By Jovia Apio, Re!gnite Africa Youth Leader
For the time I have spent in my home town Soroti, I have been reminded of the millet brewed beer usually called malwa or ajon in my mother tongue. This is because most homesteads have this drink being processed to be consumed socially within the family, by visitors or for sale at ajon bars. If we are to name any product made in Teso, ajon should be on top of the list. Also traditionally, a day in Teso used to begin with a calabash of ajon as a foundation for a tough and rough day ahead of you.
Despite this amazing narration, the issue of alcoholism is known to cause negative health conditions like brain damage, brewer’s yeast allergy and other issues of domestic violence as well as accidents in alcohol drinking communities.
In my community of Kichinjaji, a suburb in Soroti town, ajon is a favorite beverage for many drunkards along with a list of spirits locally called buveera since they are affordable. Unfortunately, there’s also no age restriction as school going children are known consumers of this drink. As I write now, as senior four students do their national examinations, I have sighted many of these very students rushing to malwa joints in the evenings on several occasions.
When I asked why they chose this behavior, one of the students replied saying;
“Malwa gives us examination confidence and enables us get smart before the examination.”
Causes of alcoholism
Unemployment among youth is an obvious one. Kichinjaji too suffers the white collar job syndrome amongst youths. They despise sweaty jobs confirmed by many businesses being managed by Amojongs or elderly women and Indian families in Soroti.
“Also the youth role models are reducing and the village youth are not inspired anymore to pursue their dreams.” Says Kevina Akidi a bar attendant at Miami ajon joint in Kichinjaji.
“The youth here are passionate about gambling and spend their day around ajon pots forgetting why their futures didn’t work out,” adds Akidi.
Furthermore, the depression of Itesots from loss of their wealth to Karamojong cattle rustlers in the 1970’s is no secret and a truly painful past. They walk around in frustration like uncrowned heirs since their inheritance was robbed and eventually succumb to excessive malwa drinking to forget the above past that led to their poverty.
Thirdly, the need to pass time is encouraging alcoholism. It seems the men here have a lot of time to kill. While the women have stepped up in their responsibilities and literally become the number one family breadwinners, the men are seen chairing malwa committees and drinking away all the little family savings. Some men have gone ahead to form and name drinking clicks like the MTN group in Soroti that specializes in serious alcohol drinking episodes on public holidays.
What has been done to address the issue?
In the bid to combat alcoholism, the Soroti police are using an iron fist. They recently busted malwa bars in Arapai (2km away from Kichinjaji) where idlers like drunkards, gamblers, and eight students were arrested on charges of Rogue and Vagabond. This was because of the increase in crimes like murders, theft, and burglary around Soroti town. Michael Odongo the police spokesperson for East Kyoga also appealed to the young people to get gainful employment other than involving themselves in drinking and gambling. Although this happened, it held a short impact as the usual suspects of malwa are back and up to no good.
Equally, Soroti politicians have advocated for their district at the Ugandan Parliament to be industrialized with a fruit factory in hope of addressing unemployment and a lot of issues such as alcoholism and poverty. Even though the infrastructure has been established, it’s not yet operational.
Here is What I think Works
The communities of Soroti need economic empowerment to eliminate time spent around ajon pots. This can be done by the youths forming fruit unions as out growers and having a monopolized grip over the factory through quality fruit supplies. The banks can also play a good role in availing loans to the unions for investment purposes. In the long-term the youth can plough back their profit and strategically invest in cattle, goat and chicken production. Ultimately, Soroti can expand to become a regional base for meat production that feeds Uganda and also exports surplus meat to viable markets in Sudan and Democratic republic of Congo that are in unrest.
In conclusion, youth attitudes about work need to change. I believe fruit unions can be further exploited to adjust these negative attitudes and also commit alcoholics into rehab centers as pillars of community development.