Under the Influence: Big Alcohol in Africa

As demand for alcohol in the developed world slows, big alcohol companies are increasingly looking to Africa to make up the resulting losses. Whilst traditional African alcohol such as Muratina has generally been relatively weak (around 5-7%), the alcohols being introduced by Western countries such as cheap vodka often carry much higher percentages (around 35%).

WHY IS THIS WORRYING?

Large alcohol companies have a tendency to loosen health policy in order to make it easier for them to generate profit. The sheer size of these companies can mean that they form an important part of the economy, buying them a lot of power over governments. For example, in Burundi, Heineken alone is responsible for generating 30% of tax revenue.

There are many health policies which conflict with the interests of alcohol companies. The influence that these large alcohol companies have and the economic benefits that they bring, such as jobs and investment put governments in a difficult position. This is because they have to choose between having tight health policies and maintaining good relations with alcohol companies.

For example, in many parts of the world, there are advertising guidelines which mean that alcohol cannot be advertised with sport or culture and this is also recommended by many international health organisations. However, this has not been adopted in many African countries, such as the advertisements for Tusker beer in Kenya.

Another example of the influence that alcohol companies have can be seen in low taxation of alcohol in several East African countries. The lower taxation on alcohol allows companies to make a higher profit than they otherwise would but also results in higher consumption of alcohol, damaging more people.

THE FUTURE

The increasing presence of alcohol companies in Africa remains a subject of concern. That being said, positive steps are being taken as more and more governments are being called on to put higher taxes on alcohol. Recently, for instance, the Parliament of Uganda discussed whether higher taxes should be levied on alcohol. They are now moving towards implementing these.

ISABELLE STANLEY

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