Is Africa really a drunken continent? via @BBC News

Posted on September 17, 2013

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Is Africa really a drunken continent?

By Hannah Barnes, BBC News

“Africa has a drinking problem,” declared a recent article in Time Magazine. But is the evidence there to support such a sweeping statement?

Kate Wilkinson, a researcher at the Africa Fact Check website, is in a good position to know, and she stresses that drinking habits in the continent’s 55 countries vary.

“There are different attitudes towards alcohol. Different religious beliefs about consuming alcohol. And to simply make this broad generalisation about the continent doesn’t give us much insight,” she says.

Reliable statistics on global alcohol consumption are hard to come by, and the numbers that we do have are quite old. Much of the World Health Organization’s 2011 Global Status Report on Alcohol and Healthrelies on data from the period 2003-2005.

But to the extent that they can be relied on, the WHO numbers don’t appear to support the claim made in the Time article, headlined Africa’s Drinking Problem: Alcoholism on the Rise as Beverage Multinationals Circle.

The WHO report suggests that more than two-thirds (70.8%) of Africans have not touched a drop of alcohol for a year.

“That’s largely because many African countries have large Muslim populations,” explains Kate Wilkinson.

“If you look at how many people are lifetime abstainers – they don’t drink alcohol at all and never have – that’s 57.3%.”

That hardly paints a picture of an entire continent struggling with alcohol.

There are, of course, some alcoholics in Africa.

Boniface Ndirangu, who runs two rehabilitation centres in Kenya, has many stories to tell about alcohol abuse. He is a reformed alcoholic himself.

“Alcohol has become probably the only source of relief for those out of work, the only source of relief from extreme poverty or joblessness,” he says.

He blames new ranges of alcoholic drinks, which are very strong, very cheap, and, in his view, “very dangerous”.

“With just £1 ($1.58) you can get yourself truly messed up, plus two or three other people too,” he says.

But, stories like this do not mean that Kenya, let alone the whole of Africa, has a problem with alcohol.

That’s 7.5 units in UK terms, or about three pints of strong beer.

When the WHO looked at heavy episodic drinking among those who do drink – and remember that drinkers are the minority in Africa – it found Africa had the highest proportion in the world.

In Kenya, while it is the case that 85% of the population had not had a drink in the past year (when the WHO data was gathered) – compared with just 14% in the UK – the people who had drunk alcohol, had consumed a lot. Almost twice as much per person as in the UK.

Where does this leave us?

Simply looking at average alcohol consumption statistics in Africa would certainly cast doubt on the idea that “Africa is drunk”.

But taking a second look reveals those binge drinkers.

While averages are useful, they are not the only statistical fact worth considering.

Re-blogged from http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/magazine-24083170

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