Sleep occupies no space: The use of public space by street gangs in Kinshasa

Geenen, Kristien

Geenen, K. (2009). ’Sleep occupies no space’: The use of public space by street gangs in Kinshasa. Africa, 79(03), 347–368. doi:10.3366/e0001972009000850

Claiming The Streets , Homelessness , Private Vs Public Space , Street Gangs

This article deals with issues of territoriality, public space, the microphysics of power and street gang life in the current urban context of Kinshasa, capital of the Democratic Republic of Congo. In this city, a growing number of street children invade the public places. They team up in gangs and scour the streets in search of a location to settle (for a while). Along with their appropriation of public space, these gangs encounter several actors such as the city authorities, shop owners, tenants or rival street gangs. Before any settlement, deals have to be closed since every inch of the city is negotiable. All participants get involved in these negotiations, for no one is considered marginal, certainly not the street youth who are inextricably bound up with Congolese society. This contribution considers this dynamic field of negotiations through a focus on space and analyses it from a Foucauldian angle. It explores how gang members develop particular ways to control their territories and exercise power in them. Additionally, it examines how street youths manage to construct a home in the streets and make sense of their urban environment in the process.

Main finding
The social fabric of the Congolese capital consists of this intertwinement: civil actors and inhabitants exercizing their own form of control over the streets and each one in turn trying to enlarge his or her sphere of influence and power. This study uncovers the power of Kinshasa's inhabitants to control their spaces through daily practices. However, they always need to go through deals with the appointed actors (who "owns" the place) before they can do their urban intervention. According to the study, new social activities are created through the constant negotiation between the citizens and the local authorities in public spaces.

Description of method used in the article

Of practical use

Organising categories

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