Liquorlining Is Impeding The Economic Growth Of Low Income Neighbourhoods In Botswana

A few weeks ago during the peak of the 2019 general election campaigns, I was having a conversation with my mother about the reckless driving of some of the people who were attending the festivities of the numerous political rallies in the neighbourhood. She was quick to point out that one of the contributing reasons to the escalating levels of recklessness was the continuing prevalence of liquor retailing facilities, a notion I completely agreed with.

In Monarch, Francistown, like most low-income neighborhoods in Botswana which are colloquially referred to as "kasi" or "makeishane",liquorlining is very common, with liquor retailing facilities like bottle stores, bars, and pubs sprawled across most shopping complexes in these areas.

Although the retailing of liquor is not itself a problem, the problem is that in most of these neighborhoods, it is not regulated efficiently enough which leads to a barrage of side effects. As a result of having a high concentration of liquor places in one area, these facilities end up not being able to offer enough toilet facilities to accommodate the massive crowds which flock there so customers end up using adjacent areas as toilets which greatly impacts the hygiene of these areas.

Another consequence of these liquor areas is the increasing levels of crime both within the complexes where the facilities are located as well as the communities surrounding the complexes. After the closure of these facilities for the night post the government-imposed curfew time, it is common for criminals to then resort to breaking into other shops within the complex or into cars and houses near these complexes.

As a result of the aforementioned side effects of liquorlining, these areas become less attractive to investors who might want to set up other retail facilities like supermarkets, grocery stores, etc.  The value of the land in and around these areas also plummets significantly which further deters investors and attracts more liquor retailing facilities as they have a higher profit margin than other forms of enterprise and hence are not significantly affected by the loss of value of the land.

For those enterprises who choose to remain and operate among these liquor facilities, they start to experience loss of customers, especially on weekends as people are afraid of visiting say a supermarket at night because of fear of being harassed by drunk individuals. These enterprises also then find it hard to access credit from lenders and also face exorbitant charges from insurers because of them being located in what is considered a high-risk area. When these businesses finally succumb to all these factors and shut down, more bars take up their place which further increases the problem of liquorlining, a vicious cycle.

One might argue that one way of curbing the emergence of liquor stores is for the neighborhood people to decrease their drinking but the fact of the matter is that, the problem of liquorlining is not a supply and demand issue per se. People in low-income areas do not necessarily drink more than those in affluent neighborhoods. The problem lies in the difference in the nature of alcohol distribution between "kasis" and suburbs. In the latter, alcohol is readily available in less rowdy facilities like "Tops" and "Liquorama", facilities that are not available in low-income neighborhoods.

Because of the lack of a customer base needed for these retailers —who mostly rely on high volume sales to compensate small profit margins— they do not find it feasible to set up shop in low income which leaves bars and pubs as the only retailers in these areas. Affluent communities are also allowed more control during the decision making for the setting up of liquor retailing facilities unlike in low-income areas where the council just gives out licenses without first consulting the community.

Problems brought about by the concentration of liquor retailers in one place are numerous as I have already pointed out. To curb them, fewer licenses have to be issued for liquor retailers so as to prevent their concentration in these low-income areas. For those given the trading licenses, more stringent penalties have to be imposed on those who fail to provide sufficient toilet and security facilities in and around their facilities.

More control by virtue of consultation should also be given to communities in and around complexes that house these facilities as these communities are the ones who experience first hand the negative effects that come about as a result of the prevalence of these facilities. Because these communities are the ones who have to deal with the crime, unhygienic conditions and adolescent drinking which stems from these facilities so it is only fair that they are given a voice when decisions to place these liquor retailers are made.