Economic development experts have warned that the rising alcohol consumption in a number of regional countries, including Rwanda, warrants attention as one of the emerging social problems.
They sounded the warning in Kigali last week during the publication of a new report – Macroeconomic and Social Developments in Eastern Africa 2018 – by the regional office of the United Nations Economic Commission for Africa (UNECA).
Related to Sustainable Development Goal (SDG) target 3.5 – strengthening prevention and treatment of substance abuse, including narcotic drug abuse and harmful use of alcohol – experts say the rising level of alcohol consumption is one of those social problems that “could impose a further burden on public health systems.”
Far above global and African averages
Andrew Mold, Acting Director for Eastern Africa of the UN Economic Commission for Africa (UNECA), put emphasis on the “emerging social problems” and said that specifically, Uganda, Rwanda and Seychelles consumed the equivalent of approximately 11 litres of pure alcohol per capita in 2016, more than in Europe (10.3 litres) and the United States (9.3 litres), and far above the global and African averages of 6.4 and 6.0 litres respectively.
Partly as a consequence of the rapid growth and development of the region, it was noted, Eastern Africa – comprising Burundi, Comoros, D.R Congo, Djibouti, Ethiopia, Eritrea, Kenya, Madagascar, Rwanda, Seychelles, Somalia, South Sudan, Tanzania and Uganda – is beginning to experience social problems usually overlooked in low-income countries, such as the prevalence of cancer, obesity, excessive alcohol consumption, smoking and road traffic deaths.
Ills of modernity
“The scale of these ‘ills of modernity’ needs to be fully recognized by policy makers if the right preventative measures are to be put in place,” reads a section of the report.
In a separate interview, the Police Spokesperson, Commissioner of Police (CP) Theos Badege, acknowledged the dilemma of excessive alcohol consumption – which also has a direct link with road traffic deaths and crime – and told Sunday Times that efforts must be made, right from the grassroots, to do away with the problem.
CP Badege said: “I agree that alcohol is a concern, especially in our area of policing; from road safety to crime prevention and behavior control, because committing a crime comes from the mind and you know that a mind that commits a crime is an irrational mind.
“When people drink alcohol they often do irrational things which leads to crime. Thus, we strongly urge people against driving under the influence”.
Regarding road traffic deaths, it is reported that the risk is highest in Africa (26.6 deaths per 100,000 relative to the global rate of 17.4 in 2013) despite having the lowest number of registered vehicles per capita. The report also states that in fact, the average road traffic mortality rate is even higher in Eastern Africa, with several countries recording over 30 road traffic deaths per 100,000.
“This could be attributed to the inadequate post-crash care, as well as the lack of good drink-driving, seat-belt and mobile phone use laws with enforcement,” reads part of the report.
Traffic police statistics indicate that between August and October last year, 162 people died in local road accidents, driving under the influence being among causes.
Alcohol consumption expenditure at Rwf251 billion in 2014
Every three years, the National Institute of Statistics of Rwanda (NISR) conducts a survey on alcohol [including modern and traditional alcoholic drinks] production and consumption.
Available statistics indicate that in 2014 imports to the tune of Rwf19 billion were registered, consumption of Rwf251 billion, and exports worth Rwf1.7 billion. The consumption figures show amounts people spent, locally, on alcoholic - traditional and modern - drinks in that period.
In 2011, there was Rwf11.8 billion worth of alcoholic imports, consumption of Rwf202.9 billion while Rwf2.5 billion worth of alcohol was exported.