Sunday, April 19, 2015

Bootleg Times

During the 70s and early 80s following Idi Amin's economic war in Uganda, many essential commodities disappeared from grocery shelves including bottled beers - at a time when many needed a drink to escape the brutal realities of the day. Breweries shut down and refined alcoholic drinks like everything else were imported or smuggled from neighboring countries and sold at prohibitive prices. For the well-to-do, Scotch Whisky was easily accessible and the most common brands were Glayva, Queen Anne and Haig. Glayva came with cute little glasses and a red heart-shaped coaster emblazoned with the words 'I love Galyva.' Haig was known for its famous slogan: 'Don't be vague, Ask for Haig!' For the really loaded there was Chianti and later Mateus wine from Italy.
Of course there was the other variety of alcoholic drinks, which were poured directly in your glass from jerrycans. In western Uganda we had Tonto aka 'foot wine' a mild banana wine that slowly warmed the senses without causing much drama. But for the student on a tight budget who wanted a quick high there was 'Kasese,' a distilled clear spirit that was the precursor to Uganda Waragi. Kasese could also be re-distilled and then what you got was a deadly brew known as 'Emandure' aka 'Kill me Quick!' The deadly concoction had the unfortunate effect of wiping your memory. If you imbibed this stuff on a regular basis you most likely would not remember whole chunks of your life and you would also be uncertain of the present.
Distilling and possessing these brews was banned under the 'Enguli Act,' but the Act remains the most redundant law on Uganda's statute books. The law was not enacted to save our liver and memory, it was enacted to protect the commercial interests of those who invested heavily in refined bottled drinks while killing competing grassroots breweries. The Police who are supposed to enforce it are among the biggest violators of the law, faithfully brewing and imbibing the illicit brew in their quarters - during and after working hours. At law school we chuckled about a case where an accused person charged under the Enguli Act walked free because the evidence went missing at the police station! (Yes you guessed that right, they drank the evidence.)

At 50 I know that many of us started consuming alcohol to escape the harsh economic and political realities of the day. The problem is that some are still stuck in that era of the 70s and 80s - still struggling to remember what happened last night.

— feeling silly.

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