A country drowning July 20, 2007Posted by isabelleinnamibia in Culture, Danger, Devastating, Namibia, Violence.
Prior to my arrival here in Namibia, I had a stint temping at The Portman Group and Drink Aware Trust, both non-profit bodies, the former taking corporate responsibility for the UK alcohol industry, the latter campaigning and educating to reduce alcohol harm. Importantly, they don’t say drinking is evil or not to drink, but promote alcohol awareness. Having just graduated from university, I had, like most students, just finished a 4-year education on alcohol consumption, but found my work at TPG and Drink Aware very insightful. I learnt a huge amount about how alcohol consumption, particularly binge drinking, is crippling the UK workforce (through hangover days), and turning my country into a throng of reckless, aggressive alcoholics. Any weekend night out in any town in the UK, around 11pm, you will find either a drunken brawl, a body passed out in the street, vomit paving the ground or a mascara-smeared girl crying. Through my work, I learnt about how alcohol can ruin people’s lives, but also how it is possible to drink responsibly and have a good time without getting hammered.
When I arrived in Namibia, I was appalled by how alcohol is crippling the country and contributing to so many other social problems. A recent study showed that more than half of the Namibian population consume at least 33 bottles of beer a week. It was written in the newspaper last week that Windhoek has 4 book stores, 2 libraries and 1500 drinking establishments. Every rural village has at least one shebeens (informal bars), if not more, even if they don’t have a convenience shop, clinic or school. In the North, any major road is lined with shebeens, which brim with drunkards from midday. Shebeens are often the site for many violent crimes, especially stabbings and rapes. Drink driving is a national pastime.
Alcohol is destroying this country. Many people drink commercial beer, locally brewed beer or stronger spirits, and often with the intension of getting drunk and forgetting their worries. It is a more serious issue with men than women, as it is generally understood that any single woman hanging around a shebeen is either a prostitute or loose. All my female Namibian friends say they wouldn’t go to a shebeen for fear of what would happen to them if they did.
With men as the lead-breadwinners, it is a serious problem when they spend their earnings down the bar, drinking money which could be used to clothe and feed their families, for their kids’ school fees or to pull themselves out of the poverty cycle. And if this isn’t bad enough, men often become violent and aggressive when drunk, expressing themselves by beating and raping women and children. Every week there are multiple stories of alcohol-fuelled stabbings, beatings and rapes, even of small children.
The President, Hifekepunye Pohamba, has recently stepped up to tackle this issue, saying he “doesn’t want to be a leader of drunkards”. Alcohol, especially amongst youth, is a hot topic right now, which is incredibly convenient since a few months back, I managed to get some money from the British High Commission to conduct an alcohol awareness campaign for the Grade 7 & 8 students at the school in Ovitoto. Since arriving, inspired by the Portman Group and the Drink Aware Trust, I have been keen to tackle this issue in the village, where a shebeen is situated right by the school gates, blasting music throughout the night, and a collection of local winos lumber past the classroom windows during class. The whole area, like many of Namibia’s rural villages, is strewn with broken glass, a vivid symbol of the destructive effects of alcohol.
Watch this space to find out how the workshop went this week (I only got back really late last night and am too tired to write about it right now!).