Pubdate: Sun, 28 Mar 2004
Source: Daily Nation (Kenya)
Copyright: 2004 Nation Newspapers
Author: Clay Muganda



John Mwangi loves the Nairobi Central Business District. The 21-year-old 
street "boy" loves the place because he does not have to go to the 
residential estates to get his daily needs.

Up to that point, Mwangi is right because Nairobi, like all cities, needs 
to be self sufficient in order to cater for its residents.

The only difference is that the daily needs Mwangi has access to without 
going to the residential estates are mainly alcohol, inhalants, drugs and 
other substances that he abuses and is perpetually inebriated as he goes 
about his chores of rummaging through heaps of waste in Kirinyaga, Kijabe 
and River roads.

Just five years ago, Mwangi would have been forced to walk up to either 
Muthurwa Railways quarters, Ziwani, Shauri Moyo, Landi Mawe or any other 
adjacent estate to get his daily dose.

The suppliers, recognising the needs of those who abuse their wares and in 
order to lure more, decided to move closer. Thus, one can now have access 
to chang'aa right in the middle of the city.

The suppliers of smokable drugs and inhalants have also moved closer to 
their customers, and in the process, have just become another link in the 
chain that has made drugs easily accessible to young Kenyans.

"We buy whatever we need right here," says Mwangi, as he stands on a heap 
of waste paper on an open field overlooking Ngara Girls and River Bank 
Primary, a plastic bottle half full of glue dangling from his lips. "We are 
self sufficient."

Across the river, as one approaches the city centre from downtown, chang'aa 
vendors make their way through the crowd of mechanics, food vendors, 
scavengers, occasionally stopping to serve customers who need a drink in 
order to face the day.

If others are walking around, there are those who are huddled in corners 
awaiting customers, too, as they break off from their duties to have a 
drink, then go back. In this part of Nairobi, people are perpetually high 
as inhalants and other drugs for those who do not drink are easily available.

But, generally, those using different kinds of stimulants simultaneously 
are the rule, and it is not uncommon to see a street child put his bottle 
of industrial glue aside to down a drink, then pick up the bottle and 
continue sniffing with abandon.

"We cannot afford what they sell in those bars up there," says Mwangi, as 
he drags on a roll of Sh5 bhang he removed from the pockets of his greasy 
pair of trousers. "We need an alternative which is low priced."

To cater for their low income customers who care for a joint, the vendors 
are bending backwards to supply slimmer joints of bhang which they sell at 
Sh5, which is lower than for the "normal" size.

"They understand our needs and that is why they roll up smaller joints," 
says Man Karis. "Even the measures for the drinks are smaller and cheaper 
than in the estates."

The 16-year-old dead eyed zombie who, like the rest of his colleagues who 
scavenge on the heap of waste paper next to Kijabe Street, uses all kinds 
of substances that would make him inebriated, admits that access to the 
drugs has become easy over the past two years.

"It was a little bit difficult getting most of what we now get around 
here," he says. "But now, I can get a joint without leaving this heap."

To free themselves from walking the lanes selling their wares, some dealers 
have formed "joint" ventures with the street children, who they give the 
substances to sell on their behalf. Other street children who have made 
their bones have themselves become vendors and buy from the suppliers, for 
onward retailing to colleagues and other customers who find their way to 
these backstreets.

If that be the life downtown when it comes to drugs, up town, it is no 
different either, and there is equally easy access, and no dearth of young 

While the street children may drown their sorrows with chang'aa, the sons 
and daughters of salaried Kenyans are finding alternatives also in the form 
of cheaper drinks in sachets.

These drinks are sold in the supermarkets and are also available in wines 
and spirits shops that dot Nairobi estates and street corners.

But Mr Joseph Kaguthi, the National Co-ordinator for the National Agency 
for the Campaign Against Drug Abuse (Nacada), says the use of hard drugs 
like cocaine, heroin and mandrax has increased in the country.

"Matters have been worsened by the failure of the Ministry of Health to put 
up rehabilitation centres as stipulated by Section 52 of the Drugs and 
Substances Abuse Act of 1994."

According to a survey, Youth in Peril: Alcohol and Drug Abuse in Kenya, 
contrary to common assumption, substance abuse is widespread and cuts 
across all social groups of the youth.

The survey, which was the first-ever national baseline survey on substance 
abuse among the youth aged between 10 and 24 years, was commissioned by 
Nacada. The survey, whose results were released on Friday, traces the rapid 
spread of substance abuse to the breakdown of indigenous society and to the 
introduction of foreign influences that have made a variety of substances 
available on a large scale.

Ultimately, substance use by the youth implies a breakdown of family values 
earlier evident in the indigenous society and, as a result, several parents 
have lost control over their children. Freed from parental control, some of 
these children have succumbed to substance abuse.

Even though evidence shows that a number of non-students engage in 
substance abuse, the majority of students who abuse drugs are in secondary 
schools and universities. Most come mainly from middle class families and 
entertain the falsehood that substance use enables a student to study for 
long hours.

The frequency, as well as the type of substance abuse, varies from province 
to province. When it comes to alcohol, the prevalence among students is 
highest in Western (43.3 per cent), followed by Nairobi (40.9 per cent), 
Nyanza (26.8 per cent), Central (26.3 per cent), Rift valley (21.9 per 
cent), Coast, Eastern and North Eastern at 21.3, 17.2 and 1.6 per cent 

Prevalence is high even among non-students in Western at 90.1 per cent, 
followed again by Nairobi at 89.9 per cent, then Rift Valley, Central, 
Nyanza, Eastern, Coast and North Eastern at 86.1, 84.1, 81.5, 73.4, 73.1 
and 15.6 per cent respectively.

The prevalence of bhang use among non-students aged between 10 and 24 is 
highest in Nyanza followed by Nairobi, Coast, Eastern, Western, Rift 
Valley, Central and North Eastern in that order while, among students, 
bhang use is highest in Coast and lowest in North Eastern with Nairobi 
being second highest followed by Central, Eastern, Western, Nyanza and Rift 

Nairobi leads again when it comes to inhalants, thanks to street children, 
among both students and non-students. Inhalants use among non-students is 
lowest in Coast Province and among students it is lowest in North Eastern.

Nairobi also leads in tobacco use among students, followed by Central, 
Coast, Eastern, Western, Rift Valley, Nyanza and North Eastern. Among 
non-students, tobacco use is highest in Eastern, Coast, Rift Valley, 
Central, Nairobi, North Eastern, North Eastern, Western and Nyanza.

As is expected, the use of miraa is highest in Eastern among non-students 
followed by North Eastern and lowest in Nyanza. Among students, its use is 
highest in Nairobi followed by Eastern and lowest in North Eastern.

Over and above the five most commonly abused substances, the youth abuse 
psychotropic as well as narcotic drugs such as amphetamines, harbiturates, 
cocaine, codaine, Ecstacy, Heroin, LSD, Mandrax, Pethidine, Rohypnol and 

Psychotropic drugs are introduced to 37 per cent of the youth aged between 
10 and 14 years and nearly 75 per cent of the youth aged below 19 years.

The survey reveals that while substance abuse by the youth ranges mostly 
from the increasing use of illegal and "hard" drugs to legal and "soft" 
substances, the youth mostly abuse four substances: Alcohol, tobacco, bhang 
and inhalants.

On the whole, it reveals, substance use usually begins at a very young age. 
For instance, for students it starts when they are in primary school, 
secondary school or university.

Moreover, those who use miraa are not aware of its harmful effects because 
the government has more or less legalised its use.

But it is increasingly becoming common knowledge that substance abuse among 
the youth is turning out to be a major problem because they begin to 
consume substances in early adolescence; abuse a wide range of legal and 
illegal substances and mainly use alcohol, miraa and tobacco among legal 
substances and bhang, cocaine and heroin among the illegal ones.

The problem of abuse is associated with the introduction of foreign ways of 
life that have been undermining cultures of the indigenous society which 
restricted the use of some substances such as alcohol to senior age groups 
and to special occasions. But times have changed and alcohol consumption is 
not restricted to senior age groups or special occasions. It is readily 
available to adults and to youth between 10 and 24 years, though the law 
prohibits its sale to and use by those under the legal age of consent.
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MAP posted-by: Keith Brilhart