Kenya: The Tragedy of a Nation Addicted to So Much Betting

19 September 2020

Our 'football-mad' country has had its fair share of tragic incidents involving fans off the pitch.

The heartrending ones have resulted in death, as was the case in 2009 when a distraught Arsenal fan hanged himself in Nairobi's Embakasi neighbourhood.

The diehard Gunner could simply not live with his team's heavy loss to Manchester United in a Champions League semifinal match at the Emirates.

A few years later, in December 2013, the boot was on the other foot. This time it was an embittered Manchester United fan who plunged to his death from a multi-storey apartment in Nairobi after the Red Devils were humbled 1-0 by Newcastle United at their own backyard during the early days of David Moyes' disastrous and short-lived reign.

The two incidents were widely reported both here and abroad, including in the English media.

And while the dead tell no tales, in both cases, all manner of theories were thrown around to explain the suicides.

There were even claims that these two gentlemen (may their souls rest in peace) had possibly placed high stakes wagers in favour of their respective teams in the hope big winnings.

We will never know for sure if this was the case since both incidents happened long before betting became the addictive pastime that it is here in Kenya.

Which is why I read with a great trepidation a story in Nation Sport last weekend of GameHelp Kenya, a non-profit organization that is in the business of rehabilitating betting addicts.

The organisation's modus operandi is similar to Alcoholics Anonymous; only that it deals with those hooked on betting.

So now Kenyans are no longer getting high on weed or sloshed on booze.

How did we even get ourselves here?

My best bet - pardon the pun - is that it probably has a lot to do with who we are as a people; a society that is entranced with reaping huge financial returns from minimum or no investment at all. An age-old obsession with easy cash.

Think about it. Kenyans are notoriously gullible to get-rich-quick schemes - whether legitimate or unlawful - which often leaves them the poorer.

There are too many broken souls in our midst who have lost their hard-earned pittance to money-minting scams. And those are the lucky ones. The unluckier lot have been swindled of their lifetime savings.

Granted, for all my misgivings, betting, just gambling, is a legal enterprise, and one with a huge potential as a revenue stream for the government coffers.

What I find hard to comprehend, though, is how in just a few years we have turned betting into a compulsive national pastime that is burning huge holes in many pockets.

It gets worse. Betting is now driving many Kenyans into depressing dependency that comes with all forms of addiction.

And there is no denying that all forms of addiction are bad; a drug addict as just as despondent a betting addict.

Hence, if the government's decision - for whatever reasons - to put the brakes on this thriving industry will see fewer betting addicts trooping to their version of Alcoholics Anonymous, so be it.

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