A story, picked up last December in La Gazette, Senegal’s best weekly magazine. The headline: Lords of Terror. What? In tranquil, democratic, peace-loving Senegal?
Indeed. You need to realise that Senegal may still be democratic and tranquil, but make absolutely no mistake about it: this country is losing its peace-loving lustre. The Gazette story describes vigilantes, informal security outfits and other muscle-based forces of order, connected with religious leaders, politicians or celebrities.
But who are these Lords of Terror really? They are young men like Ndiaga Diouf, now dead. He was born into poverty. Wanted to make himself useful for his family in the only way possible, work. Remained poor, so marriage was out of the question. Stayed at home as a result. Dabbled unsuccessfully in wrestling, Senegal’s biggest sports business. Was recruited by the ruling party as one of its paid-up heavies, here known as ‘nervis’. Met his end when assaulting the office of the mayor of a Dakar suburb, who shot him dead. The mayor is of the opposition and awaiting trial. Ndiaga Diouf’s recruiters are homing in on their next target.
There are tens of thousands of Ndiaga Dioufs in Dakar alone. What could be the reason for this? Here’s one: a malfunctioning government presiding over a shrinking economy. But that is far from extraordinary; governments over the world can either help an economy along or preside over its destruction.
No. There are deeper trends at work here.
About four years ago I interviewed the German sociologist Gunnar Heinsohn. He has spent his academic life studying genocides: why they occur and how. He told me that if you are living in a society where 30 percent of men are between 15 and 29 years old, you are living in a society heading for trouble. He called it ‘the youth bulge’.
Senegal, the rest of Africa, the Middle East and other parts of the world have one.
Get rid of them
And yes, Heinsohn says, his youth bulge theory does indeed apply mostly to men. A society can always put women to use in the home, in someone else’s home or outside the home, principally in the service economy. For men, only the outdoors option applies. ‘He will never be the kindly elder childless uncle in the house of his birth,’ Heinsohn argues. ‘He must go.’
In other words: unlike women, young men are surplus to requirement. If they don’t work they will be seen as unproductive, a waste of resources and in spite of pious contestations to the contrary, everyone eventually wants to get rid of them.
Question: how? Answer: look at history.