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The Coming of Anarchy: Lessons from West Africa

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An article published in the mid 1990’s “The Coming of Anarchy” by journalist Robert Kaplan offers several lessons which if not considered, could result in failed states ala Liberia, courtesy of the youth who rise up and say ENOUGH!

The post-election violence of 2007 and early 2008 aptly demonstrated that the barrier between crime and politically instigated tyranny is becoming increasingly blurred, particularly in urban centres. Kaplan’s description in his article of cities in West Africa, echoes the state of Kenya’s urban slums where “streets are unlit; the police often lack gasoline for their vehicles; armed burglars, carjackers, and muggers proliferate”.

Polygamy & the Family Breakdown

Contributing to youth disaffection is the practice of polygamy which adds to the alienation of young people even within their “extended families”. Marriage breakdown, increasing incidences of sexual crimes and the resorting to commercial sex work by our youth, has promoted a population explosion as well as HIV/AIDS for which contraction rates remain highest amongst this population segment.

Mini-slum nation-states

Similar to pre-coup Abidjan, Ivory Coast with names such as “Chicago” and “Washington” for slum-districts, Nairobi’s slums boast names of conflict regions: “Kosovo and (mini) Mogadishu” which in turn are “governed” by street militias (“jeshi’s”) bearing similarly militaristic names such as “Baghdad Boys”, “Kosovo Boys” and the notorious “Taliban”. These sprawling slums continue to grow as more young people migrate to cities. Deforestation in rural areas has also brought with it adverse effects of climate change where rains are no longer assured forcing the young unemployed to migrate. The newcomers exert increased pressure in the urban low-lands which in turn has led to inter-ethnic conflicts within the slums.

Just like Kaplan’s view of 1990s Conakry which he describes as “a nightmarish Dickensian spectacle to which Dickens himself would never have given credence”, our cities and towns have now become venues of beggars with children with protruding bellies who seem “as numerous as ants”. Kaplan concludes that in states where man is recklessly depleting natural resources and with increased populations, nature will eventually take its revenge.

A case of nature taking back its own

And it has. Incidents such as the recent flooding in Nyanza attest to this. Populations have now had to move further inland, which could trigger a conflict with the upper regions settled communities.

Kaplan posits that the environment should be understood and acknowledged as a matter of national security. However, housing development in urban centres has been haphazard, facilitated by corrupt municipal authority officials turning a blind eye when issuing building permits. The most recent incidence of this was the recent collapse of a building in Mvita, Mombasa which has so far claimed the lives of at least 3 people. Building experts have for long been lobbying against the construction of multi-storey buildings asserting that coastal soil is not as resilient as interior soils for building foundations. So far the developer of the collapsed building remains at large.

Nevertheless, the demand of a growing urban population continues to ensure that developers have a ready market. The resulting high density estates have in turn led to water reserves being severely compromised. While Kenyans watched with consternation about the cholera epidemic in Zimbabwe, little did they believe that the disease would somehow find its way into our borders.

The Coming of Anarchy

Just like the recent youth-led takeover in Madagascar, Africa has for long had uprisings among the youth population. African history has many examples where “Soweto-like stone-throwing adolescents” finally had it with aging leaders and took matters into their own hands against such repressive regimes.

However there does remain a window of opportunity to pre-empt this. If only the Ministry of Youth Affairs would pay due cognizance to the urban youth population living in squalid conditions, by pushing for the mainstreaming of youth interests in government policies that focus on strengthening families, internal security, health, environment and land reforms.

On the other hand, if the status quo remains, not even Nairobi’s skyscrapers will be able to conceal the anger of the youth when they finally decide to make a stand.

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