Waragi - Uganda's Ongoing Struggle With Moonshine
Illegal alcohol permeates Ugandan people and economy, exacerbating poverty and chronic illness among the population.
The illegal production of hard liquor is a problem across much of Africa, but it may be at its worst in Uganda.
It is a surprising statistic - according to the World Health Organization, Ugandan drinkers consume a shocking 23.7 litres of alcohol per capita and 89 percent of this alcohol is unregulated, home-brewed and illegally sold. Production of this crude homemade alcohol has mushroomed in recent years causing an unknown quantity of social damage, an increase in mental health and blindness cases, as well as hundreds of deaths.
The most popular home-brew is a hard liquor called waragi, which can contain as much as 40 percent pure ethanol, as well as other unidentified impurities. In April 2010, more than 100 people died after they drank a batch of methanol-laced waragi, according to the WHO.
Alcohol has been identified as a key driver and maintainer of chronic poverty in Uganda, with some observers estimating the economic and social costs to be worse than those of HIV and malaria. While up to 10 percent of the state revenue comes from the sale of legal alcohol, illegal alcohol is now a major source of income for Ugandan households. The Enguli Act, which has not been updated since 1964, forbids waragi distilling without a licence, but this is rarely enforced.
Evidence from International Chronic Poverty Research Centre revealed that, 29 percent of all households engage in this illicit practice. Illegal distilling has become highly politicised and few politicians confront the industry.