Mary*, 47 brewed chang’aa for twenty year but she has very little to show. I meet her at her house preparing to attend evening church service. As I settle in her two roomed house, am surprised at her speed in offering me tea which I politely decline because of the hot sun above us. The rules are set about the interview and we agree that I won’t take her photo but she offers me an old photo taken last in 2010 by a friend.
According to Mary, one drum of raw chang’aa (Kangara) plus boiling cost Kshs. 2500 for the initial capital. A normal drum of about 200 litres of raw chang’aa will produce 60 litres of pure chang’aa. One litre is sold for about Kshs. 75/- per litre. Therefore drum of Kshs. 2500 will earn a brewer Kshs. 6000. This does not include usual bribe to police patrolling the area. On a normal day you will have three to 5 squads of different police coming. Each squad gets between Shs. 200/- to Kshs. 400.
The most interesting part about chang’aa brewing is the chain of people who depend on its brewing for survival or source of income. The lists of people who depend on chang’aa are brewers, cookers, firewood sellers, local shops, taxi, retailers, and wholesalers including a host of police officers. Therefore one chang’aa brewer feeds about 8 people excluding children and other family dependants.
I inquired why she stopped the brewing business: “the police were always on my trail. I would brew around 200 litres per day and never sold in small quantity. I would transport the drink to Mukuru, Kibera and Kiambu. This led me to being close to the police as I got arrested more frequently. It reached a point where all my profit ended up in the police pockets. I rich according to Mathare standards as I would afford to feed my family daily and also educate my children without any problem. Before I knew I was broke and I could no longer sustain it”.
Here is a woman who at one time had more than half a million in her bank account but now without money to feed her family. She was later forced to seek assistance from the local charity organization to educate all her children.
One former brewer, Mildred*, says that chang’aa can be lethal depending on how it is prepared. She advices the government to ensure people sticks to the rules how it is prepared. Youth used as labourers are lowly paid and exploited by the brewers henced forced to enter into the Mathare River bare food. Mildred is concerned that the river is polluted by raw sewer and regular dumping of solid waste. One out of 10 people have wounds or injuries on their food. Their working conditions must be improved.
According to Mary, if chang’aa is well handled, it has the potential of attracting lot revenue for the government apart from creating employment for the marginalized communities in Mathare as there is ready market for it with the community. – Simon
* Names have been changed