In Abidjan, the fragile reintegration of “microbes”
Abidjan, Ivory Coast)
From our correspondent
Under the watchful eye of her boss, Amara varnishes the newly made wooden table. “He’s a youngster, not everything is perfect and sometimes he arrives late. Apart from that, he works well ”, comments Kassaro Fofana, master craftsman carpenter. Since last year, Amara, 21, has been employed in this small open-air workshop, set up on both sides of a track, behind the town hall of Abobo. It is in this popular commune of Abidjan that the phenomenon of “microbes” was born, the name given to children who fell into violence during the post-electoral crisis of 2010-2011. Kassaro Fofana received government aid of € 45 per month for six months and two toolkits to hire Amara, a former “microbe”. “The period of crisis has been very difficult for all of us. Using it means giving my small contribution to society ”, he explains.
During the decade of 2010, these delinquent children terrorized the populations of the Ivorian economic capital, attacking in gangs, armed with machetes, to steal, loot and even kill. After the crisis which killed more than 3,000 at the end of 2010-beginning of 2011, “The microbes considered themselves wronged by those within the state who had used them as little hands to achieve power”, explains Aya Laurie Kouadio, assistant researcher at the NGO Indigo and author of a recent book published by L’Harmattan (1).
The State has initiated a reintegration policy which has concerned 1,400 young people. But the political climate is again tense with the approach of the presidential election of October 31 and becomes again conducive to the cash recourse to bands charged with intimidating. Thus, according to Amnesty International, the police collaborated with groups of armed men to disperse a demonstration against the third term of Alassane Ouattara in August. On amateur videos, we see men get out of a green minibus to lend a hand to the police. A fact “Extremely worrying” for Samira Daoud, Director for Central and West Africa at Amnesty International. “This represents an alarming resurgence in the use of unofficial ‘law enforcement’ agents in Côte d’Ivoire,” she continues.
Amara, him, no longer frequents his old band. The young carpenter had rocked at the age of 17. “I left school in CM1 for lack of funds, he explains. My father is a marabout and my mother is a housewife. I did a little ironwork, but I wasn’t making enough money, so I became a “balancer” ”, a term which designates the harangeurs of the bus stations responsible for rounding up customers. “Whoever comes to your land, it makes palaver (conflict). I saw a lot of violence, machetes, some who took advantage of it to take people’s cellphones. “
Amara fought but claims to have never used a knife or stolen. The gbonhi (“Group”) was coordinated by a leader who distributed a “Ration” from 5 to 7 € per day. One day, his parents find out about his activities and ask him to stop. Amara was finally sent to a camp in M’Bahiakro, more than 300 km from Abidjan, set up by the government in 2016 to get hundreds of young people out of the spiral. “The gendarmes told us about the violence, they brought in former people from the streets to give us advice. It changed my way of thinking ”, he assures.
After six months, he returned to Abidjan and received training in carpentry, still funded by the state. “With one of my comrades, we gave each other the courage. Then I didn’t hear from him for two weeks. I learned that he had been killed during an arrest in a “smoking room” ”, those hidden places where people use drugs. These have been destroyed many times by the authorities, as part of the fight against “germs”. They strike great blows to relieve the surrounding populations. “My dream is to become a rapper, to tell about my past and give advice so as not to fall into violence. But I don’t have the means at the moment ”, concludes the young apprentice.
Étienne Yao, assistant to the director at the socio-educational center of Abobo, analyzes: “He’s versatile, he didn’t have a model. You have to start with a trade before doing anything else. ” It is addressed to Amara: “What if you became a master carpenter, would you like it?” ” ” Yes “, the old microbe timidly answers. Above all, Amara and the others lack benchmarks. This is what director Alex Ogou wanted to show in his series Invisible (2) devoted to the phenomenon. “In Ivorian society, there is a kind of shame in looking at poorer than oneself, he explains. These kids, you will meet them in the street, or even meet them, without realizing that they are microbes. Once night falls, they want to repair the injustice they suffer and the poor sharing of wealth. It is by committing these abuses that they seek visibility. This reflects a lack of attention. “
The Amigo Doumé center wanted to offer this framework. Since 1996, the religious congregation of Spanish origin has been welcoming drop-out or violent minors between the ages of 13 and 18 in a 7.5 hectare complex on the edge of the lagoon, at the far end of the popular commune of Yopougon, in Abidjan. After 2011, the Amigonian brothers began to work with around 20 microbes, in collaboration with the government. For two years, beneficiaries receive literacy classes and training in carpentry, ironwork, agriculture or animal husbandry.
The emphasis is on one essential point: speech. On arrival, they have individual interviews, and the collaboration of the family is required. “The goal is for them to be able to return to their families and their neighborhoods, where they are frowned upon, explains Rufin Tchemene, educator. We support them in everything they do. When there are moments of violence, they are told to calm down, to breathe and we talk to understand why they are reacting this way. “ The stay “Instills in them politeness, respect for schedules and enables them to exercise a profession to be independent”, says Brother Sylvestre Bini, assistant director of the center. A three-year follow-up after their release showed them that the old microbes had indeed reinserted themselves.
The government and associative support has reduced the scale of the attacks, regularly chronicled in the local press. But the support is sometimes too weak. “After the M’Bahiakro camp, follow-up was lacking, says Étienne Yao from the Abobo socio-educational center, which has worked on the reintegration of microbes. Some fall back into drugs. We should have met them twice a week, but we couldn’t afford it. “ Aya Laurie Kouadio abounds: “The lack of follow-up, establishment of longer-term projects and funding makes the actions initiated ineffective. Some switch back, and for others it’s just a matter of time. “