Botswanas President Ian Khama . Picture: Reuters

Ziggy Mogopodi

GABORONE: Botswana’s teetotaller president Ian Khama has taken his campaign against alcoholism to a new level by effectively banning shebeens.

Informal taverners, long barred from selling conventional liquor, have been getting by for decades selling the traditional local brew chibuku from their homes, without needing a licence or permit.

Chibuku is a popular drink in Botswana, brewed from sorghum, with a taste similar to traditional Tswana beer. It is especially favoured by poorer people, and allowing ordinary citizens to sell it was also regarded as a way of helping the poor earn a little extra.

But now military disciplinarian Khama’s dislike of alcohol has trumped this charitable concern.

Late last year the government announced that a ban would be implemented on December 20. It was then postponed to January 1. It has now been postponed again, but only for six months, to give chibuku retailers time to find alternative premises for selling their brew.

Yet hundreds of thousands of applicants have been waiting up to 15 years to get business or residential plots in urban centres. In rural areas they have to wait for at least five years.

This new move to phase out shebeens follows regulations the government imposed in 2008, soon after Khama came into power, which substantially reduced trading hours for bars, bottle stores and nightclubs, to reduce alcoholism.

The regulations also hiked alcohol prices by 30 percent then and another 10 percent two years later.

Many Batswana think Khama is trying to make drinking too expensive for all but the richest.

The youth leader of the opposition Botsalo Ntuane has frequently labelled the regulations as “a government war on fun”, warning that the youth have now resorted to travelling to Mafikeng in SA’s North West province to enjoy themselves after every pay day.

He also argues Khama’s prohibitionism could harm the tourism industry.

The regulations have divided even the ruling BDP party.

Chairman Daniel Kwelagobe has argued that drinkers contribute to the growth of the economy.

And it’s not clear whether the new regulations have achieved Khama’s aim of reducing alcohol consumption.

Many believe the reduced bar hours have contributed to binge drinking and stockpiling of drinks for the next day.

The government insists though that its regulations have reduced alcohol consumption – if only slightly. Minister of Trade and Industry Dorcus Makgato-Malesu told parliament last year that alcohol consumption had dropped by just over 1 percent and that more still needed to be done to curb the problem.

The Chibuku retailers have vowed they will defy the government and are reported to be planning to join forces to ask the high court to overturn the new regulations. – Independent Foreign Service