The escalations of violence and vandalism in Chad, exacerbated by successive waves of tension, have generated serious concerns about small arms proliferation in the country.
Whether in schools or public areas, there is never a day that passes without reports of armed violence, robberies, rapes and murders. N’Djaména, the capital, seems to hit all records with an alarming number of young people engaged in violence, as well as being the main victims of the violence.
Like its African counterparts, Chad’s capital city is facing accelerating urbanisation. This phenomenon is having significant consequences on the lives of young people striving to grow up between traditional and modern values.
Rapid urbanisation is coupled with an insufficient infrastructure and poverty, which affects young people coming to the capital in search of work. Of special concern is the increasing proportion of young people roaming the streets. This has led to a growth in street criminality.
“Those rural young people come to the cities and become bandits. They wander the city, incredibly aggressive, holding knives and machetes, the slightest thing makes them become violent,” said Tedangar, a local city resident.
“Having no established home or identity papers, the police find it hard to identify the criminals responsible for all the violence we have been through in N’Djaména.”
Living on the streets is often an easy option for the scores of disaffected and alienated youth relying on petty crime and violence as a way to survive. In N’Djaména, these people are nicknamed ‘Columbians’ by the local inhabitants, who live in constant fear of being mugged.
According to sociologist Laoubaou Abdias: “This category of young person belongs to the so-called ‘pre-delinquency’ category. Uprooted, their ‘gang’ becomes their family and the street their home. Violence is part of their daily lives. Their very existence echoes the country’s dire economic conditions. Those youngsters are suffering from a lack of support, and employment and education opportunities, that are features of a normally functioning society. They are drawn together by affinity rather than ethnicity or territory.”
“This category of youth, involved in break-ins and looting in the city, are not specifically targeted as such by rebel movements,” added Abdias.
However, there are youth territorial gangs, who operate mainly at night and who are more dangerous. They use both knives and firearms, and “are often well-organised, with members composed of ex-military, who both use and own arms,” added Abdias.
Remy was mugged near his home in December by one such group. “Not only do these youngsters assault local inhabitants for the purpose of robbing them, but they also usually stab and shoot their victim. Sometimes they have been following you for days, collecting information about your whereabouts,” he said.
Two of the better-known gangs are the “Secteur Zéro”, mainly composed of youth from the same ethnic group and locality, and “X Rouge”, comprised of youth from the same locality but different ethnic origins.
Although criminal acts generally form the bulk of their activities, these youth groups also offer protection to their communities. For example the X Rouge youth regularly patrol their “fief” (“turf”) at night, ensuring community members are safe from assaults by other groups.
Youth have been at the forefront of the relentless internal conflict that affects the country. Their influence in every political transition has been crucial since 1975. Young Chadians have been ripe for armed mobilisation, either by the national army or the rebellion. They form the bulk of the fighting contingent and also the majority of war casualties.
A police officer told IRIN: “Here in N’Djaména we are relatively left in peace, but take a look at the towns that are in the war areas at the moment, there are mainly old people left because the youth have all been killed. They are the first to enrol and the first to die.”
Youth in the political arena
These young people are also influenced by politicians, whether in power or in opposition.
One of the main opposition leaders, General Wadal Abdelkader Kamougué, said in a recent interview that: “It is not by decree that the political establishment is to be renewed but by young people agitating and mobilising themselves within political parties. They are not visible in today’s political arena, but rather, choose the more comfortable civil society option. This can be a good way to engage in politics, but parties are better equipped for political struggle.”
According to Kamougué, there are two categories of youth in Chad: “On the one hand there is the educated youth who are likely to be the nation’s future elite; and on the other hand, there is the illiterate or poorly-educated majority, who constitute a readily-mobilised pool of recruits for the various armed groups present in Chad. While the supposedly elite contingent is stagnant and fearful, the rest are in fact more active in public life even though they are being used by politicians to serve their own ends.”
Youth violence is pervasive in Chad and should receive adequate attention from the official authorities. It is thought that civic education will help prevent future generations turning to the same practices. Alternatives to violence, such as youth employment schemes, should be given priority as a crucial means to building a sustainable society.
[This article is part of a special IRIN series that looks at how conflict, poverty and social alienation are affecting the lives of children and teenagers. Read more: Youth in crisis: coming of age in the 21st century]