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Jeunes, culture de la rue et violence urbaine en Afrique / Youth, Street Culture and Urban Violence in Africa

Georges Hérault
Pius Adesanmi

Abidjan. Summary

Alain Sissoko

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1In recent times sub-Saharan Africa has witnessed deep-seated mutations in the urban milieu, where the phenomenon of career street children and the corresponding links with drugs and violence have become part of the landscape, creating pressures for the larger civil society.

2Research in the social sciences has focused increasingly on this juvenile marginalization, but so far emphasis has been placed on the macro and micro-social determinants of the phenomenon. Even if these approaches are interesting, they hardly enable one to see these youths as social actors with social practices, codes and representations in their space and during their lifetime.

3Hence, the investigations which were carried out in the city of Abidjan, the economic capital of Côte d’Ivoire (2,500,000 inhabitants) were to create this missing framework in order to guarantee a better understanding of these youths. We tried to find out their itineraries and experiences in the street; their culture and its links with urban violence. We also tried evaluate the measures that are currently being taken to rehabilitate the concerned youths.

4Our research was based on general data and information obtained from street children in the ten townships of Abidjan, and those in juvenile rehabilitation centres (a number of them being ex-street children), enabled us obtain the following major results.

Research results

5Going by the statistical information available in Côte d’Ivoire, it is difficult to make a precise estimate of the number of street children in Abidjan. Judging from our analysis, however, it would seem that there are less street children in the economic capital of Côte d’Ivoire than one is led to believe. The majority of the marginalized youths operating in this space (the street) are made up of ‘children on the street’.

6The study also shows that apart from variables concerning sex, work place and the townships in which they reside, there isn’t much quantitative data on the socio-economic characteristics of these marginalized youths.

7Street children generally work in the townships in which they reside and mainly in ones where there is high economic activity, for the obvious reason that these spaces are of strategic instrumentality. Today, career street children are mainly in search of income; they do various odd jobs and are highly mobile. Because of the competition occasioned by their increasing population – the number of opportunities in the spaces where they normally operate have been reduced. Their mobility allows them to escape from social and institutional control and to operate in anonymity.

8The majority of street children are males, and as far as the logic of survival is concerned, there is no boundary between the spaces of normality and deviance with regard to street children. Investigations carried out in ‘open spaces’ with street children between the ages of 14 and 25 revealed that the majority fall between 14 and 19. Virtually all of them are from poor families with numerous maladjusted children. Our study, however, confirms the idea that the majority of marginalized youths are children ‘on the streets’.

9With regard to their itineraries, we must remember that a combination of macro and micro-social factors along with the youth’s personal decisions are responsible for their movement into the street. Generally, this movement is progressive and even the career street children alternate between their homes, the street and rehabilitation/social centres. The street is thus not a closed world for the child. Life styles in the street (whether the actor lives there habitually or not) do not favour the traditional concept of the street child, since many of those considered as children ‘in the street’ rent rooms to spend the night with their friends rather than return home. This implies that even children ‘in the street’ like career street children, still have occasional links with their families.

10With regard to street life, it should be noted that youths engaged in the survival game can move from normalcy to delinquency (or even violent crimes) and vice-versa and that odd jobs carried out in the street often serve as a mask for illegal activities.

11The way street children carry out their activities are indicative of their striking capacity for adaptation since they rely on their instrumental, cognitive and affective abilities to see them through their various activities. Even if an ambivalence is noticeable in the manner in which these youths experience the street, (since they see it as a space not only replete with liberties but having constraints), they prefer to live in it because it makes them more autonomous, vis-à-vis their parents, and it satisfies some of their material needs in a concrete way. This, according to them, is hardly possible when they are at home.

12Most of the street children do not regret their leaving school since they believe that one can lead ‘an accomplished social life’ on the street. These youths deeply resent the society which, in their opinion, does not care for them and which they find oppressive, dominated as it is, by a money-oriented mentality. Despite the fact that they criticize their families, these marginalized youths still project a positive image of the family in their conversations in spite of their situation. This can be understood as a desire not to suffer a socio-effective exclusion from their homes.

13In Abidjan, street youths represent a veritable criminal subculture. This subculture imposes the following norms: one must keep to the golden rule of silence; the actor must rely only on himself. This surely explains why these youths generally live in groups with little and only ephemeral cohesion, groups which are mostly governed by an instrumental rationality.

14Crime statistics of the Ivorian police indicate that, since the 1990s, urban violence has become increasingly attributable to marginalized youths. We can then formulate the hypothesis that a street culture which is rooted in petty crimes contributes to the formation of violent criminal instincts in youths. We must also note that the consumption of drugs (hard drugs or not) and stimulants, which has become very common among youths, can explain their frequent recourse to violent acts.

15At the level of corrective and rehabilitative efforts, it must be mentioned that measures have been taken by government and non-government institutions alike. However, for various reasons, those efforts have yielded very paltry results with respect to the re-education and social re-integration of minors in difficulty. There is, indeed, a lack of coordination of the activities of these different institutions working in Côte d’Ivoire. Besides, the political will needed to take charge of marginalized youths is lacking.

16It is thus necessary to reflect generally and profoundly on the problem of the marginalization of youths and their rehabilitation in order to map out coherent and efficient actions that could check this phenomenon before it becomes too late.

© IFRA-Nigeria, 1997

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