The Problem

Addiction is an illness, having been recognised as such by the World Health Organisation since 1949; and it is a world-wide problem.

It is the end stage of a process which may be described as starting with a desire; repeated use often giving rise to a habit, progressing with changes centrally in the brain as an attachment, with obsessive thoughts and changes in personality; which may proceed to become an addiction, in which there is loss of choice, compulsion, and characterised by craving.

In the developed world sufferers may be able  to conceal their problem, keeping things secret for many years; but ultimately the effects are devastating, ruining relationships and lives. There may be loss of employment, even career; wealth and health; domestic and social violence; failure of relationships and divorce; death.

Addiction in Africa

The extent of alcohol and drug abuse in sub-Saharan African countries is not well known; it is probably no more prevalent than in the UK, perhaps even less.

However, in poor under-developed nations where there is no social security safety net to provide adequate healthcare, unemployment benefit, widows benefit, care for orphans (of which there are many in Africa), pensions, etc., the results may be far more telling; with extreme poverty of both individuals and their families, to the extent of starvation and malnutrition, disease and death.

In addition, the nature of this illness is that it is often hidden and denied; not only by individual sufferers and their families, but also by the communities they belong to. It is a matter of shame; nowhere more so than in rural communities, where the problem is often viewed as being one of “badness” that is unique to their community; without the realisation that it is an illness, a huge problem world-wide, and that there are solutions which may be embraced.

Organisations such as “Alcoholics Anonymous” do occur in large cities, but not in remote rural communities. Here no interventional support is available, other than the generous social norms which generally prevail.

By far the commonest addiction we have encountered is to alcohol. This usually takes the form of “beer”, drunk mostly by the men, but most often brewed by the women, who do so to make money, particularly if their drunken husband cannot work. The beer is made from millet or maize flour.

The brew

One method of production described to us is as follows: dig a pit, as much as three feet deep, and line it with banana leaves; fill it with the flour and add water; cover the pit with banana leaves; remove the mixture after five days; fry the paste until it becomes black, grind it, add water and yeast, before leaving it for a further three days; then add hot water, drink and enjoy!

Sachets of pure alcohol may be added to give it an extra kick. The stronger the brew, the easier it is to sell, and it will command a higher price. Such sachets of alcohol are readily available and cheap; they are often bought by children for “refreshment” at school.

14 beer drinkers
Group of 14 men drinking beer through tubes

A common sight is groups of perhaps 10 men sitting in a circle around a pot, each using a tube to drink from the porridge-like brew, which is still fermenting with bubbles of gas bursting on the surface. On a one hour afternoon journey through rural villages in Uganda – at a time when the women were seen hard at work in the fields – we passed more than 25 such groups.

Beer in jug - still bubbling
The brew – still bubbling – the kettle contains more brew and hot water for top-up

Incapacity of head of household

In the situation of a husband who is incapable of working, women may have to resort to other ways of obtaining money to meet family needs; including gambling, which is in itself addictive and becoming much more of a problem; also prostitution with all the attendant risks of sexually transmitted diseases including AIDS, and unwanted pregnancies.

Men who have been rendered impotent as a result of their drinking will know that a child is not theirs, with resultant violence towards both child and mother.


Drug addiction is seen to be on the increase, particularly among young people, most common being the growth and use of marihuana; but also heroin, the opium poppy being locally grown, and even exported. It was reported to us that synthetic substances are becoming increasingly available.

Lives are spoiled and need to be re-made. He does it! Grace:

“the vessel that he was making from clay was spoiled in the hand of the potter; so he made it over, reworking it into another vessel as it seemed good to the potter to make it” Jer 18:4 (Amp).