Faith leaders in Kenya are trying to collect one million signatures to petition President Mwai Kibaki to rescind a new law, which legalizes traditional brews.

Christian, Hindu and Muslim leaders are concerned that the law will lead to increased abuse of alcohol in the east African country, where illicit brews have killed many people in the recent past.

“We are opposed to the legalization of alcohol because we have seen the harm it has caused our society,” the Rev. Geoffrey Songok, the moderator of the Reformed Church of East Africa, said on September 7.

Kibaki signed the Alcoholic Drinks Control Bill 2009 into law on September 1, decriminalizing thousands of traditional breweries, many constructed secretly on river banks, in forests and slums.

The law gives strict regulations under which the brews may be prepared. It promises close monitoring of the contents of the brews and taxing of the drinks, which must be packaged in 250 milliliter bottles.

The brews have left a trail of deaths since their outlawing in 1978. In July, 17 people died in Nairobi¢s Kibera slums after consuming one of the brews. In 2000, 130 people died in Machakos town in eastern Kenya after drinking a similar brew.

Brewers are believed to lace the drink with methanol to make it more potent. Still, church leaders fear the government may not provide sufficient control over the brews.

“We are concerned that irresponsible drinking is destroying many families. We should be dealing with the brews in such a way that they do not continue to destroy families,” Roman Catholic Archbishop Boniface Lele of Mombasa told ENInews on September 8.

Muslim leaders reject the bill, saying it will continue to impoverish Kenyans.

“Kenyans need jobs, not more alcohol. We know alcohol has been a major cause of poverty and we urge the government not to implement the law,” said Sheikh Juma Ngao, the chairperson of the Kenya National Muslim Advisory Council, on September 8.

Rashmin Chitnis, the general secretary of the Hindu Council of Kenya, said the law may make traditional brewers less destructive, but warned the law may also encourage heavy drinking at times of work and lead to less productivity.