A new wave of cheap spirits is sweeping through Burundi and leaving many youths stoned and grossily addicted to the cane alcohol.
According to a local investigative journalist attached to Iwacu outlet, these cheap cane spirits come in different flavours produced and packaged by Meru Investiments SPRL in the commercial capital Bujumbura.
Like civil servants who meet in the morning in the cafeteria for breakfast, in some urban areas of Bujumbura, it has almost become the same ritual for some students on vacation.
A special breakfast”. Instead of an omelette, a sandwich or a glass of milk, the young people down liters of liqours. During their “breakfast”, a group of young people accepted the presence of a reporter.
It’s hard to guess what the days of these teenagers look like, if you don’t bathe in their little world. Time for a shower around 8 a.m., most often after mom and dad have left for work. Another day begins for them away from the exams, homework and other questions. Long live the holidays. They can freely manage their time as they see fit. For those who have an appetite, two or three spoonfuls in leftovers from the evening meal (umushusho) or a piece of bread. A day begins.
Here they are on the path to their happiness. “At this time, just to digest or dissipate the nightmares of the night. What we need is a good shot of Kick or Bowls,”whispers Eddy, one of these students on vacation.
There is no clue that this nice boy can drink whole liters of liqours whose alcohol content exceeds 42% per bottle on a daily basis, “And the trick is that we don’t commit ‘our crimes’ in our neighborhoods”. A good strategy, according to him, which makes it possible to deceive the vigilance of their parents and the police in the event of raids.
In the morning of Wednesday, July 20, the native of the Kibenga district, came to have his “breakfast” with his friends from Kinindo. Breakfast “. It is a code that only insiders can understand.
I negotiated. We made a “deal”. They’re going to let me attend their “breakfast”. I agreed not to reveal the real names. In return, they let me “hover” with them. In reality, I don’t know what I’m going to experience. I had already heard of this phenomenon and experiencing it excites my curiosity as a journalist.
Today, they have chosen to meet at Jean, a shop near the parish of Regina Pacis. At 10 am, almost the whole group is already complete.Time to order: Kick with two cigarettes, Bolds with plain water.
Despite a rich and varied choice, this day, the six friends have set their sights on Kick and Bols. Name of two liqours made locally by the company Meru Investment, whose alcohol content is 42%. Unlike those other cafeterias where tea and coffee are served in cups. In the cafeteria called chez Jean, the six friends share the bottle. A way, they say, to get closer.
Between sips, they never cease to rave: “Real honey”. I observe, I take note. They ignore me. And it’s better that way. After 10 minutes, the small shop which is barely one square meter has become a real nightclub. Suffice to say that it is now a rule with Jean.
At the insistence of its customers, “breakfast” is now taken to a musical background. Today, Peter Tosh is in the spotlight with his album “Legalise it”. A song in which the Jamaican calls for the legalization of cannabis.
Stammering the lyrics of the songs without understanding anything, the six friends are already on their cloud. Another world. Like real rastamen on stage, they take turns on a virtual microphone to sing a verse. With each sip, they take turns the bottle. It’s hot.
“Normal” customers who enter the shop stare dumbfounded at the scene. In some eyes I read pity. Others watch, accustomed, indifferent and stand out.
The group literally hovers. I think the young people have forgotten even my presence. I witness something terrible. I want to tell them to stop. But we made a “deal”. I look and say nothing.
I think of the damage that these 42° alcohol bottles are doing to their livers, their stomachs, their kidneys forced to filter this poison. I find myself hating this job. But I do violence to myself. I watch, I note. The hours go by. The bottles too. I have a headache. In their place. I want to vomit.
They are happy and singing
More surprisingly, none of them show any sign of discomfort while drinking. Empty bottles are piling up. To my surprise, they still ask for more.
I have to work. I’m here for that. To ask questions. I ask why they prefer these drinks instead of Brarudi beers, a simple answer: “Too expensive for us, and, they do not give any feeling of joy”. Supporting figures, they explain to me that with 10,000 BIF, they can buy 2 Kicks and a Karibu, thus sharing with four. “Which is not the case for the Amstel or the Primus”.
What about the possible consequences on their health, they don’t care: “In any case, it’s better than Boost or other drugs. Besides, we don’t fight.” I want to cry. This boy could be my little brother. I don’t know the worst is yet to come.
Suddenly a taxi stops. Inside, three young teenage girls in casual clothes. “Mariko…4 Kicks, please,” one of them shouts as she enters. I can’t believe it: the girls consume it, too!
The moment to understand what is happening, the young teenager is already teasing the six friends. They know each other well. Obviously, she is in her twenties, with this braided hair, her cap, she is very beautiful. But her red eyes betray an untidy life. The other, they tell me, is called Yvette*. Very sure of herself, smiling, she wears a mini-skirt. The boys eye her beautiful legs.
She wears a beautiful golden watch. A French with an impeccable accent. “It must be a ‘come from'”, a ‘arrival’. Another, Kathy*, she’s completely knocked out, I wonder if she slept at night. I feel bad for these young people. But I say nothing. I note. They accepted me. I have to testify.
A boon for shopkeepers
These drinks are now noticeable on the shelves of each store
With a clientele that is increasing, now in the shops on entire shelves are boxes of these liqueurs and other locally liquefied wines.
At 1200 BIF, a 30 cl bottle with an alcohol content of 16%, Hozagara is one of the most popular drinks. And since the start of the holidays, Jean confides that business is going rather well. “With three boxes of 24 Hozagara pieces sold per week and more than 15 Kicks or Bols pieces sold over the weekend. Within a month, my turnover could double.
What about the legal age to consume these liqueurs? Dry answer: “Indeed, we don’t take it into account! However, in Kinindo, in this corner of perdition, in this mini hell, I saw that most of the young people I met were between 15-17 years old, 20 years old at the most.
According to several testimonies, the only concern of shopkeepers and other stall owners: “It is the fine that the police impose on them if they catch a person drinking outside the hours permitted by law” However, reveals , a completely demoralized parent met in district 4 of the Ngagara zone, it is a losing battle.
“If some of these law enforcement officers are in their pockets, how do you defeat this trend? “. He gives the example of a shopkeeper arrested a week ago for selling these drinks to students on vacation, but quickly released. For him, proof that sufficiently shows that it is a very well-oiled network that will be difficult to destroy.
“Even at the top of the state apparatus, the real bosses enjoy some protection.” From Kinindo via Musaga to Ngagara, according to concordant sources, the situation is likely to grow if clear measures are not taken.
Want to get out
Although they seem to take pleasure in consuming these drinks, some young people have had a flash of lucidity. One confided in me wanting to get out of it. “But where to go? How to take care? “, they wonder in chorus. “If at least there were activities or small jobs that would help us kill our time, we would be less exposed,” said one of them, between two gasps, his eyes already glassy.
When I saw the group ordering, I can’t remember the eighth or ninth bottle, I walked out. It was no longer a report, but a non-assistance to people in danger. I got out, but they didn’t even see me leave.