06 September 2013

Does Africa Have a Drinking Problem? Yes and No

Credit: Erik Hersman
Africa, it turns out, is the new frontier for the booze industry. Developing countries plus the right demographics make for the right market opportunity. The major beverage companies know it and they are making a move.

The thing is, reported Jessica Hatcher for TIME this month, that Africa has a drinking problem. Health systems are unable to cope with the increasing number of people affected by alcohol.
Chronic corruption means every new control measure is an opportunity for police to solicit bribes. While average per capita consumption figures (excluding South Africa) are very low, Africa has the highest proportion of binge drinkers in the world: 25% of those who drink drink too much, according to the World Health Organization (WHO). Beverage companies dismiss that figure as poorly sourced, and certainly the problem is underresearched.
A closer look at the data reveals a more complicated story. Yes, the Africans that do drink have a high rate of alcohol abuse, but the overall drinking levels are right about on par with the rest of the world. That appears to be due to the fact that many Africans, particularly Muslims, do not drink at all.

The fact-checking blog Africa Check took a closer look at the WHO data about drinking in Africa. The continent of Africa barely out consumes (6.15 liters per capita) the global average (6.13 liters per capita). Seven countries, for some reason, are excluded from the Africa region: Egypt, Libya, Tunisia, Djibouti, Morocco, Somalia and Sudan. All are home to a significant number of Muslims that may further drive down the continent’s averages.

Americans and Europeans drink far more, on average than Africans. In fact, more than 70% of Africans said they did not consume alcohol in the past year (compared to 17.7% in the US). Africa Check rightly points out that the TIME article neglects to mention that an overwhelming number of Africans do not drink at all.

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