During the 1979 Cecafa East and Central African Challenge Cup in Nairobi, some teams were camped at the then Mayfair Hotel in Nairobi.
In case you are wondering, it is the current Southern Sun Mayfair Nairobi in Westlands. There was a media function-cum-party before the start of the tournament.
Soon after the bar opened, a Tanzanian journalist came from the counter in something of a daze. He was muttering loudly to himself and these were his exact words: “Twenty shillings and you get back some change! I am going to drink until I die.”
I watched as he ferried three bottles of beer to his seat to join colleagues and feared for him. I was near enough to hear what he told them.
He announced his stunning discovery – the incredibly low price of the drinks. His friends, also Tanzanian, were wonderstruck, too. Some doubted him but a waiter quickly confirmed the unbelievable. I left them to themselves.
HEAP OF DEBRIS
The following day, the results were clear. Although we met at 3pm for the day’s fixture at the City Stadium, he looked like a heap of debris and no doubt he felt even worse.
His ash-coloured lips resembled the scorched surface of a dry lake-bed and his tomato-red eyes seemed reluctant to shift their gaze, making you wonder how he was going to cover a football match.
He was suffering immensely because after enjoying the party, now the party was enjoying him back. I was glad that he was still alive but remembering his gusto yesterday I couldn’t help chuckling at his expense.
I recalled this incident as I reflected on the changing culture of recreation in the era of Alcoblow. Sports and alcohol consumption are inseparable twins.
Brian Hobson, once chairman of Kenya Breweries and himself an avid tennis and bridge player, once told me: “Many people who play hard find relief in a drink or two.
Some lose their balance and go overboard, which is wrong, because there is a heavy personal and social price to pay for that. But in moderation, it works out very well. That’s why we are in it.”
Almost all sports take place in the second half of the day at the end of which it is time for recreation, both for players and the fans.
Some sports of which Kenya was a big name regionally have since virtually died. Snooker, which was played mostly in the early evening going into the night, is one of them.
I will tell you this story another day. Fans loved their drink after enthralling matches.
In pre-Alcoblow days, there was nothing to worry about and these free-wheeling sessions went on into the small hours of the next day. Not anymore.
The habits of Kenya’s drivers have steadily deteriorated to such an extent that questioning the validity of our driving schools has become a legitimate question. The roads became slaughterhouses and the Government felt it had to act.
In came Alcoblow and the world of recreation changed. I have been doing some production work on a boxing documentary and riding a taxi the other day, I noticed something when the driver’s phone rang – Alcoblow Watch.
“What is this?” I asked him.
“It is a network of people who need to know where police on the Alcoblow beat are stationed,” he told me. “I send out alerts to them.”
I was momentarily speechless. And then he added, to my further surprise: “You know something? I like Alcoblow. I am a taxi driver and don’t think I am talking about increased business from customers.
I am talking about safety. I have lost count of the times when I missed death by a whisker in the wee hours because a vehicle with a completely sloshed driver is heading my way.
Alcoblow greatly reduced those incidences.” I never understood his explanation of the contradiction between his liking of Alcoblow and sending out alerts to people who might kill him as they kill themselves.
For all these decades that I have been on the road covering sports day and night, there is one question that I have never been able to crack – the great death wish of so many Kenyan drivers and their passengers.
Brian Hobson’s assessment of losing balance and going overboard seems a mild judgment in my opinion. For me, it’s just a death wish and nothing else, as articulated by that Tanzanian journalist.
That redoubtable taskmaster, John Michuki is well remembered after every crash that consumes our lives.
Faced with big problems, he had no time for enacting new laws which would result in the formation of new statutory regulatory bodies which would in turn commission new studies and which would result in holding interminable workshops, including overseas travels to study the problem.
To him all those would just add to the body of what was already known. He simply promulgated new operational rules. Yet Michuki’s great offensive against road carnage failed.
Cracks began to appear months after his tough rules were enacted and the edifice collapsed when the hard man of the Kibaki administration was transferred from the ministry of transport.
Because of his egregiously disagreeable character, people failed to pick up a nugget of common sense wisdom that Chirau Ali Mwakwere blurted out when he succeeded Michuki and death statistics started to climb like a heating thermometer.
Mwakwere used to sing when he should have been talking and when he talked he said nasty things – like disclosing that he was an investor in the matatu business as Kenyans decried the slaughter they caused.
It was very hard to like Mwakwere. Yet Mwakwere said this: “If a driver decides to commit suicide, there is nothing the transport minister can do about it.”
He must have driven every last person of the hundreds of thousands who watched that on television up the wall.
But forgetting Mwakwere’s character just this once, let’s begin there. If a driver is suicidal, what can anybody else, transport minister or not, do?
If people are sending Alcoblow alerts instead of designating a sober driver or taking a taxi, who will stop their deaths? Indeed, if a driver is suicidal, who will stop him – or her?
Kenya’s roads are teeming with suicidal drivers and all of them are blaming somebody else. The drivers number in the millions and the policemen number in the thousands; there are just not enough policemen to save the drivers from themselves.
The Sports Club and the Sports Bar business has taken a big hit from Alcoblow. Both are depleted of a big percentage of their customers who fear encounters with the police.
These fears are well founded – the line between law enforcement and rent seeking is too blurred to be noticed.
Alcoblow has produced innocent victims. There are people who have enjoyed their drinks for almost all of independent Kenya’s life time and possess a clean driving record. Some are highly responsible citizens, employing hundreds, or thousands of workers.
They don’t need to be taught that excessive consumption of alcohol is bad for their health. But some of them have now been brutalized by a police force that seems not as strong on law enforcement as it is on extortion.
Many who have refused to buy their freedom have spent time in dingy police cells.
Yet, as that taxi driver told me and as current statistics show, Alcoblow is saving lives. It is in the nature of sports fans to come together to celebrate the victories of their teams or to mourn their losses.
They do this in places of entertainment. This is the culture that has changed, for some for the better and for some for the worse.
In the end, this is a country that loves to shout its Christian credentials from the rooftops.
There is a place in the good book that says you were given control over all things. There isn’t a single version of that book that adds a rider: “Except alcohol.” Think about that.