The last few years, Abidjan, the Ivorian economic capital, has been invaded by small groups of children aged from 8 to 16 years old. Fitted with weapons such as knives, machetes or axes and often under the influence of hard drugs, these kids spread terror and fear in the whole city.
This set of gangs were “born” in 2011 during the post-electoral crisis that affected the country: mostly living out of their parental homes, the microbes used to be part of the “invisible commando” which was a paramilitary organization fighting for the take-over of the current president of Ivory Coast, Alassane Ouattara.
Months ahead, the child soldiers divided themselves into small groups. Operating in the poorest areas of Abidjan, the microbes derive their surname from their small sizes but the big impact they cause on the population. Based on rapidity and violence, their “methods” consists in begging for money to bystanders in the streets of Abidjan before attacking them and stealing their goods. Old people, disabled people and pregnant women, the microbes are known for being particularly ruthless, and attack everyone who has the misfortune to cross their paths. Doll-like faces but dark looks, the kids don’t hesitate to hurt or to kill their rebellious preys: the number of victims caused by the microbes everyday is estimated to 10 (hurt or killed). In addition to this violence, the microbes intentionally leave indelible marks on their victims’ bodies to extend the traumas linked with the assaults.
In order to overcome this phenomenon, the government created an anti-microbes brigade affiliated to the national police which is said to be totally dedicated to the dissolution of children gangs – at least in the city. In August 2014, 122 microbes were arrested by the group, including two leaders of the network, known as “Ecomog” and “Tonneau” (literally: “barrel”). 5 of them were killed during the arrest. The kids were sent to the house of detention of Abidjan and condemned to serve 20 years in jail.
Feeling abandoned and excluded, the inhabitants of Abobo, a district deeply affected by the microbes, decided, under the direction of Abou Koné, to create a committee dedicated to arrest the microbes during their rounds and to deliver them to the police. Gathered in smokehouses, in the heart of Abidjan, the microbes are easy to find. So why has it taken so long for the Ivorian government to react? Most of the inhabitants of Abidjan think that some of the heads of the Ivorian law enforcement are protecting the microbes. Indeed, these children were, during the post-electoral crisis that occurred in the country in 2011, fighting for Alassane Ouattara by attacking the opponents, meaning the supporters of Laurent Gbagbo.
Although, blind and violent, this mob justice which expresses the lack of confidence in the Ivorian justice system can lead to catastrophes: on September 12th 2017, the calcined body of a 20-year-old man was found by the police in the streets of Cocody (a commune located in the north of Abidjan), right behind the police station. The young man would have allegedly assaulted two people the evening before, fitted with a knife. Alerted by the the screams of the victim, the neighbors hurried: the aggressor was violently beaten before gasoline was poured on him and he burnt to death.
However, on the 21st September 2017, the Ivorian government settled a third microbes-hunting: by deploying 1,500 policemen in Abidjan and 1 100 in other provinces, the government managed to reassure the population of the economic capital. Charlemagne Bleu, the police commissioner of Abidjan, proudly announced, at the beginning of October 2017, the “decrease” of the phenomenon of the microbes. Today, Mireille Kouassi a magistrate working for the ministry of justice and the Ivorian NGO, DDE-CI encourage the creation of centers dedicated to help the social rehabilitation of the ex-microbes in the Ivorian society. In addition, the Ivorian government is fighting the problem of drug consumption in the country, especially cannabis, which represents a scourge in the Ivorian society: 1,400 people were arrested in 2014 for drugs possession, a third of them were under 15 years of age.
Fruits of social marginalization, poverty and discrimination, those very young members of gangs remain the victims of an unequal system before being criminals. The violence demonstrated by the microbes in Ivory Coast and the increasing number of children gangs around the world reflect, in a way, the disruption of the global society which is not able to protect the ones who represent the future of our nations.