Africa’s street violence are about age and masculinity

Posted on December 21, 2016 12:59 am

Recently I spoke to a researcher studying street violence in Africa and his findings are jaw dropping. “Contador Harrison when the most senior police officer in a major city in Africa tells you sections of the city a no-go zone from evening, then you know African countries are losing the battle against crime.” “Those who step out after evening are either going to become one of two things which is they are either going to be a victim or an offender, the way things are going,” said the researcher who has resided in Kenya, South Africa, Nigeria, Egypt, Sudan among other countries as he conducted his research.In Kenya, there’s a defeatist attitude and there are no other option apart from victim or offender. They call it law-abiding citizens out and about in their own city without fear of violent crime. In Nigeria and South Africa, people are supposed to cower at home behind twitching curtains while thugs and bullies rule the streets but that’s no way to run cities.The outcry in South Africa about alcohol-fuelled violence has many people asking whether young men are out of control, or whether alcohol, or our hyper-masculine culture, might be to blame.The South African security officials have announced lock-outs for new customers and a cease of alcohol trading in some areas, while mandatory minimum sentences of in jail will apply for fatal one-punch attacks involving alcohol and drugs.In the context of these announcements South Africans should remember that, despite these awful recent cases, the country has some relatively safe cities, compared with other parts of Africa. And if South Africans are concerned with men’s violence, the half-hidden epidemics of family violence, sexual harassment and rape are much wider problems than street bashings by strangers. However, the street violence is worrying, is more visible and has got media attention and this has produced a debate about what’s happening among young men. In African cities, drinking is often part of the lead-up to violent episodes, domestic as well as street. Also, alcohol can’t meaningfully be called an ingredient of any particular behaviour. Even fools know that ethanol has complex effects. It is often a depressant, sometimes a stimulant. In many situations it’s more likely to make an individual feel sleepy or ill than encourage to hit out. It’s the circumstances of drinking, rather than the chemical itself, that authorities in African cities need to understand.

One thing your blogger can say unashamedly is that young men are like wild animals and replaying a primitive world in which violence is natural isn’t a big deal.Various studies shows that men as a group, and women as a group, are psychologically very similar. This finding is often ignored, because it goes against so many of our stereotypes but the evidence is strong. However, no one has ever explained convincingly men’s involvement in severe violence or anything supposed to produce different mentalities among men and women. The different mentalities in my view are a myth and criminologists for ages have looked for such a person, but the search failed. Violence can’t be explained by a particular type of human being. Criminologists have, however, identified social circumstances in which violence is more common and patterns of violent behaviour might be unearthed which include high levels of social inequality and marginality, situations in which there is cultural emphasis on men’s dominance over women, and altercations with security officials.Street violence is well known to involves some kind of masculinity challenge for instance, a group of young men confronting the bouncers at a night club or in a public party. It’s important to note that masculinity isn’t a fixed state but youngsters always want to display and test their strength. Science tells us that masculinities are patterns of conduct that have to be learned. There are multiple forms of masculinity, some more honoured in a given society than others. Especially for young men, masculinity is often in question or under challenge, and the presence of an audience is important.Street violence always happen in areas of exception especially places and times in which social rules status quo is supposed not to apply, where everyday social relations are absent. Wherever you live, you will agree with me that heavy drinking is often happening in an all male, all young peer group. An element of impunity, a sense that you can get away with it, is also part of the picture.If we want to know why some young men get into zones of exception, confrontations and cases of violence, one might ask what else is happening in their lives. Is African society giving them secure jobs? The answer is definitely a big no and rest assured street violence in African cities and urban neighbourhoods will continue to increase.

Contador Harrison