By Dr. Gerald Werikhe Wanzala
In September 2022, a private member’s bill dubbed the “Alcohol Control Bill 2022” which calls for regulations to license those trading in alcohol, ban sales to certain persons and to regulate the promotion and advertising of alcoholic drinks was tabled in parliament.
The bill also seeks to repeal obsolete bills such as the Liquor Act Cap. 93, The Portable Spirits Act Cap. 97 and the Enguli (Manufacturing and Licensing Act) Cap. 86. Uganda has one of the highest per capita alcohol consumption rates in sub-Saharan Africa. However, the prevalence of Alcohol Use Disorders (AUD) remains unknown in many areas, especially in rural districts.
Among the major challenges the country faces in relation to the alcohol sector is sale and Consumption of illicit alcohol which the private members bill seeks to address.
According to the UNCTAD dialogue on Illicit Trade and SDGs (2019) 25% of all alcohol beverage consumption globally is unrecorded and are potentially illicit , while recent studies by Euromonitor International demonstrates that in many countries particularly in emerging markets such as Uganda, the unrecorded alcohol consumption is way above 50%. This creates serious safety or health risks for consumers, erodes the rule of law and Fiscal income and directly frustrates the governments’ achievement of National Development Plans and international development Commitments such as Sustainable Development Goals.
The prevalence of hazardous or heavy episodic drinking among Ugandan drinkers has been reported at 56.9% (68.8% in men and 32.6% in women) and the average prevalence of Alcohol Use Disorders as 7.1% (12.4% in men and 1.9% in women) according to Oliver Nalwadda etl, 2018.
At the launch of the ‘Mind Your Drink’ on August 28th 2022, it was revealed that at least 64.5 percent of alcoholic drinks on the market in Uganda are illegal and lack standards that are fit for consumption, which translates into at least 987,905 litres of the total industry consumption size of 1.53 million litres that was consumed between 2017 and 2020. Only 35.5 percent of alcohol, which translates to 543,331 litres, are legal.
The report also noted that 45.4 percent of consumed illicit beverages are homemade, popularly known as waragi, which presents a larger danger on human health, especially in rural areas. At least 266,044 litres of illicit beverages, the report notes, are counterfeits, while 36,153 litres are smuggled into the country.
The value of illicit alcoholic drinks in Uganda is worth $1.91b (Shs7.25 trillion), for which it is estimated that government lost an average of $458m (Shs17.3b) in taxable revenue between 2017 and 2020. Consumption of illicit alcohol has been growing with a number fatal cases reported in the last 10 years.
The main leadership gaps leading to exacerbation of illicit alcohol production, trade and consumption among communities are: limited knowledge by leaders especially at local levels about the existing legislations to regulate the alcohol sector, and limited awareness of their mandate and power in enforcement of relevant laws against illicit alcohol and influencing mindset change. Other factors such as Ignorance among consumers, poverty and weak monitoring and enforcement by state institutions such as Uganda National Bureau of Standards are secondary. Based on this observation, I am persuaded to believe that communities and citizens in this alcohol game are only victims of a broken system from the grassroot to the national level.
Whereas new legislations are welcome to re-enforce the existing legal frameworks, this should be complemented with Sensitization of Local government leaders (LCV, LC111 and Parish Chiefs), awareness of citizens on illicit alcohol including their role in the fight against illicit alcohol, as well as strengthening collaboration between the legal brewers/distillers and government leadership in the fight against Illicit alcohol. These interventions should also be aligned to the Parish Development model pillar of mindset change for ownership.
The author is the Head of Civic Engagement and Research at Africa Leadership Institute (AFLI)
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