City leaders in Mbarara are deeply concerned about the excessive consumption of alcohol among young people, which they believe is negatively impacting their productivity. This problem is particularly prevalent in certain slums within the city, including Biafra, Kajogo, Kijungu, Kisenyi, and Kashanyarazi. Young people as young as 10, regardless of their education level, are ensnared in the cycle of alcoholism. To combat this issue, city officials are calling for the implementation of stricter laws to regulate such behavior.
According to Mr. Assy Abireebe, the city clerk, their primary hope for saving the youth lies in the creation of robust legislation by Members of Parliament that would govern the production and consumption of alcohol. He emphasized that without an enabling law, it is challenging to control the timing, sales, and consumption of alcohol.
A 35-year-old university graduate, who was observed drinking as early as 8am in a bar near Mbarara Central Market, explained that his alcohol consumption was driven by the need to alleviate stress amid economic hardships. He noted that many young people turn to alcohol as a coping mechanism when they are unable to find employment. When asked how they fund their drinking habits, he mentioned that they rely on begging and occasional odd jobs.
One of his associates revealed that he lost his job as a restaurant manager in Mbarara City due to alcohol abuse and has since been surviving on charity. He expressed his intention to turn his life around by seeking salvation through a religious conversion.
These personal stories shed light on the broader issue of how youth end up trapped in alcoholism and the subsequent impact on their lives. Mr. Robert Kanusu, the Deputy Resident City Commissioner for Mbarara City North, attributed the rise in alcohol abuse to unemployment, particularly among the urban poor. He stressed the need for these young individuals to form groups and engage in government programs to combat idleness.
Mr. Abbas Kazibwe, the secretary for community development in Mbarara City, voiced concerns about the negative effects of alcohol abuse on the city’s development. He noted a surge in mental health issues and increased insecurity, partially attributed to drug and alcohol abuse. Kazibwe advocated for skilling and income-generating projects as an alternative to stringent laws.
However, Mr. Kanusu made it clear that they will not hesitate to arrest and prosecute individuals who commit crimes under the influence of alcohol. The Rwizi Region police spokesperson, Mr. Samson Kasasira, also pointed out that rampant alcohol abuse contributes to criminal activities such as theft, domestic violence, and even murders.
Professor Alex Ariho, the executive director of Excel Hort Consult, an agribusiness incubation hub, emphasized the importance of addressing the challenges posed by the influx of unemployed youth into cities. He noted that without employment opportunities, young people may resort to drugs and criminal activities to survive, urging cities to collaborate with stakeholders to tackle this issue.
Regarding legislation, Ms. Edith Atukwatsa, a psychologist counsellor, is awaiting the passage of the Alcoholic Drinks Control Bill, 2022, by Parliament. This legislation aims to empower local governments to establish bylaws and ordinances for regulating alcohol production and consumption. The government is also considering raising the legal drinking age from 18 to 21 to combat abuse, according to the Ministry of Health.
Ms. Atukwatsa stressed the need for rehabilitation centers to support addicted youth and called for the development of local bylaws to oversee alcohol production, sales, and consumption, as well as projects to assist young people.
Tororo Woman MP Sarah Opendi introduced the Alcoholic Drinks Control Bill in November 2022, which seeks to regulate the manufacture, importation, sale, and consumption of alcoholic beverages. However, as of now, the bill has not yet been passed.