"Africa is, indeed, coming into fashion." - Horace Walpole (1774)


it's no lubbock

Via Mark Perry's blog, here's a fascinating map of world alcohol consumption per capita. Check out Africa. I'm trying to figure out what (if anything) explains the variation:
  • The countries with the highest levels of consumption are Nigeria and Burundi. Is there something about massive corruption (Nigeria) or long conflicts (Burundi) that would explain it? If so, why don't we see super-high levels of consumption in places like the Congo?
  • Religion doesn't seem to play a surprising role. Alcohol consumption is low in predominantly Islamic countries and high in places that are mostly Christian or divided in terms of religious tradition.
  • Could it be tourism levels? Rwanda, Tanzania, South Africa, Namibia, and Botswana all have great tourist infrastructures. Each has somewhat elevated or mid-range alcohol consumption levels as well. Then again, so do Angola and Zimbabwe, and no package tourist in his right mind goes on vacation in those places.
  • Maybe it's the presence of international aid workers and other expats. That might explain Burundi; the population is relatively small with a high number of expats relative to that population. (Lakeside Bujumbura is a nice place to be posted, except for the occasional rocket attack.)
  • Price? Is beer cheaper in Nigeria than elsewhere in West Africa? I know that in many places in Eastern and Central Africa, beer is often less expensive than bottled water.
  • Other economic factors might matter. Poverty is so widespread on the continent, but there are real differences between countries in relation to GDP and economic growth. I don't see a pattern here at all.
  • Might colonial heritage have something to do with it? Among those with elevated consumption levels are lots of former British colonies - Nigeria, Tanzania, Botswana, and Zimbabwe. An even clearer pattern emerges when you look at former German colonies (Germany lost all its colonies after World War I. They were divided up and other colonial powers took control of the territories as protectorates. Just before World War II, one of the more moronic parts of Nevile Chamberlain's appeasement plan was to return the African colonies to Hitler. Hitler declined the offer.): Tanzania, Burundi, Rwanda, Namibia, and Cameroon all fit the description.
  • Of course, there's some correlation with being a post-conflict situation, which probably means that the presence of international humanitarian aid and development workers skews the results. Liberia, Sierra Leone, Rwanda, Burundi, and Angola all have elevated consumption levels. DR Congo does not, but it's not really post anything as of yet.
I really have no idea what explains the variation here, but it's interesting to ponder the possibilities. If nothing else, this proves that graduate school has ruined me for good. I can't even look at a simple map of where the drunks are without trying to find an independent variable. Anyone else have any ideas?


Anonymous Sister said...

Are they counting bottled alcohol sales or what? In Ghana I saw a whole lot of palm wine and local beer being fermented in little pots in people's storerooms. A pot on a stick in front of a compound told you that they sold their own beer there. I'd like to know more about where they got their numbers.

Wednesday, May 13, 2009 11:02:00 AM

Blogger texasinafrica said...

Good point. I'm sure it only accounts for bottling company sales; there's no way to track, um, independent production.

Wednesday, May 13, 2009 11:57:00 AM

Anonymous Anonymous said...

...and then there's the hard stuff 'akpateshie' brewed in the south and shipped to market villages in the north in 5 gal containers (from Nancy, one of your sister's hosts in northern Ghana and a regular reader)

Wednesday, May 13, 2009 3:14:00 PM

Blogger texasinafrica said...

I love that the missionaries know so much about this! :)

So I was thinking about this on the plane. Thing is, it seems like it shouldn't skew the numbers that much. From my experience, home-brews are found in abundance everywhere in Africa. It almost seems like that might be a constant, whereas there's variation in the sale of bottled booze. Hmmm...

Wednesday, May 13, 2009 10:56:00 PM

Anonymous Mike said...

assuming it only counts bottle sales, it still doesn't look like good data to me. Ugandans really drink like 1/3 or 1/5 as much as Tanzanians or Kenyans? They found data for every country in the world, including Somalia?

as for why Burundi is so high compared to DRC, Burundi has 2 breweries and the DRC imports a lot of booze produced by its neighbors, so maybe they're counting production.

Friday, May 15, 2009 10:30:00 AM

Blogger texasinafrica said...

Good points. But DRC has quite a few functioning breweries, so that wouldn't explain it all. Or would it?

Friday, May 15, 2009 3:29:00 PM

Blogger Omair said...

I'm not so sure we can expect home-brewed alcohol sales to be constant. I don't know much about Africa, but from my experience in Pakistan, people who want to drink are going to drink, and there are plenty of Muslims who want to drink. They just do so privately. For the rich adults, this alcohol consumption will likely be included in this study... as they just go to fancy hotels and stuff to get their booze on. But for poorer or younger people, there is a whole lot of private brewing going on. I find it difficult to believe that countries where alcohol is consumed openly and without consequence will have as much demand for home-production.

Sunday, May 17, 2009 4:49:00 PM

Blogger texasinafrica said...

Oh, but there's a HUGE demand for home-production throughout the continent, especially in West Africa where palm wine is the dominant beverage. Part of it has to do with cost; the rest has to do with tradition.

Sunday, May 17, 2009 9:05:00 PM

Blogger Elisabeth said...

I wouldn't know how to talk about specific numbers, but thinking in terms of countries seems inaccurate or at least insufficient. DRC, for example is a HUGE country, and the breweries (which are many) are concentrated where there are people (i.e. not the middle of nowhere in Maniema). I think it would be more interesting to see the data broken down into regional consumption (and production?). Then we might see correlations among parts of DRC with Burundi and Rwanda or Uganda, for example.
Here in Bukavu there are differing attitudes about alcohol depending on whether you're Catholic or Protestant (something like 90% Christianity here), and I'm sure it too has to do with missionary/colonizing influences. Here you find a lot of men in little pubs every evening after work (or after not working, as the case may be). When someone tells you he's thirsty, he's probably not talking about water...

Tuesday, May 26, 2009 8:00:00 AM


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