Gang crime in Africa

May 20, 2016

Those of us follow events in Sub Saharan Africa are aware that media outlets and social media feeds have been inundated by stories of how increasing cost of living is driving young population into violent robberies.In Uganda, media has been awash with how city gangs have been brutally assaulting motorcyclists commonly known as BodaBoda leading to severe injuries and death. This crime wave seems to be gripping many cities like Nairobi, Dar Es Salaam, Capet Town, Johannesburg, Lagos, Abuja, Accra, Luanda among many others, obfuscating the already chaotic cities with a Gotham-like atmosphere. The police force are doing their job, hunting and arresting the criminals. However, apart from fools, we all know that sending them to jail is only a stopgap measure. Thinking that incarcerating more criminals like United Kingdom and United States have done, will cut crime is a shortsighted policy.Africans do not just wake up in the morning and suddenly decide to forge a career in violent crime. A multitude of factors spur this dangerous phenomenon and a very careful look is needed to discover the root causes. First of all, this sociological endeavor needs reliable, objective data surrounding gang crime cases cases. The police force and academia need to work together to produce workable data to build the foundation of crime-fighting initiatives.The continent need to consider what turns youngsters in Kampala or Mombasa into thugs, or in the language of experts, what are the incentives that drive these men to violent crime. Obtaining data on how much a successful gang criminals attempt earns and how much each episode costs the perpetrator is a starting point.

Does the crime pay enough to offset the risks? Especially when we consider that violent backlashes against criminals are rising too with multiple reports across Africa of how robbers have been captured and killed through mob justice, where they get beaten or burnt to death. Or perhaps African criminals simply lack the skill to assess the risks involved in their crime.The crime itself can reveal a lot. How do these robbers form ‘€œwork groups’€ like Mungiki in Kenya, Nyaope drug lords in South Africa? What are the weapons of choice for criminals in Kenya and is it the same as those in Lagos? Is there some kind of pattern in the location of the crimes say similarities between Kisumu in Kenya and Kampala in Uganda?What makes them brazen enough to attack their victims in increasingly crowded places like they do in Johannesburg and Cape Town?If African countries beef up security in crime hotspots, will they cease operation or simply move to new spots? Answering these questions can give clues on what can be done to reduce crime, such as gun control policy and management of police patrols in Sub Saharan Africa.A considerable proportion of perpetrators are reportedly school- and college-aged youths. Are they still in school? If not, why did these youngsters slip from education system that is supposedly accessible for all in most African countries? If so, why are they engaged in this senseless violence? The households of the criminals can tell a story too. Most assume these thugs come from broken homes with abusive or absent parents like was the case with high school students in Kenya who killed a taxi driver and used his vehicle to commit crime. However, anecdotal evidence from the media casts doubt on that assumption. Again, only data can definitively answer that. If these thugs do come from dysfunctional families, what can we do to support them? Is there a social net for such at-risk youths in Africa?

If study was to disclose that they come from ‘€œnormal’€ families, what are they doing wrong? Then, African countries need to tease out what makes one family breed violent offspring and others not. I think parents need intervention to make sure they are doing parenting the ‘€œcorrect’€ way. In a continent where having children is still seen as a status symbol with minimal consequences, many African families are forced to grapple with the notion that not everybody is cut out to be a parent.As answers emerge from the tangle, the government and other stakeholders can then begin to treat the problem one step at a time, as there is no miracle panacea that will make crime disappear in a day. Crime in African countries is there to stay.In choosing the treatment, again, countries need to look at accurate data. There is plenty of crime-reducing initiatives with varying efficacy and adaptability to our conditions. Better urban planning, gun control, youth empowerment programs, and education reform are just a few of them. Implementing them will not be a walk in the park as Kenyan government realised last year with its youth empowerment program dubbed National Youth Service. Nevertheless, the main point is that African countries already have a vast arsenal, from government policies to grassroots movements and just need to make their choices carefully.Stopping gang criminal groups will demand a lot of work from various sides. Certainly it will not be easy. African countries can choose to do it because through reforming how they approach fighting crime, they are setting themselves to save a generation and to improve the lives of Africans for decades to come.

Contador Harrison