Busaa dens drive immorarity in many parts of Kenyan rural areas

Law and order in a busaa club? Ha!

Updated Sunday, May 06 2012 at 22:00 GMT+3


If you were to find the equivalent notoriety of a strip club in a rural area, one would have to look no further than a busaa club. Ever since the Government licensed trade in local brews, busaa clubs have become the rage in the rural areas.

In East Gem, Siaya County, a newly opened vibrant busaa club is a matter of great moral contention.


For weeks, I listened to both sides of the argument between staunch Christians and the liberals.  It seemed like everyone I knew had visited the club known as Guba and returned a positive review. The verdict from the perennial drunkards was that it was a necessary evil that fostered social cohesion because previously, drinkers had to travel great distance in search of a high. 

The new club had significantly minimised the staggering distance. The liquor was cheap and unlike chang’aa, it had nutritional value. Busaa is made through a fermentation process with basic ingredients of maize, millet and molasses. 

The places are packed, music is loud and, importantly, there are unaccompanied women. Chang’aa dens are like a bull kraal and most people don’t buy drinks. Busaa clubs are more of equal opportunity drinking environment. Everyone can afford at least one drink.
The prices are pocket friendly and with as little as Sh25, and on an empty stomach, one can get suffficiently toasted.

In a conservative Christian village where everyone knows your grandmother by her maiden name, there was always going to be opposition. Talk of how the club was ripping the villages’ moral fabric apart by introducing immoral behaviour was rife. Busaa was akin to the devil incarnate, luring people’s wives and husbands to sin, attracting undesirable characters and exposing school children to indecent conduct.

One overcast Sunday afternoon, I finally decided to check the den out for myself. Along the way, the moral police, ‘born again’ Christians that I bumped into, expressed concern.
The club is a simple tinned wall shed within a gated compound. The signage spoke volumes about the clientele. Written in bold print were the signs, ‘No crude weapons allowed’, ‘Excessive drinkers not allowed’ and another said, ‘Keep law and order’.

It was kicking at 4pm on a Sunday afternoon. Loud music, commotion, men and women, old and young, holding recycled plastic tins. Inside, the small dance floor was filled to capacity with gyrating waistlines and several heads bobbing rhythmically to Benga music. The atmosphere was much like any up-market pub on a big game night, but in an old school village, I guess that level of partying had been previously consigned to funerals of prominent people.

Busaa is an acquired taste. A close comparison would be fermented sugar-free, weak porridge. I consider it more starch than alcohol. The proprietor, a chubby, jolly fellow, was quick to defend himself against the accusations of the conservatives. He provided a service and he was not to blame for the symptoms of absentee parenting and infidelity that many of his patrons were accused of.

No one, he argued, seemed to notice the direct employment opportunities he created and his immense contribution to the village economy. More to the point, he ran a legitimate business and paid his taxes.

Busaa clubs are to some degree an example of the bar culture exported to the rural area. While unadulterated alcohol continues to snuff out young lives in many parts of the country, busaa’s key contention appears to be as a conduit to lust.

Consumerism has driven society crazy with lust, but at the village level, too much fun is immoral and immorality, as you know, must always be kept discrete.


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