This panel forayed into the politics and controversies that characterise the Nigerian Beverage Sector. Tunji Lardner was in conversation with Keith Richards, who ran Guiness Nigeria, and is the author of Never Quite The Insider; and Olivier van Beeman, the author of Heineken in Africa , a book which contains bizarre stories about “beer gone mad”, featuring 13 countries, and over 40 interviews.
Answering the question on why he wrote his book, Beeman said he did so because he was very interested in the undercurrents of racism and colonialism that colour the beer sector. He added that Rwanda stood out for him amongst all the countries he had visited, because the beer industry played a very big role in the Rwandan Genocide. He revealed that the civil war in Rwanda was good for Heineken because the soldiers got daily ransoms of beer after killing innocent civilians, but Heineken continued to brew for profit’s sake. He also added that across the continent, Heineken hires promotion women who have to accept sexual harassment as part of the job, and this has been going on for the past 20 years. Going further, Beeman said that the production of beer in Africa should be questioned until the standards of living change for the common African man.
In response to Beeman, Tunji opined that it was potentially condescending to say that beer should not be brewed in Africa because of the high poverty level whereas it could be allowed in the West where some level of poverty obtains. Beeman clarified his point by saying he was concerned about the effect of drinking on people’s savings, and about what people allow the abundance of cheap beer to do to their lives.
On the other hand, Keith Richards talked briefly about the ferocious competition between Guinness and Heineken in Nigeria, and added that such competition is good for the consumer because it kicks prices of products down for them.
Tunji Lardner took a strong exception to Keith’s point and talked on what he described as the incestuous collaborations between Heineken and Guinness in African countries. He added that there has been a lot of ‘sleeping together’ as opposed to the fierce competition people are shown on TV and in the papers. Tunji also talked about the brewery-made industrial complex and how they employ journalists, professors, and doctors to change the beer narrative and portray beer as something needed for overall body vitality.
While discussing the issue of corruption in the Nigerian Beverage sector, Keith Richards made it clear that he was sacked for favouring local shareholders over Western ones. He also said that beer companies adopt corruption in Nigeria because it is systematic, and they cannot do much about it. He further revealed that white expatriates have a lot more opportunities to steal than Nigerians in the industry do, and are hardly caught when they do because of their privilege. However, when they are caught, they are given vacations to save the face of the West.
Ending the panel, Tunji Lardner made a remarkable comment: It is interesting how beer and colonialism are intertwined in a brew that is served cold to you.