Kenyan Women Organize Around “Temperance”; Sparks Wider Goals

Across Africa, women are banding together against a high-potency “moonshine” called changaa that leaves their husbands and sons violent, weak, impotent, blind, and even dead. A rampant problem in Kenya and other African nations, changaa is made from maize, sorghum or sugar cane and targeted at poor men for a cheap, quick highÑbut the liquor is often laced with methanol, battery acid, embalming fluid and industrial toilet cleaners to give it an extra “kick.” Government officials in Kenya claim that, although changaa is 50 percent alcohol (an extremely high concentration), the government has no power to stop its sale because the bars in question are licensed to sell alcoholic beverages.

When Mary Watiri learned this, she decided to take grassroots action, giving a local bar-owner three days to destroy his supply of changaa before she destroyed it for him. Watiri and a group of 30 women emptied cases of the liquor onto the floor and then outside onto the ground, sparking women in other African towns to do the same, despite violent opposition from both bar owners and patrons including, at times, their own husbands. Thus far, this new “temperance” movement has been successful, aimed solely at changaa, and the Kenyan government has told bar owners not to interfere with the women’s mission. It has also inspired the women to set wider goals: establishing a food cooperative to sell staple items at lower prices, and pooling their money to purchase an accessible fuel station so that local families will not have to waste resources traveling far to buy kerosene for their stoves and lamps.


LA Times 3/21

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