Uganda’s Moonshine Epidemic


THOMAS MORTON: We’re
in Uganda. Uganda’s had a pretty good spell
the last 25 years– no major civil wars, a little bit
of an Ebola outbreak every so often, including right now. And they’re the alcoholism
capital of Africa. One favorite type of booze the
locals make is called waragi. We’re going to go make
some, drink some, and hopefully not go blind. In 2004, the World Health
Organization released its global status report on alcohol
and health, finding Uganda as the top contender
for per capita alcohol consumption in the world. Since 2011, the numbers
have only increased. Basically, making Uganda the
drunkest place on earth. So when Vice heard about
Uganda’s countrywide production of a type of
moonshine called for waragi, we were interested. But after we discovered that
people were going blind and dying for drinking waragi cut
with industrial chemicals, we knew this was something we
needed to taste for ourselves. Making its way through
my system. I can feel it kind
of spreading out. Following the release of the
World Health Organization’s report, the administration of
President Yoweri Museveni, acting through Uganda’s
Parliament, ordered a commission to be formed
to fact check the report’s findings. If you’re wondering what
prompted a reaction that seems like the geopolitical equivalent
of an angry work email, here’s some context. Musevini has been president
of Uganda for 27 years. He came to power after fighting
a six year bush war against this guy, who had been
president from 1966 to 1971, before being ousted
in a coup by this guy, who was a sociopath. This guy gave himself lots of
medals, royal titles, and ruled with an iron fist until
he was deposed by this guy, who was then president again
until he lost a civil war against the National Resistance
Movement, led by our old pal, Museveni. Running up to Uganda’s 2006
election, Museveni and the now political National Resistance
Movement abolished presidential term limits. On top of that, Museveni’s been
lying about his age for five or six-odd years in order
to avoid the maximum age for the presidency stipulated in
the country’s constitution. So when the commission put in
place by Uganda’s parliament to investigate just how drunk
they were at the international office party made the decision
to appoint Doctor Kabann Kabananukye, Professor of
Makerere University, and director of the Victor
Rehabilitation Center to head up the commission,
it struck us is uncharacteristically sober. What is Ugandans’ relationship
with alcohol like? Do a lot of people drink here? The more we talk to people about
the subject, the more we begin to understand not only the
extent of Uganda’s issue with libations, but also just
how different the problem manifested itself in different
parts of the country. So we headed out of the city,
40 kilometers up into the hills above Kampala,
to a village in the rural Kaliro district. Thank you. Where do you guys make
the waragi here? Cool. So is this somebody’s house? This is the waragi hut, huh? And you’re the one
who makes it? Can she explain what’s
happening here? MISTRESS KALIRO:
[SPEAKING FOREIGN LANGUAGE] THOMAS MORTON: So it’s
your basic still. You’ve got the mash in there. It’s boiling and fermenting. The vapor from it comes up
through these copper tubes, then condenses. You cool it off there, and it
drips into this gas tank. MISTRESS KALIRO:
[SPEAKING FOREIGN LANGUAGE] THOMAS MORTON: And there’s
your finished waragi. Seem like it might be strong. Eh? Yeah, that tastes like liquor. It’s actually pretty smooth. This tastes really
clean and fresh. How long does it take to make? MISTRESS KALIRO:
[SPEAKING FOREIGN LANGUAGE] THOMAS MORTON: Oh, do you mind
if I kill this really quick? Thank you. A native language corruption of
the English phrase War Gin, waragi was originally contrived
to embolden Ugandan soldiers in the King’s East
Africa Rifles during World Wars I and II with what the
British cheekily referred to as Dutch courage. Much to the colonial governor’s
chagrin, the beverage later became the drink
of choice for those resisting the crown during the
drive for independence in the late 1950s and early 1960s. It’s up from the store house. That’s great. Thank you. It’s even better. You can kind of taste of the
banana more with that one when it’s cooled down. Is there some reason why women
make waragi more than men? MISTRESS KALIRO:
[SPEAKING FOREIGN LANGUAGE] [SPEAKING FOREIGN LANGUAGE] THOMAS MORTON: Does the
government care that you make waragi? Do you ever get interfered
with? MISTRESS KALIRO:
[SPEAKING FOREIGN LANGUAGE] THOMAS MORTON: You said some
people come up from Kampal two buy your waragi. Why would people travel
this far? MISTRESS KALIRO:
[SPEAKING FOREIGN LANGUAGE] THOMAS MORTON: That
sounds way worse. Bananas are a lot better than
factory reject sugar cane. Who’s winning here? You’re winning. No, not anymore. The ladies are all over there. They’re kind of segregated,
middle school dance style. So do people only drink waragi
here, or do you drink beer and other things, too? [LAUGHTER] JOJO: No, no, no, no. [SPEAKING FOREIGN LANGUAGE] THOMAS MORTON: What’s
the hangover like? We’re drinking all this. How bad is it going to
be in the morning? JOJO:
[SPEAKING FOREIGN LANGUAGE] THOMAS MORTON: Did you say they
give the child alcohol? KABANN KABANANUKYE: Yes, in
some communities, yes. It is part of our culture. For you? For you? THOMAS MORTON: Yeah,
is that OK? Yeah, I’d love some. There we go. Perfect. Good, right? To [INAUDIBLE]. To [INAUDIBLE]. There we go. Now you’re me. Look at me. With the day wearing on, and the
festivities beginning to take a physical toll on our
hosts, we realized it was time to get these folks
some dinner. So, we’re going to go get
some food for the party. I get the feeling this means
we’re going to get something that isn’t yet food, probably
something we’re going to have to watch die before
it becomes food. There’s like a whole dragoon
of kids behind us now. This is dinner? I see. Oh, lord. Kind of isn’t a Vice party
until something dies. We’re going to eat that? Yeah, OK, that’s
what I thought. I feel bad saying this about the
goat that’s about to die, but that thing’s balls
are enormous. This went from some sort of
weird Breugel’s village life scene into some perverse
take on the old Judaic scapegoat ritual. [SPEAKING FOREIGN LANGUAGE] THOMAS MORTON: This was in the
goat about 20 minutes ago. Give it another 20 minutes
it’ll be inside me. Lord. [INAUDIBLE] THOMAS MORTON: I’m just here
getting my head rubbed and trying to eat some goat
that’s way too hot. It’s about 7 o’clock
in the evening. I’ve got to wait a second. This thing is way
too hot for me. As our new friends begin to hit
the deck one by one, we noticed that besides her
initial sip during our interview, Mistress Kaliro was
the only one who hadn’t touched a drop of the waragi
during the party. Is waragi something
that people drink here like every day? Or is it just kind of
more for special occasions, for parties? MISTRESS KALIRO:
[SPEAKING FOREIGN LANGUAGE] THOMAS MORTON: What would
happens if they stopped drinking it? MISTRESS KALIRO:
[SPEAKING FOREIGN LANGUAGE] THOMAS MORTON: It’s like
their medicine. [SPEAKING FOREIGN LANGUAGE] THOMAS MORTON: Everybody
gets out of work. Everybody lets their
worries wash away in a stream of waragi. Somebody kills a goat. They day is over. You start anew the next day. What happens in the city,
though, is another story. We’re going to go
check that out. [MUSIC PLAYING] Our visit to the very
traditional waragi operation in Kaliro had ended with a lot
of older men on the ground before sunset. It seemed like we were watching
people drink for the first time. But based on what we observed,
that was probably just the everyday norm. Curious about how moonshine
worked in the rest of the country, we visited the Kataza
suburb of Kampala to explore a much larger and much,
much prettier setup. Oh wow. Now this is a far cry. Hello, how are you? All the kids came with us. That’s cute and distressing,
because this looks like some sort of creepy industrial slog
yard filled with bubbling vats of half-buried booze. [SPEAKING FOREIGN LANGUAGE] THOMAS MORTON: Can I see? Oh wow. Oh, I can smell it. Bubbling. There’s so many drums. And how much does
each of these– a whole barrel, how much waragi
comes out of that? So 40 liters a day,
then basically. That’s a big operation. How many people work here? Why do women make waragi? It feels like everybody
we’ve met who makes waragi is a woman. It’s the only job a woman
can give herself. [SPEAKING FOREIGN LANGUAGE] THOMAS MORTON: How much do
you sell a liter for? OK. OK, that’s 600, and that’s,
what, one too? In 1965, Ugandan Parliament
enacted the Enguli Act, requiring a license for bringing
and distillation of all locally produced alcohol. But for really obvious reasons,
the Enguli Act has never been successfully
enforced, as unlicensed production of waragi rampantly
persists across the country. Can we buy some bottles? I’d like to buy a couple
bottles if possible. Whatever shit that’s in there
is going to kill a lot more germs than water would have. Yes, that’s ours. This is Robert, our driver. As you could tell by
his ability to gulp down bootleg liquor. Can we go over and
see the drinkers? Well thank you. I’m glad that me showing
up and drinking is an honor to you. Yeah, it’s nice, when the day is
done, when the work’s over, quitting time. Just like a neighborhood bar. Good to meet you, James. JAMES: You are called Thomaso? THOMAS MORTON: Oh,
just Thomas. Thomas. JAMES: Thomas. THOMAS MORTON: Thomas Morton. My last name? Morton. Oh it is. JAMES: [INAUDIBLE]. THOMAS MORTON: Yeah,
it’s great. It’s nice and strong. Who? Which one? Oh, him? JOE STRAMOWSKI: I can see why
you give it the name. Here, here, we’re good. Then– THOMAS MORTON: In April 2010,
more than 80 people died after drinking waragi contaminated
with high amounts of methanol over a three week period in
the Kambala district. THOMAS MORTON: It’s like when
drug dealers stamp out their supply, and they put
filler in it. Yeah. Wow. That’s– oh man– that’s a lot stronger
than yesterday. [INAUDIBLE]. How do I benefit? I get to come to Africa. I get to come to Africa and
hang out with you guys. That’s how I benefit. This is fun, man! No, this is fun. This is my reward,
hanging out. Dude. So after you’ve got your waragi,
and you’ve got a little buzz going, everybody
comes down here. This is Kalagala, kind of the
red light district on Kampala. And basically this
is Sunday night. It kind of looks like Cardiff,
or like Glasgow or something on a Friday. Tons of people out. Everybody’s staggering, picking
fights, and hugging. A lot of women out who look
like they’re charging. This is sort of like Britain’s
lasting legacy here, you now? Instead of rum, sodomy, and the
lash Ugandans opted for gin, no sodomy, and hookers. [PIANO MUSIC PLAYING] [MUSIC PLAYING]

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