Dar es Salaam University educated lawyer and entrepreneur was snuffed out with two other young friends in a 4am collision of their car and a train. They were coming from a nightclub.
Every family in Uganda has been tragically touched by alcohol. Only the alcohol industries come out winners. For a whole year, my family has lived with a close relative we are helping to overcome an alcohol problem that dogged him for years. Kenny is a wonderful human being in his new life of sobriety.
But his village life is a 20-year catalogue of horror stories! He is one of the lucky few because family took a chance and got him out. At 54, my brother in law has nothing: no job, no business, no career. He is a father but has no family to call his own. We hope that keeping a wide distance between him and alcohol might help him kick the habit. Alcoholic Anonymous (AA) recovery centers are prohibitively costly.
My friend runs one on Entebbe road and charges Shs 2.5 million per month. Treatment lasts anywhere between months and a year. Only kids of the rich can afford!
Therefore, last week’s pleas to government of Uganda to establish AA centres - and fund existing ones - is sound economic thinking. But it only deals with the effects, not the cause!
Prevention is cheaper in the long run. Let us stop the pretence. GOU knows there is a problem out there. For every one Alex Kayanja, thousands of faceless youths perish needlessly annually. The cost to Uganda is inestimable. GOU should do something.
Alcohol adverts must be banned for not telling young people that alcohol is both addictive and destructive. The World Health Organisation says alcohol advertising increases the likelihood of young persons tasting alcohol.
Youths are more likely to start drinking early and continue the habit into their adulthood if they grow up in markets where advertising of alcoholic products is not regulated.
Let us end the involvement of alcohol companies in sports events promotion. Allowing the subtle language of adverts to glamourise something that destroys millions of young lives is nothing short of criminal. Pubs and opening hours of bars must be regulated through legislation and strict enforcement.
We don’t need World Bank or the World Health Organisation to tell us how destructive alcohol is to our economy.
The writer is a consumer activist and discusses mindset issues.