The magazine of the art-form of the photo-essay
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June 2015 issue
by AJ Heath
The Illegal production of hard liquor is a problem across much of Africa, but it may be worst in Uganda. It is a surprising
statistic, but according to the World Health Organisation, Ugandan drinkers annually consume a shocking 23.7 litres of
pure alcohol per capita and 89% of this alcohol is unregulated, home brewed and illegally sold.
Production of this crude homemade alcohol has mushroomed in recent years, causing unknown social damage
including an increase in mental health and blindness cases, as well as hundreds of deaths. The most popular
homebrew is a hard liquor called Waragi which can contain as much as 40% pure ethanol, as well as other unknown
impurities. In April 2010, more than 100 people died after they drank a batch of methanol-laced Waragi.
Alcohol has been identified as a key driver and maintainer of chronic poverty in Uganda, with some observers
estimating the economic and social costs to be worse than those of HIV and malaria, yet the Ugandan government has
failed to act on this growing problem.
This photo essay concentrates on KIMASA, an acronym for Kimaka, Makenke and Sakabusolo - three small, laid back
villages just on the northerly outskirts of Jinja, where Waragi is distilled on an industrial scale. It is a bleak place,
corrugated iron roofs are knitted closely together and thick acidic smoke fills the air. Old oil drums and piles of freshly
cut timber litter the ground and the open drains are filled with a black sticky residue. The majority of the 486 people
working here are women, many of whom fled from Northern Uganda during the 1990s, where they escaped the tyranny
of Joseph Kony’s Lord Resistance Army.
Drinkers enjoy a central pot of home-made alcohol in an illegal kafunda.
A drinker nurses his hangover in the shade of a banana tree. Imelda, a local distiller reveals 'the men around Kimasa
drink all day and do no work'.
The minimum drinking age in Uganda is 18, but this is rarely enforced. The sale of small plastic sachets and bottles
make alcohol easily available.
The corrugated iron roofs of Kimasa's 147 illegal distilleries knitted closely together, as thick clouds of smoke billow
into the air. Old oil distilling drums and piles of freshly cut timber litter the ground. Here crude Waragi is being distilled
on an industrial scale.
Waragi being distilled in an illegal distillery, where a worker is engulfed in a think cloud of acidic smoke.
A worker pours a jerry can of molasses into a fermenting
barrel. As illegal distilling has becomes more popular, the
price has risen sharply.
An illegal distiller empties the dregs out of one of her
Having been left to ferment for 4 to 5 days, the sticky liquid is ready to be distilled.
A young mother takes a moments rest from the back breaking work. Most of the women here fled the civil war in
Northern Uganda, so do not have any family members who they can leave their young with.
The black sticky residue from the distilling process flows through the open drains of Kimasa.
Waragi - Uganda's moonshine epidemic.
A young girl waits for transportation to the market, where
she will sell her fresh batch of Waragi. Traditionally the
skills and recipe of the Waragi process are passed down
from mother to daughter.
Kimasa's distilleries go through an alarming amount of wood each day. Most of the trees in the area have already been
cut down and the nearby Mabira Central Forest Reserve has experienced a lot of illegal logging.
The black sticky residue from the illegal distilling process saturates the ground around Kimasa.
Imelda reveals her badly scarred chest. Several years ago a drum in her distillery exploded, spraying her with a hot
A delivery of new distilling drums are distributed among Kimasa's illegal distilleries.
One of Imelda's employees fills up a customer's jerry can with a freshly made batch of Waragi. As the illegal industry
has grown, the price of crude Waragi has fallen sharply and a jerry can now goes for about £11.00-£14.00.
Imelda inspects a recently made batch of Waragi, as it awaits to be distributed throughout Uganda and even as far as
It's 11.00am and Minani is already wasted on Waragi. He has lost almost everything to drink. He has no money, but
somehow manages to buy crude Waragi.
Peter is locked up for his own safety. Having drunk a bad batch of crude Waragi, he now suffers from chronic mental
health issues and needs constant care.