Emergence of Tokota Boys, dubbed ‘Sons of the Devil’ a reflection of true unemployment levels
They say an idle mind is the devils workshop, a saying that perhaps rings true when you look at what is happening to the youths of Kitwe, Zambia’s second biggest city by population. Supposedly a mining town that should be embracing a mining boon. Today, we may talk about the youths of Kitwe, but we will not be far off if we project that this desperation exhibited by young people may soon be contagious to spread to all key cities and high population centers of Zambia because of worrisome unemployment levels.
The heavy weight of unemployment is deeply felt in cities and towns, that is why it is difficult to comprehend why the official statistics show that unemployment is highest in Western, followed by Luapula and then Muchinga provinces why the true reflections of society unemployment such increase in crime rates and gangsterism blow up mostly on the Copperbelt and in Lusaka. See graph below for unemployment statistics as at March 2018 compiled by the Central Statistics Office – CSO.
These three regions are still operating relatively agrarian economies, more agricultural with their inhabitants, people having a fall back on Agro and natural resource dependent economic activities and less formal employment expectations. But when compared to Lusaka and Copperbelt regions which are the top two most industrialized regions in Zambia, the lack of a job can drive the youths to insanity, to levels of desperation that are now manifesting.
Some of the social vices and activities making headlines by that these criminal groups comprising mostly of youths on the Copperbelt include robbery, murder, beating innocent citizens, theft, causing brawls in public places, gang rape, striping innocent women. With more investigation, there are sure more cases that have gone unreported.
What is dangerous about these groups is the ‘heartless’ nature of members of these gangs, they have and continue to cause a lot of pain and fear to residents of townships where they operate from through with their cruel acts. These acts are meant to intimidate and cow people into submission.
The most recent act that went viral on social media involves an incident that happened where a 16-year-old boy of Kitwe was assaulted, striped and sexually assaulted by 19 boys calling themselves ‘ Tokota Boys’ with the incident caught on amateur video. The victim was repeatedly hit with sticks and stones before forcing him to eat his own faecal matter.
The Human Rights Commission called for their immediate arrest, members of the public were up in arms and called for their arrest. President Lungu’s office directed the Copperbelt Police Commissioner, Charity Katanga to crack the gangs and effect arrests. The Human Rights Commission(HRC) spokesperson Mweelwa Muleya said that the developing trending of youth gangsters, particularly in some parts of the Copperbelt and Lusaka, victimizing individuals is worrying and called for decisive action by law enforcement agency.
‘’Gangsterism infringes on a wide range of human rights and freedoms. Victims are physically, psychologically sexually and verbally abused. Others are deprived of their property and the right to freedom of movement, security of a person and the right to life because of constant threat and attack’’, he said.
Muleya further on stated that in most cases, dehumanizing effects of poverty, negative peer pressure and drug abuse are catalysts for such juvenile delinquency manifesting itself in organized criminal syndicates. This requires the involvement of everyone in supporting the law enforcement officers in preventing and combating organized crime.
Though it’s only right that parents and guardians of such youths are urged to provide direction, counselling and guidance, there is a bigger societal problem of lack of employment opportunities. Both parents, guardians and the youths are ill prepared to deal with the current status quo.
For the parents or guardians, they themselves may be unemployed, or are stuck in jobs that keep them working from dust till dawn, with little or no time to raise the children or wards. Most were educated in the colonial style education that had limited content on self-employment and entrepreneurship, what guidance does society expect from this generation of parents/guardians?
The youths themselves have a similar worker mentality kind of education such that, entrepreneurship and self-employments is more of a ‘motivational talk’ than a practical subject. Therefore, the ability to earn an income is grossly undermined. There is need for a methodical approach to turn around this worker mentality to support self-employment and entrepreneurship.
As much as the law enforcement agencies can effect arrest and put the current gangs and their ring leaders confined in jail, there is need to solve the root cause of this trend of gangsterism. If the route cause is not addressed, this problem will recur as soon as the police operations subside.
One of the feasible reasons for this trend of emerging gangsterism is lack of employment opportunities. The best type of employment - the formal employment sector - remains stagnant at about 750,000 in Zambia with a population estimated at over 16 million translating to 4.68%. The formally employed number has been at this level for some time and rarely is there any government commitment to widen this number. Plans to formalise some informal jobs are very bleak.
Inherent preference of our political leaders in Zambia is to lean on simple and quick solutions at the expense of sustainable ones. This problem of youth gangsterism is a vivid manifestation of deeper and yet more complex vices and unemployment plagues hence the needs for a deeper route cause analysis to determine more complex sustainable solutions. The ZNS program of empowering the youth could be just one that was promised in the 2017 -2018 budget with manifestation awaited.
Copper cathode processing at a Zambian mine. Despite a mining boon unemployment remains a key concern in the mining areas leading to rise in gangsterism among the youths a concern that government has been challenged to address.