The recent announcement of a partnership between Dutch brewing giant Heineken and the Global Fund to Fight AIDS, Tuberculosis and Malaria has drawn a scream of protest from the alcophobe fanatics of Big Temperance. Heineken has agreed to aid the Global Fund by providing its experts on supply chain logistics, to better deliver medicines and health care products to people living in African countries to help the fight against these three major killer diseases.
This has prompted an Open Letter to the Global Fund from IOGT International and over 70 other alcohol health charities and NGOs, calling for the Fund to immediately end its partnership with Big Alcohol. IOGT International is the International Order of Good Templars by another name – an anti-alcohol group with its roots in the nineteenth century temperance movement. IOGT is also a dominant presence in the UK’s Alcohol Health Alliance and had members on the Public Health England committee that fiddled the revised low-risk alcohol drinking guidelines. These are the people leading the fight against Big Alcohol in Africa.
The crux of their argument is that alcohol (not just alcohol abuse) is a major cause of ill-health and that drinking it makes people disinhibited and therefore more likely to have unprotected sex, leading to more HIV/AIDS infections, so a big conflict of interest, they claim, between the Global Fund and Heineken. But this argument is a mere smokescreen for people who think it more important to stop the spread of alcohol use than the spread of AIDS, TB and malaria.
The Global Fund gets 95 per cent of its revenue from governments – taxpayers - around the world. Only 5 per cent comes from private donations, including companies. They administer a $4 billion annual budget. Any sensible person would welcome the help of a wealthy global brewer. To be sure, this is not entirely an act of selfless philanthropy, Heineken want to sell their products in Africa and to present themselves to African governments’ as good corporate citizens. But there is a powerful reason, from a health perspective, why Heineken and other global drinks’ producers should be encouraged to make their products more widely available in African countries, and at a price local people can afford. That reason can be summed up in one word: moonshine.
Anyone who knows anything about alcohol abuse in Africa will tell you that the problem is not the legal market for well-known brands, which many Africans can’t afford anyway, but the illegal market for moonshine. Every year, countless numbers of Africans risk their health and their lives drinking illegal alcohol. The illicit brewing market in Africa is worth an estimated $3.5bn a year. With names like “Kill me quick”, “The dog that bites” and “Goodbye Mum”, African moonshine has a frightening reputation.
Over the years, thousands of Africans have been killed, blinded or rendered sterile by drinking these lethal concoctions. In one of the worst recorded cases, 128 Kenyans died and a further 400 were harmed after drinking a particularly poisonous batch of illicit booze.
In Libya, where alcohol has been banned since early in Gaddafi’s rule, a bottle of Chivas Regal can cost more than $100, so Libyans drink a local concoction called “bokha”. There was recently a major health crisis related to poisoned bokha. Someone had added methanol to a batch and some 1,500 patients flooded into Tripoli’s hospitals within a few days.
The World Health Organisation says that about half of all the alcohol drunk in sub-Saharan Africa is produced illegally, with 85% of consumption in Kenya and 90% in Tanzania coming from the illicit market.
Barley, the essential ingredient in beer, is still not grown in many parts of Africa. High taxes and poor supply chains have also pushed up the price of legitimate goods. Toxic homebrew plugs the gap in the market. Africa's booming cottage industry is made up of clandestine breweries, where maize and sorghum is fermented, using water that itself is often filthy. The alcohol content is bolstered, using anything from embalming fluid to stolen jet fuel. The resulting grog may sell for as little as 20 US cents a glass. But for the poorest Africans, living on a couple of dollars a day, it is often the only way of blotting out their troubles.
This is the folly of trying to ban legal means of accessing properly produced, quality-controlled beverage alcohol products. All that happens is that the demand is met by illicit supply of poisonous concoctions that can kill or blind people on the spot.
And yet IOGT and its virtue-signalling fellow-travellers are worried about Africans knocking-back a pint of Heineken’s lager!