Very largely, people in East Africa drink kinds of alcoholic beverage which are produced locally and on a small scale: not, perhaps, 'traditional' liquor (since many are made in innovative ways, with new ingredients), but certainly 'informal sector' liquor. They do drink bottled beer, wines and spirits as well, but those account for less than 20% of total alcohol consumption.
There are many different names for the drinks which people make for their own consumption, and they vary greatly in alcoholic strength. They are very much cheaper than formal sector drinks.
Overall, men drink much more than women; and they spend very much more on drink than women do.
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How strong is it?
Alcoholic content of various beverages, recorded as % ethanol by volume
|Millet beer||Maize beer||Banana wine||Sugar-cane||Palm wine||Bamboo wine||Mbege||Sugar ferment||Distillate|
It should be noted that variations in temperature and microbial activity, availability of sugar and other factors will affect the alcohol content of any particular ferment; and also that the alcoholic strength of any ferment will increase in the first 48-72 hours after production. These figures therefore show only the maximal and minimal values recorded in various tests. They are derived from Govt. Chemist to DC Njombe, 23 Apr. 1946, TNA 157 A2/8; tests performed by Tanzania Breweries Ltd on samples provided in 1997;Mosha, et al., 'African Traditional Brews'; Mwesigye and Okurut, 'A Survey of the Production and Consumption'.
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What are these drinks called?
There are many vernacular language and slang names for kinds of locally-produced alcohol. Some are used for different drinks in different places, and seem to have a general meaning of 'fermented beverage'(like the widely-spread word marwa); some words are associated with particular techniques of production rather than ingredients: muratina describes the use of a dried fruit as a yeast inoculum. Some words change their meanings: kangara was often used as a term for a grain beer with sugar added to give it extra potency, but was taken up to describe any grain beer produced in relatively novel ways and perceived as strong, such as beers in which the starch adjunct has been raosted. The following are some of the most common terms:
|ajon||millet beer||masohi||millet beer|
|boha||sugar-cane ferment||mbege||banana and millet ferment|
|bura||millet beer||mnazi||coconut palm wine|
|chang'aa||distillate||muratina||honey or sugar-cane ferment|
|chofi||sugar-cane ferment||njohi||sugar-cane ferment|
|denge||sugar-cane ferment||olamira||processed-sugar and yeast ferment|
|ebikweete||maize beer||omuramba||sorghum beer|
|enguli||distillate||omwenge||'alcohol', somtimes 'banana wine'|
|gangali||honey wine||os-sukuro||honey or sugar-cane ferment|
|gongo||distillate||pombe||'alcohol'; sometimes 'grain beer'|
|haragi||distillate||rorunkana||processed-sugar and tea ferment|
|kipumu||millet beer||tekawima||maize beer|
|kihambule||maize beer||tembo||coconut palm wine|
|komoni||maize beer||tonto||banana wine|
|kongo||millet beer||ubwalwa||grain beer|
|konyagi||distillate (now a brand name)||ujimbi||maize beer|
|kyindi||maize beer||uki||honey wine|
|mnanasi||pineapple wine||wanzuki||honey or sugar ferment|
|maarwa||'alcohol', sometimes 'banana wine'||waragi||distillate (now a brand name)|
How much do they cost?
The price of informal-sector beverages fluctuates with the availability of raw materials and the level of demand. There are also variations by country; they are consistently more expensive in Kenya, presumably because of the extra risks and costs involved in production there. In all three East African countries they are, however, consistently very much cheaper than bottled beer, in volume terms and in terms of the alcohol they contain.
Bottled beer retails for between US$1.50 and US$2 a litre, across the region. At an average strength of 5% v/v, this means that a litre of absolute alcohol purchased in the form of bottled beer costs at least US$30. In Kenya, fermented liquors mostly retail for around US 30 cts a litre. Assuming an average strength of around 4% v/v, this means that a litre of absolute alcohol purchased as fermented informal-sector beverage costs US$7.5. Illicit distillates in Kenya cost around $5 a litre; assuming a strength of 30% v/v this would mean a litre of absolute alcohol bought in this way would cost around US$17.
The price difference is even more striking in Uganda and Tanzania; in Uganda, illicit distillates are very cheap indeed, costing around US$2 a litre at retail prices, so that a litre of absolute alcohol would cost only US$6 if bought as illicit distillates. Fermented informal sector liquors in Uganda retail for about US 25 cts a litre, so that a litre of absolute alcohol bought as ferments similarly costs around US$6. In Tanzania, fermented liquors cost only around US 20 cts a litre, so that a litre of absolute alcohol bought as fermented liquor costs only around US$5.
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