There are a few things one risks a good beating if they venture to propose we ban in Zambia, alcohol is tops among these things. We are a drinking nation, period. Talk or campaigns to ban alcohol may not only elicit the inevitable angry reactions from breweries, importers, traders, bar owners, restaurants owners, hoteliers and so on, but I am sure a good number of our teachers, lecturers, pastors, priests and other faith and religious leaders may willingly lend their muscle to supply the beating! As for our young people, including underage drinkers, anyone calling for a ban of alcohol is pleading to be dispatched into the nearest grave, by this layer of drinking Zambians!
Beleaguered young medical doctor and social activist Doctor Brian Sampa is a very brave young man, the kind of nephew whose draft obituary I always carry around with me, because he is not afraid to make great friends in as large numbers as he manufactures dangerous enemies; and very fast too! I like him, very much, with all his weaknesses and strengths. This time he is taking on the alcohol industry and our national appetite to sustain our collective national sanity by drowning our sorrows in alcohol. He wants alcohol banned in Zambia. Good luck Bryan, in your perfectly unwinnable fight!
The majority of us, especially young Zambians, we go through life feeling confused, saturated with unfulfilled desires and therefore sad, and angry. This saps our energy and eats away at our spirits, and we tend to be mostly unhappy. Generally food is expensive and so scarce, we eat whatever is available. This does not lift our souls and spirits at all. Our economy requires that we are physical most of the time – walking long distances, lifting and carrying heavy loads, doing physically demanding manual work and so on: we are not short of forced exercises!
Everything around us tends to look as if it is against us, designed and created to make us fail, to defeat us. Look, even the massive increases in Constituency Development Funds (CDF) which initially raised our blood pressure like an illegal political Viagra dosage has fast become a very frustrating challenge: to access it to start a personal hustle requires so much paper work, approvals and passing through so many government offices all the way to the Local Government Minister’s office that it is actually not worthy the bother! All this frustration makes us feel worthless, and blocks our capacity for imagination.
Alcohol, a good dosage of it, suddenly makes us see ourselves in a different light! We feel strong, powerful, intelligent, ambitious and capable of anything! We float freely everywhere our imagination takes to, we swim in wealth unimaginable, meet the prettiest and most handsome lover and make a family, we have children, lovely beautiful children who succeed at school and move out of the poverty that has been our lot. We can meet anyone, talk to anyone, and we are the wisest most intelligent person in the world.
There is a sudden beauty to ugly Jane lazily counting her finger nails, sitting alone at the bar. Old Banda nursing a now warm beer with his face riddled with scars of equally old pimples becomes young, and may just have some cash in his torn pockets. And of course I can dance, my feet and body somehow coordinate and move in marvellous harmony to the music. Life is good, very good, and suddenly it is all worthy living.
Ethanol, the substance in all alcoholic drinks, transports us into this fantastic illusory, make believe world, once we take it in good measure because it messes with the necessary and vital communication of cells in our brain, thus producing this effect in us; making us drunk! The euphoric high we experience is actually a disturbance in the functioning of our brain, as our brain cells start acting out of step with each other!
Some ethanol, especially of the red wine variety, taken in certain quantities, cause blood to flow freely to the central southern bits of our anatomy, thus engorged, we start feeling in need of sexual relief and Jane/Banda becomes suddenly a most attractive challenge. The rest, as they say, is history.
Our gargantuan national alcohol appetite, consumption, economic, social and cultural practices are directly connected to our national mass hunger, poverty, unemployment and inequalities and the development of production and distribution of alcohol, both legal and formal, and unregulated and informal. Alcohol and its consumption and abuse are connected to much of our poor health, low productivity and death statistics. At a national level, it is not far-fetched to say that we are poor and we drink heavily, and we drink heavily because we are poor! Alcohol, ethanol, is the national drug we imbibe to sooth our hunger and poverty induced national depression.
Every country has its own unique history, social, economic, cultural and political connection to alcohol. The state of economic wellbeing of the majority of the people of any country, or poverty, directly influences the relationship such a country will have with alcohol. Our national relationship with alcohol is mediated by our national hunger and poverty: we are hungry and poor and so we abuse alcohol in our own unique ways. We abuse alcohol in a unique national way which feeds into sustaining us as a poor and hungry people.
At my age, from personal direct experience and observing many people around me in several countries in the world including Zambia, I have no problem in relating to the spirit in which Doctor Bryan Sampa has picked up the fight to ban alcohol consumption in Zambia, even as I do understand and know that it is a fight he cannot win.
Alcohol has messed me up several times when I was younger, and in my mid adult life. It has messed up my relationships, including love relationships. I have buried good friends, women, and children, who have died either as a direct consequence of the abuse of alcohol, or as victims of the abuse of alcohol by others. For more than a decade now, I have not tasted a drop of alcohol, of ethanol, and I am healthier, happier, very productive and largely at peace with all those who are against oppression, domination and exploitation of others.
We the older adults pass on the cultures and practices of alcohol abuse to young people when we deny them healthy, productive, happier and loving lives, away from a dependence on alcohol. Young people improve and elevate to a social and cultural necessity and practice, the abuse of alcohol. This way, we are permanently wedded to our state of national hunger and poverty, generation after generation.
We can defeat our national alcohol abuse and dependence. To secure national victory over alcohol will require more of Doctor Bryan Sampa’s campaigns to shock us into recognising our negative national relationship to alcohol and to trigger discussions and actions in our families, schools, churches, work places, trade unions, markets, bars, restaurants, hotels, in all our palaces, government, everywhere we congregate and gather, about our national relationship to alcohol and how we abuse it. As a medical doctor, Sampa is right in his community diagnosis of our national disease with alcohol. His suggested medicine – banning alcohol – may be shocking to many of us, but sadly, scientifically, it is the right ultimate medicine we may need, to cure ourselves from the related triple diseases of hunger, poverty and alcohol abuse.
Scientifically, It is his shocking method of treating us we may question: a sudden total ban may cause deadly national withdraw symptoms which may do more harm than good! On the other hand, if we can begin to connect millions of Zambians productively to their national economy, to their families and communities, and therefore to themselves, alcohol abuse will simultaneously become less of a national crisis than it currently is. Sampa must consider this humane curative approach!
It is a scientific fact that the level of alcohol consumption that minimises harm across health outcomes is zero standard drinks per week. As for young people, alcohol simply destroys your life.
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