Banana-Based Moonshine Microbrew Is A Killer In Burundi

Bootleg beers are ruining young Burundians' health
Bootleg beers are ruining young Burundians' health
Eric Nshemezimana

NGOZI – In the north of Burundi, new brands of “beer” have sprouted recently. They are produced locally in a multitude of small breweries or imported from neighboring countries in little plastic bags.

These alcoholic beverages are three times less expensive than normal brews – $0.30 for 50ml – and very strong, containing up to 40% alcohol compared to the usual 5-7%.

And since binge drinking is already a problem in Burundi, the health effects of these new ersatz beers are often catastrophic.

The new beers are made with banana juice, sugar and honey, mixed with citric acid. So on top of the usual liver, pancreatic and other diseases and cancer types that afflict moderate and heavy drinkers, the beers are worsening Burundi’s diabetes problem.

One in ten Burundians is already a diabetic, but according to the president of the Diabetes Association of Ngozi, a city in northern Burundi, that number is climbing rapidly, even in rural and remote areas.

The situation is alarming, but to this day, no one has bothered checking the quality of the beers produced by the small local breweries.

Burundian banana beer - Photo: Dave Proffer

These breweries don't even have labs for basic analyses: “It's not easy to obtain the paperwork necessary to start a brewery. Not only is it expensive but it's also complicated. You need to know how to "play it,"" says a former brewery owner.

By “playing it,” he means paying bribes to the relevant authorities.

He adds that certain ingredients mentioned on the label – banana is usually named as the main ingredient, although the levels of sugar and honey are much higher – don’t always correspond to what’s really in the bottle. “That's why beers will sometimes taste different,” he says.

Drunk and deadly

The amateur brewers have already had a visible impact in the cities. In the poorest neighborhoods, dirty, flea-bitten men spend their day drinking, turning into burdens for their wives.

Some of these women are fed up: “I've reached the point where I don't feed my husband anymore, sometimes we don't even share the same bed!” says a woman from Ngozi’s Kigarama neighborhood. Drunk men beat up or even kill their wives. Youths have also started drinking these strong beers in the street, as if they were drugs.

According to a Kigarama policeman, these drunks are out of control: “Sometimes they fight, sometimes they stab each other to death!”

The situation is the same in the hills outside the city. “My husband doesn't work anymore. He's become weak, he even drinks his plastic beer baggies in front of the children!” cries Immaculée.

The damages caused by these very strong and very questionable drinks are starting to worry the population. In December 2012, a group of locals asked journalists to investigate the beers’ harmful effects. Now they know.

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What It Means When The Jews Of Germany No Longer Feel Safe

A neo-Nazi has been buried in the former grave of a Jewish musicologist Max Friedlaender – not an oversight, but a deliberate provocation. This is just one more example of antisemitism on the rise in Germany, and society's inability to respond.

At a protest against antisemitism in Berlin

Eva Marie Kogel


BERLIN — If you want to check the state of your society, there's a simple test: as the U.S. High Commissioner for Germany, John Jay McCloy, said in 1949, the touchstone for a democracy is the well-being of Jews. This litmus test is still relevant today. And it seems Germany would not pass.

Incidents are piling up. Most recently, groups of neo-Nazis from across the country traveled to a church near Berlin for the funeral of a well-known far-right figure. He was buried in the former grave of Jewish musicologist Max Friedlaender, a gravesite chosen deliberately by the right-wing extremists.

The incident at the cemetery

They intentionally chose a Jewish grave as an act of provocation, trying to gain maximum publicity for this act of desecration. And the cemetery authorities at the graveyard in Stahnsdorf fell for it. The church issued an immediate apology, calling it a "terrible mistake" and saying they "must immediately see whether and what we can undo."

There are so many incidents that get little to no media attention.

It's unfathomable that this burial was allowed to take place at all, but now the cemetery authorities need to make a decision quickly about how to put things right. Otherwise, the grave may well become a pilgrimage site for Holocaust deniers and antisemites.

The incident has garnered attention in the international press and it will live long in the memory. Like the case of singer-songwriter Gil Ofarim, who recently claimed he was subjected to antisemitic abuse at a hotel in Leipzig. Details of the crime are still being investigated. But there are so many other incidents that get little to no media attention.

Photo of the grave of Jewish musicologist Max Friedlaender

The grave of Jewish musicologist Max Friedlaender

Jens Kalaene/dpa/ZUMA

Crimes against Jews are rising

Across all parts of society, antisemitism is on the rise. Until a few years ago, Jewish life was seen as an accepted part of German society. Since the attack on the synagogue in Halle in 2019, the picture has changed: it was a bitter reminder that right-wing terror against Jewish people has a long, unbroken history in Germany.

Stories have abounded about the coronavirus crisis being a Jewish conspiracy; meanwhile, Muslim antisemitism is becoming louder and more forceful. The anti-Israel boycott movement BDS rears its head in every debate on antisemitism, just as left-wing or post-colonial thinking are part of every discussion.

Jewish life needs to be allowed to step out of the shadows.

Since 2015, the number of antisemitic crimes recorded has risen by about a third, to 2,350. But victims only report around 20% of cases. Some choose not to because they've had bad experiences with the police, others because they're afraid of the perpetrators, and still others because they just want to put it behind them. Victims clearly hold out little hope of useful reaction from the state – so crimes go unreported.

And the reality of Jewish life in Germany is a dark one. Sociologists say that Jewish children are living out their "identity under siege." What impact does it have on them when they can only go to nursery under police protection? Or when they hear Holocaust jokes at school?

Germany needs to take its antisemitism seriously

This shows that the country of commemorative services and "stumbling blocks" placed in sidewalks as a memorial to victims of the Nazis has lost its moral compass. To make it point true north again, antisemitism needs to be documented from the perspective of those affected, making it visible to the non-Jewish population. And Jewish life needs to be allowed to step out of the shadows.

That is the first thing. The second is that we need to talk about specifically German forms of antisemitism. For example, the fact that in no other EU country are Jewish people so often confronted about the Israeli government's policies (according to a survey, 41% of German Jews have experienced this, while the EU average is 28%). Projecting the old antisemitism onto the state of Israel offers people a more comfortable target for their arguments.

Our society needs to have more conversations about antisemitism. The test of German democracy, as McCloy called it, starts with taking these concerns seriously and talking about them. We need to have these conversations because it affects all of us. It's about saving our democracy. Before it's too late.

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