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Alcoholism generating dysfunctional, emotionally stunted families in Kenya

Adapted from Daily Nation
By RASNA WARAH Posted Sunday, November 28 2010 at 16:51
The recent campaign by President Kibaki to curb alcoholism among males, particularly in Central Province, should be lauded as is highlights one of the most hidden crises in the country.

Reports indicate that fertility rates in Central Province are dropping dramatically because alcoholism among men has led to rising impotence. Women in the province have staged protest marches in recent months to stop brewers from selling their toxic wares to their husbands.

The problem has become so acute that a minister allegedly even went as far as suggesting that men from other provinces should be shipped to Central Province to impregnate the women there. (I certainly hope he was joking, as this is the stuff that civil wars are made of).

However, alcoholism is not just a problem in Central Province, it is pervasive throughout the country. Ask any bar-owner, and he will tell you that there is not a single night when he does not have customers. The widespread practice of men drinking in bars, often every night of the week, cuts across race, ethnicity, region and social class.

In many countries, drinking in bars and pubs is a social activity. Very often, men will go to bars with their wives on weekends, not to get drunk, but to socialise, meet people, or catch up with the week’s events.

But in Kenya, the bar is seen as a purely male domain, where men will either sit alone and drink or sit with other men with the sole of aim of drinking till they literally drop or until their money runs out.

Some have suggested that in a society where men who stay at home with their families are considered “sissies”, the bar offers the only place where insecure men can assert their masculinity.

Others say the male bar syndrome is the product of a macho culture where men prefer to hang out with other men.

A frustrated woman even suggested to me (not entirely in jest) that perhaps all Kenyan men have a homosexual instinct — why else would they want to spend so much time with other men, and not at home with their wives and children?

We all know that over-consumption of alcohol is bad for one’s health and can lead to various illnesses, including cirrhosis of the liver. Various studies have also shown a correlation between alcoholism and domestic violence.

The economic impact of alcoholism is also far-reaching. Alcoholics often use money that could have gone towards school fees or food to feed their addiction. This often leads to family break-ups and even destitution.

What we are failing to realise is that the social impact of alcoholism is often greater than the health impact, and can have devastating consequences on families. One of the most destructive consequences of men’s addiction to alcohol is that they are literally absent from their families’ lives.

Wives of alcoholics — and even of men who may not be alcoholics but spend large amounts of time in bars — will often say that it is not the consumption of alcohol that bothers them as much as the fact that the men in their lives are never at home with their families. And even when they are, they are too inebriated to be of much emotional support to their wives or children.

This means that there are thousands of married women in this country who are de facto single parents — raising children on their own, without the support of husbands.

Children, in turn, are growing up without the emotional support of their fathers.

The psychological and social consequences of an absent father have been documented by various studies. Boys who grow up without a male role model can become emotionally stunted. Girls who never experience a caring father figure, or whose father is not emotionally available to them, are known to become rebellious teenagers.

Worse, having seen alcoholism in their own homes, many of these children grow up replicating the behaviour patterns of their parents. The boys grow up to be alcoholics, while the girls tend to marry alcoholics.

Because they come from dysfunctional homes where their emotional needs were not met, they are attracted to situations that are emotionally painful or chaotic.

If current trends continue, we could see another generation of Kenyans lost to alcohol and its devastating consequences.

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