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Urban Violence in Africa

Eghosa E. Osaghae
Ismaila Touré
N’Guessan Kouamé
et al.


Eghosa E. Osaghae

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1The urban environment is a breeding ground for various forms of violence. As the hub of political, social and economic processes, the city is the meeting point for peoples from diverse cultural, racial, and religious backgrounds. It is often the venue of intense class and social struggles for scarce economic resources as well as political power. While the daily struggle for survival is usually nonconfrontational, when the economic-cum-political situation deteriorates, the city streets provide the venue for riots, demonstrations and even revolution. Because of the relative anonymity of city-life, it is also an attractive place for the more undesirable elements in society: thieves, rapists, murderers etc., who can commit crimes without fear of recognition.

2The urban context of violence is well established in the literature, and has been particularly emphasized by students of social change and revolution. Nevertheless, the study of urban violence qua urban violence has been rather sparse in Africa. The singular exception to this is South Africa, whose long history of structural violence dates back to the apartheid era. This phenomenon has been fairly well studied, although not specifically as urban violence.

3The pilot studies on three countries in this volume are part of a continent-wide comparative research project aimed at filling this huge gap in the literature. A research project on urban violence in Africa could not be more timely: All over Africa, criminal, political, religious and other social conflicts have been on the increase. The dwindling economic capacities and governance crises prevent governments from dealing effectively with these conflicts, which have often degenerated into situations of violence. These pilot studies and the larger project are expected to highlight these linkages and suggest the way forward. By their very nature, the studies are both exploratory and empirical. Problems are identified and suggestions are being made on how to overcome them. They therefore represent a necessary first step in coming to grips with issues raised by urban violence.

4The idea of a project on urban violence in Africa, for which these pilot studies have been a path-finder, was conceived by Isaac Olawale Albert of the Institute of African Studies, Eghosa E. Osaghae and Jinmi Adisa of the Department of Political Science, all of the University of Ibadan, Nigeria. To broaden the scope of the study, Ismaila Touré and N’Guessan Kouamé, both at the Institut d’Ethno-Sociologie of the University of Abidjan, were commissioned to embark on a similar study of Cote d’Ivoire. These studies were carried out between February and August 1994.

5Osaghae’s study on urban violence in South Africa shows that most of the violence there, has been racially and politically oriented, and is the direct result of the systematic suppression of the blacks under the state policy of apartheid. However, there is a rising proportion of black-on-black violence social delinquency and crime.

6Touré and Kouamé’s report on Abidjan focuses on the causes of violence, which, are mainly socio-economic. Monoparty politics has also led to some violent confrontations. In addition, the presence of a large number of foreigners in the capital town of Côte d’Ivoire also provides the background for various acts of violence.

7In Nigeria, Albert and Adisa carried out studies on Kano and Lagos respectively. Albert’s study on Kano presents a historical perspective of violence, generated over time, within the context of the city’s pre-colonial antecedents. In this study, he examines violence arising from ethnic and religious considerations, violence perpetuated by almajirai (children in Koranic schools) as well as violence against women. Adisa’s study on Lagos analyzes the profile of urban violence as the product of the sociological crisis associated with urban sprawl, a consequence of Lagos’ prominent position in Nigeria’s economic and political life. Adisa discusses some local variations on fraud, popularly referred to as 419 scams, as well as the alarming menace of area boys, who frequent the markets and taxi-parks harassing both the traders and buyers.

8The contributors to this volume wish to express their gratitude to the Institut Français de Recherche en Afrique, Ibadan and especially to its Director, Professor Georges Hérault for the research grants which enabled these studies to be carried out. We also wish to acknowledge the contribution of the Accra-based office of the Urban Management Programme of UNCHS (Habitat) towards the publication of this book.

© IFRA-Nigeria, 1994

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