Monday 20 June 2011

Kinshasa vigilante whistle-blowers

This is a random story about agency in Kinshasa – the way ordinary people organize to cope with state failure – in this case the absence of local police. A friend told me about how his neighbourhood in Limete was increasingly subjected to house breaks and low-intensity violence.

Fed up, with burglaries and problems of insecurity, we decided to take things into our own hands. We have no police here. Discussions took place in the comités de quartier. We decided to form a task force to propose solutions to prevent further instances. We wanted to protect ourselves and our belongings while being humane at the same time. We came up with an idea and everyone pitched in to buy what was needed. We made a group purchase, followed by distribution to every household. Instructions were given. In case of an incident – everyone would be mobilized…”

After the Rwandan massacres, you can probably guess what I imagined. But there were no machetes here.

My friend continued: “In case of an incident, we would take our new whistles and blow as loud as possible, alerting the neighbourhood and scaring off the intruders.”

This seems to be a good lesson in humility and creativity, a popular response to a real problem that the government hasn’t been able to address.

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