Geographically, Africa is a united continent with several divisions in terms of regions and nations. These divisions are as a result of differences in language- Anglophone and Francophone countries; and styles of leadership- democracy, autocracy and monarchy, just to mention a few. Within individual African nations, there are also divisions in terms of ethnic affiliations and social fraternizations, which groups the citizenry into upper, middle, and lower classes, based on their social status, and standards of living.
Like birds, members of same class fraternize and socialize. They have features that identify them and make them distinct from others. The type of beer they drink is an example of such.
From the name, foreign beers are those originating from distant foreign lands but that had found their ways into African beer markets. As synonymous with anything that is foreign, except financial aids, foreign beers are quite expensive and thus beyond the reach of the lower classes and some members of the middle class, making it exclusively reserved for the elite members of the society. Several reasons are responsible for the exorbitant prices of the foreign labels.
First, we have the cost of production. Foreign beers, especially the lager brands, are products of extensive brewing under supervision of knowledgeable experts in the art (and science) of beer-making. During brewing, the minutest details matter most, and the composition of the beer is kept within the standard acceptable range, making them quite safe for drinkers who pay exorbitantly. Another reason for the cost, is the import duties charged by the immigration departments of the various African countries. In some countries, the tariffs are quite high, placed to discourage their continual importation, while paving ways for indigenous brands to thrive.
Reputation and credibility of the foreign beers are another reason for the high market prices. Recently, Guinness celebrated 250 years of brewing. Throughout the 250 years, the brand has been able to attract loyal customers who have developed a passion for the beer, and who had pitched their tents with the brand. To them, it is Guinness, or nothing!
The major shortcoming of the foreign beers is the low alcoholic content which is the major reason why most consumers of beers do so in the first place. According to some ‘customers’, the alcohol content of these foreign beers is so low that one begins to wonder whether one is taking soda or an energy drink. One consumer is of the belief that the manufacturers of these popular foreign brands intentionally lower the alcohol content of their products for the aims of marketing, and profit maximization, as consumers require more bottles to ‘get high’. For those that cannot afford the cost of getting high with foreign beers, local brands are their best options.
Local beers are locally brewed by Africans, mostly women, who take the job as the major source of income, and the means for sustaining the family, especially in regions of the continent that are devastated by the widespread incidence of poverty, coupled with insensitive governments. Using crude brewing methods, these women produce beers that are very affordable, and potent enough to take their consumers seven times higher than their wildest imaginations.
As early as 6:30am under the only Iroko tree in Agodi Bus Park in Ibadan, Nigeria, commercial bus drivers daily file out on a straight line as they take turns to get their individual cups of Ogogoro, a local West African beer from the seller (and brewer), Madam Risi. According to some of the commercial taxi drivers interviewed at this ‘joint’, their day cannot start without a ‘shot’ of Ogogoro which energizes them and empowers them to take on the challenges of the day. Unlike foreign beers, several bottles of which are needed before attaining cloud nine, a cup of Ogogoro is enough to take you there, and beyond.
Agodi commercial drivers are not the only set of people depending on local beer as other cadres of workers, majorly artisans, patronize entrepreneurs like Madam Risi. While these customers may use Ogogoro to achieve efficiency at their vocations, the story is different elsewhere.
In several villages in Cameroun, Mbu, a locally brewed beer, is making elderly men very lazy, as they gracefully sip Mbu and spend the entire day playing games of draught. In areas like these, local beers (along with possible lack of employment options) are supposedly encouraging laziness, the so-called the bedrock of poverty. Local beers have also been linked to the HIV/AIDS scourge in this and other African countries, as energized drunk men totally forget about protection and safe sex responsibilities.
Furthermore, some African cultures which are built around local beers make it difficult for governments to control their consumption and distribution. In Zimbabwe for example, traditional ceremonies like the Kurova guva cannot be held without Ndari, a local beer produced by Zimbabwean old women. Somewhere else, local beers are used for libation in some parts of Nigeria, Ghana, Zambia, Ethiopia and Uganda, a country that is reputed as being one of the countries of the world that have the most citizens drunk at the same time.
Another contextual issue of utmost concern concerning local beers is that of safety.
To conceptualize what happens to my liver when I take Paraga (another local beer in West Africa), I poured half of my purchase on a beef meat. After about 30 seconds, the meat became darkened brown, and shrunk to about three- quarter of its original size. Although human organs are stronger than animals, the risk is quite enormous, making local beers unsafe for daily consumption. Tototo, a popular local beer in Zimbabwe, has also been said to produce similar results on human liver.
Still on safety, the brewing (or distilling) process of some of these beers also pose great danger to the safety of their consumers. Let’s take Kai- Kai (Rapid Result), a Ugandan and Nigerian local beer, as a case study.
Kai- Kai is produced by fermenting and distilling ingredients like maize, tree barks, yeast, water, and sugar in a makeshift distilling plant. Normally, the piping of the distilling plant is usually made from copper. Danger however arises when the piping is made from lead gotten from toilets. The result of this substitution ranges from blindness and insanity to death, as recently reported in Guinea, Nigeria, Kenya and Gabon.
The risks associated with local beers are quite enormous but they still form a cornerstone of the African culture and continent. Their abuse which usually result in the devastating outcomes earlier mentioned, are due to human excesses frequently occurring during attempts to subdue emotions, and the insatiable desires to ‘get high’.
Whether it is Kai-Kai, Ogogoro, Sepe, Paraga, Toutou, Musungu or Magrocom; Mokoyo, Jedi, Opa-Eyin, Kong, Chibuku, Shake- Shake, Katata, Kutuku, Mbu, Mbege, Chihwani dheyizi, Katikala, Chang’aa, Lutuku, or Ndari, African local beers currently bear no FDA approvals, neither do they have batch numbers, expiry dates nor constituents boldly written on them, unlike the foreign ones, making their consumption quite risky. On the other hand, our forefathers happily lived their lives and enjoyed these local brews to the fullest. So why shouldn’t we? And what fun is in life when there is no risk involved? I guess none.