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 are the alcoholism capital of Africa. One favorite type of booze the locals make is called “waragi.” We’re gonna go make some, drink some and hopefully not go blind. [FRINGES] [WAR GIN] [KAMPALA, UGANDA] [WORLD HEALTH ORGANIZATION]
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 country-wide production of a type of moonshine called waragi, we were interested. But after we discovered that people were going blind and dying from drinking Waragi cut with industrial chemicals, we knew this was something we needed to taste for ourselves. It’s 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 e-mail, here’s some context. [HISTORY LESSON] Museveni has been President of Uganda for 27 years. He came to power after fighting a six-year bush war against this guy, [MILTON OBOTE
PRESIDENT OF UGANDA
Who had been President from 1966 to 1971, before being ousted in a coup by this guy, [IDI AMIN
PRESIDENT OF UGANDA
who was a sociopath. This guy gave himself lots of medals, royal titles, and ruled with an iron fist [MILTON OBOTE
PRESIDENT OF UGANDA
until he was deposed by this guy, who was then President again, until he lost a civil war against the National Resistance Movement, [YOWERI MUSEVINI
PRESIDENT OF UGANDA
led by our old pal, Musevini. Running up to Uganda’s 2006 election, Musevini and the now-political National Resistance Movement abolished presidential term limits. On top of that, Musevini’s been lying about his age for five to six odd years, in order to avoid the maximum age for the presidency stipulated in the country’s constitution. [THOMAS MORTON
So when the commission, put in place by Uganda’s Parliament to investigate just how drunk they were at the international office party, mad the decision to appoint Dr. Kabann Kabananukye, professor at Makerere University [KABANN KABANANUKYE
PROFESSOR, MAKERERE UNIVERSITY]
and director of the Victory Rehabilitation Center, to head up the commission, it struck us as uncharacteristically sober. What is Uganda’s relationship with alcohol like? Do a lot of people drink here? Oh yes! A lot of people drink alcohol, because, in most of our communities, it is part of the culture. A student, a head teacher, a village chief, a community leader, they are all meeting and drinking in the various groups. The more we talked to people about the subject, the more we began 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. [ROBERT
DRIVER] [JAMES MBIRI
FIXER] [2:00 PM] We are very happy. that you have come here with us. [“BLUE”
In our area. In our village. [GIORDI
KALIRO RESIDENT] Where do you guys make the waragi here? The waragi is made from across there. So, is this somebody’s house? This is the lady’s house, where we usually meet and drink. [MISTRESS KALIRO
LOCAL WARAGI MAKER]
This is the waragi hut, huh? And you’re the one who makes it? Could you explain what’s happening here? [WARAGI MAKING 101] I get bananas and cover them four days to ripen. When they ripen, I peel them and put them all in a drum. I then squeeze the juice out by treading and leave them in for 2 days. 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. It condenses. You cool it off there, and it drips into this gas tank. [Of] alcohol consumed in Uganda, you find about 70 per cent they are drinking only local brews. One would not say that, indeed, the local stuff, it definitely has some impurities. It’s not like gin. And here is the alcohol. And there’s your finished waragi. It seems like it might be strong. Yeah. That tastes like… That tastes like liquor. It’s actually pretty smooth. Like this tastes really clean and fresh. How long does it take to make? The whole process right from the bananas takes a whole month. I get four jerry cans (gas cans) of waragi, which is 80 liters. I am going to get you a sample of a cold one and you can taste it. Oh, do you mind if I kill this real 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 African Rifles during World Wars One and Two, with what the English 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 the early 1960s. It’s up from the store house. That’s great! Thank you. That’s even better. So you can even taste the banana better with that one, when it’s cooled down. Is there some reason that women make waragi more than men? The main reason why it’s mostly us women in this business is because we have families and children to look after. Personally, I have many children in school. So, I have to work very hard to pay fees for their bright future. The teacher?
– Yes. You gave him an extra 10,000 shillings after the other 50,000? Yes, I did, totaling 60,000 shillings. That was a mistake.
You should’ve consulted me first. You should have consulted me! In selected districts, you find their livelihood is significantly dependent on the alcohol itself. More than even 60 per cent of their income. People have gone to school. They have even graduated from university out of selling alcohol. Does the Government care that you make waragi? Do you ever get interfered with? You have to get a license from the government, and also pay a tax. You said that some people come up from Kampala to buy… to buy your waragi. Why would people travel this far? My waragi tastes nice and is organic. Because I use bananas. Most people in the city use factory rejects of sugar cane. That sounds way worse! Bananas are a lot better than factory-reject sugar cane. It’s kinda like the African version of Sorry. You roll the dice, and then you move your little colored pieces and try to bump the other guys off the board. Who’s winning here? You’re winning. No, not anymore. The ladies are all over there. They’re kinda segregated, middle school dance-style. [4:00 pm] Addiction is addiction. Because the moment you are addicted, the symptoms are the same. Whether you have been taking Ugandan waragi or what… there’s no difference. [“JOJO”
So, do people only drink like waragi here, or do you drink like beer and other things too? The difference is that drinking two bottles of beer is like drinking water. Yet just a half liter or waragi will get you drunk then and there. That’s my… my brother. That’s my uncle. What’s the hangover like? We’re drinking all this, so how bad’s it gonna be in the morning? Well, it depends. Waragi weakens the old people easily. But the youth can take it and go about our daily activities without much effect. When a child is born, sometimes in some communities, he is given some alcohol. Did you say they give the child alcohol? Yes, in some communities, yes. Even as soon as he is born, as part of initiation and the rituals. It is part of our culture. For you. – For you.
– Yeah, is that OK? Yeah, I’d love some. There I go.
Perfect. Good, right? Making a friend. There we go. You’re me! OK, now look at me. It’s African Thomas. With the day wearing on and the festivities beginning to take a toll on our hosts, we realized it was time to get these folks some dinner. [6:00 pm] So, we’re gonna go get some food for the party. I get the feeling this man’s… we’re gonna get something that isn’t yet food. Probably something we’re gonna have to watch die before it becomes food. There’s like a whole dragoon of kids behind us now. Is this dinner? I see. Oh lord. Kind of a… It kind of isn’t a Vice party until something dies. We’re gonna eat that. Yeah, OK, that’s what I thought. I kind of feel bad about saying this about a goat that’s about to die, but that thing’s balls are enormous. This went from some weird Bruegel’s village life scene into some perverse take on the old Judaic scapegoat ritual. Salaam alaikum! Grand father, salaam alaikum! Don’t let go of it! Way to go, old man! Where’s the knife? Do you think he will feel the axe’s effect? He is still kicking. See that? Look, look! There’s still more blood. There’s a lodge at my place for all drunkards. Whoever gets drunk, I can take them there, but I don’t know if they’ll be able to eat. This was in the goat about 20 minutes ago. Given another 20 minutes, it will be inside me. Hopefully tempering the kinda booze-fueled Bruegelian pandemonium we just witnessed. This cooking operation is a little haphazard. And loud. Everybody is just kind of jockeying for position on the flame. I don’t know. We’ve been doing this for 30 minutes, too. I have no clue when it’s going to be done. Where’s my money at? My friends? So, I’m just here getting my head rubbed and trying to eat some goat that’s way too hot. It’s about seven o’clock in the evening. This is how you party in Uganda, out in the country. I’ve gotta wait a second.
This thing’s way too hot for me. This is good goat. As our new friends began to hit the deck, one by one, we noticed that beside out 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 every day, or is it just kinda more for special occasions, for parties? Yes, they drink waragi here every day. There are those who can’t go a day without it. What would happen if they stopped drinking it? I’m not quite sure, but it’s just how some people feel when they don’t eat food. It’s the same feeling. It’s like their medicine. Wait a bit, make him stand. He says they are raping him. Make him stand. In that condition, he won’t be able to stand. He drank a lot and understands nothing at the moment. There he goes. You must really love drinking. This one is a lost cause. Everybody gets out of work, everybody lets their worries wash away in a stream of waragi, somebody kills a goat, the day’s over, and you start anew the next day. What happens in the city, though, is another story. We’re gonna go check that out. [THOMAS MORTON
VICE] 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 moonshining worked in the rest of the country, we visited the Kataza suburb of Kampala to explore a much larger and much, much prettier setup. This is a far cry. Hello. Hi, how are you. All the kids came with us. That’s… cute and distressing, because this looks like… some sort of creepy, industrial slag yard, filled with bubbling vats of half-buried booze. This [waragi] is prepared in the house. Inside there. Could I see? I can smell it. It’s bubbling. There’s so many drums. And how much does each of these, like a whole barrel, how much waragi comes out of that? This one is 20 liters. Wow, so 40 liters a day then basically. This is a big operation. How many people work here? We are 10 people. Some of them work in the morning, others in the daytime, others in the evening. Why do women make waragi? It feels like everybody we’ve met who makes waragi is a woman. [JOSEPH
It’s the only way the can make money is to employ themselves. It’s the only job a woman can give herself. We need to work very hard for everything, but earn very little. So even when you go to these urban areas, depending on one’s income, income status and the community, the poor, the majority that lives in the slums, they depend on the locally brewed waragi. How much do you sell a liter for? [MISTRESS KATAZA
LOCAL WARAGI MAKER]
A litre is 10,000 shillings ($5 USD). A lot of times they use these. This one is 600 shillings. OK, that’s 600, and that’s one too? In 1965, the Ugandan Parliament enacted the Enguli Act, requiring a license for brewing 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. Could we buy some bottles? I’d like to buy a couple bottles, if possible. Whatever she puts in there is gonna kill a lot more germs than water. Is this ours? Yes, that’s ours. This is Robert, our driver. As you can tell by his ability to gulp down bootleg liquor. Can we go over and see the drinkers? In Uganda, the people who are underemployed, the poor, because of the limited funds, limited money they have, there is a lot of binge drinking. White boy, white boy! White boy, white boy! Very glad, indeed. You have come to the place of your brothers and sisters. We could not believe that an American young man would come here. But, really, god bless you for the fact that you honor all the Ugandans as your brothers. Thank you. I’m glad that me showing up and drinking is an honor to you. So, this is a place where people come to have a drink. It helps to pass the time. Yeah, it’s nice, when the day is done, the work is over, quitting time. It’s just like a neighborhood bar. [JAMES
It’s great to meet you, James. – You too, Thomas.
– Oh, just Thomas. – Thomas.
– Thomas? Oh, Thomas Morton. My last name? Morton. You better tell me what that means. It’s a kiss. Wow, that is. – It’s good?
– Yeah, it’s great. You like it? It’s nice and strong. Your other brother, he should come and taste. Who, which one? Oh him? [JOE STRAMOWSKI
VICE] They call it “sulfuric acid flavored with magnesium.” I can see why you gave it the name. Here, very good, then… That stuff is great on the tongue, and then… It does sting going down. You should’ve tasted the stuff I was drinking out of the gas cap. That was insanely, intensely strong. In April 2010, more than 80 people died after drinking waragi contaminated with high amounts of methanol over a three-week period in the Kampala district. They think they are drinking the alcohol, when it is actually adulterated. It’s like when drug dealers stamp out their supply, and they put filler in it. You taste? Wow, that’s a lot stronger than yesterday. I may need a second after that. You guys are taking a video, and we don’t know if you’re going to sell it in Africa or… We don’t know. But, everyone believes that you are going to sell it here. That’s our local mentality, that you are going to sell it here. All the way from America to Uganda, East Africa. How do you benefit? How do I benefit? I get to come to Africa and hang out with you guys. – This is fun, man!
– Fuck you! (Laughing.) No, no, this is fun! This is my reward! It’s a lot less bucolic than the place we were at yesterday. It kind of looks like an industrial slag heap. There’s these half-buried drums in the ground, a general caking of grime all over the place. It’s like stepping into the very early day s of the industrial revolution, from like the Arcadian shepherd days. But, it makes a lot more money and it’s a lot, lot, lot stronger, for better and probably a lot worse. So after you’ve got your waragi and got a little buzz going, everybody comes down here. This is Kalagal. It’s kind of the red light district of Kampala it basically is a sunday night. It kind of looks like Cardiff or Glasgow or something on a friday. Tons of people out, everybody’s staggering, picking fights and hugging. There’s a lot of women out who look like they’re charging. This is sort of like Britain’s last legacy here. Instead of rum, sodomy and a lash, Ugandans opted for gin, no sodomy and hookers. What the fuck? It’s alright, they are drunks!