Gamariel Mbonimana, a former Member of Parliament who resigned in November 2022 over drunk-driving, has said he is planning to launch the “sober club,” an initiative aimed at assisting people who want to quit alcohol or drink reasonably.
The 43-year-old says he quit alcohol after the struggles he had with it. He now wants to play in the fight against alcoholism in the country.
In an interview with The New Times, he said the sober club will start when he gets funds. “I am working on funds,” he said.
He added that the club will be open for everyone, from victims of alcoholism to people who drink alcohol moderately.
It will focus on teaching people how to quit alcohol or drink it reasonably. The former MP said he hopes to bring mental health practitioners on board to talk to people who will attend the club’s gatherings.
The 2021/2022 annual report from Ndera Neuropsychiatric Teaching Hospital showed that mental and behavioural disorders due to the use of alcohol contributed to 449 cases of the total 76,768 cases that were addressed to the psychiatric outpatients’ department.
Alcohol-related issues were also a cause of 118 cases out of the total 5,049 that were hospitalised in the psychiatry department.
Results of a survey done by the Rwanda Biomedical Centre (RBC) showed that alcohol consumption in the country increased from 41 per cent in 2013 to 48 per cent in 2022.
Commenting on the survey, health minister Dr Sabin Nsanzimana emphasised the need to reverse the trend of alcohol consumption in Rwanda, as he warned that excessive intake is associated with NCDs including certain types of cancer.
“We must reverse this trend. Avoid alcohol or drink in moderation to live longer, healthier lives, and stay safe. Alcohol is not only more harmful to young people but also illegal for anyone under 18,” he noted.
If Mbonimana starts his club, it will not be the first that seeks to reach out to victims of alcoholism in Rwanda. The New Times understands that Rwanda has one Alcoholics Anonymous (AA) club so far.
AA is a global peer-led mutual aid fellowship begun in the US and dedicated to abstinence-based recovery from alcoholism through their spiritually inclined twelve-step program.
Rwanda’s AA meets three times a week – on Friday at Centre Christus at 6pm to 7pm, on Wednesday at Centre Icyizere at 6pm to 7m, and on Saturday, also at Centre at 11am to 12pm.
The club started around 2008 and has played a role in assisting victims of alcoholism. On average, a meeting can attract about 8 to 10 people, and there are some success stories of people who have recovered from alcoholism, according to Marcelin Kanimba, one of the members.
Dr Jean Pierre Gafaranga, a psychiatrist and academician, told The New Times that alcoholism can lead to serious mental health problems, as it can damage some departments of the brain. He noted that it is very possible to assist a person to leave alcohol if they approach and collaborate with mental health professionals.
He noted that AA clubs are also a good tool in assisting people to rise out of alcoholism.
Meanwhile, Mbonimana has also written a book on sobriety. Launched on Sunday, November 12, the book offers an account of his life’s ups and downs with alcoholism and turnaround, at the heart of which was the incident when President Paul Kagame publicly voiced his concerns about the MP’s “dangerous” drunk-driving.
In one of the book’s chapters, he talks about how he got hit by financial hardships that made him sell some property in order to service a bank loan.
In an interview with The New Times, he said this was aimed at avoiding the auction of his house.
“I sold my two plots in Gahanga, Kicukiro District, and my Jeep Rav4 so that the bank could not auction my house due to loan non-performance. That time the bank pressure was very high on me,” he noted.