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A Wise Mix of Carrot and Stick Solutions to Mekelle's Gang Crime Problem

A Wise Mix of Carrot and Stick Solutions to Mekelle's Gang Crime Problem

Dr. Yohannes Aberra Ayele 2-14-19

Rapid urbanization particularly that which involves urban primacy, is a challenge as much as it is an opportunity. Accelerated growth of a capital city at a rate several times higher than those next in the rank order tends to feed itself like a rolling ball of snow with flow of migrants, skills, investment draining the other medium and small towns of a region. As the agglomeration economies allow the largest city to grow even larger another negative trends begins to set in. This comes in the forms of urbanization diseconomies, wherein the advantages of the concentration of investment and wealth enjoying the favorable benefit/cost ratio, are offset by overcrowding, rise in the cost of living, anti-migrant attitudes, crimes, and deepening inequalities. Urban crimes are not always outcomes of economic and social marginalization. Affluence itself can also breed bad guys in the night streets with more lethal weapons than the empty pocket gangs can afford.

Until the February 1974 revolution Mekelle was a tranquil town, small enough for everyone to know everyone else. Social sanctions on deviant behavior were more effective than the laws the police and the courts could inforce. As young boys, whenever we tease unwilling girls in any part of the town our actions never fail to reach the ears of our parents. On the eve of the 1974 Ethiopian revolution something strange happened in Mekelle.

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Until this day I have no idea who or what triggered it. None of us, who claimed to be well informed about what transpires in the town, had the chance to nip it in the bud.  In the middle of the serenity that prevailed for three decades after the British Bombers rocked Yohannes IV's Capital, killing and mutilating innocent buyers and sellers on the "Monday Market", a violent contingent of holigans haunted the town. The gang of youth terrorized Mekelle on the eve of the 1974 revolution. The gang named itself as "China-group". The gang used chili sprays and metal chains to attack their victims. It was alleged that the police were collaborating. The people of Mekelle were forced to take the law into their own hands. They informally appointed the most feared, but also the most loved guy in town, Seltan Michael (RIP), to command a group of vigilante dubbed "ayokhum nayna". The vigilante group succeeded to defeat the China group. Now the law prevailed following public action and one member of the China group, who happened to be in my neighborhood, "Wedi Bashay" was sentenced to one year in prison for using chili spray on his victim's eyes.

After the Military takeover and the unfortunate division of the youth in Mekelle along political lines-Tplfites and Dergists- the violence in Mekelle took an entirely different form. The Dergists used the state security apparatus to kill and torture their own friends. The lovely town was polluted by the blood of its jovial youngsters.

Mekellians like Zeselassie Samuel were tortured, killed and thrown on the streets by their own friends, who only a few years back happily shared a table in one of the few cafes in town. Mekelle was changed forever.

Now it is a sprawling and diverse metropolis, which is almost the second largest city in Ethiopia. Although the deep rift among the youth and the wounds inflicted during the brutal Military regime may not have healed fully, the causes of the current gang violence may have roots other than can be explained as a carryover of the Derg era.

There could be at least three reasons for the gang crime in Mekelle that has become worrisome. One possible cause is a perception of marginalization and maladministration by individuals or groups who are considered to be "non-natives" of the City. Well, this is a complex issue. A City as big as Mekelle cannot remain as homogeneous as it was as a small town in the 1960s. The only solution to this is good governance which manages diversity without resorting to political or sub-regional partisanship. The situation is very similar to the Oromos around Addis Ababa. It has to be handled carefully as there is no "magic wand" to solve it in one stroke.

The second possible cause is invisible hands intending to mess up the peace and weaken the resolve of the people in the Regional Capital. I cannot speculate without adequate evidence who could be behind this. However, there seems to be sufficient motivation to do it. The solution to this is not carrot but stick. Those paid sellouts should be dealt with severely by the security apparatus as Daniel Girmay suggested. As the security apparatus may not be effective the public should also think of looking for a vigilante commander like Seltan Michael to take its security into its own hands.

The tragic part of this kind of politically induced gang violence is causing double suffering to the people. Tigraians are being marginalized, brutalized, and chased out from their longtime residences in other regions. Their only hope for themselves and their children has unfortunately become to return to "Cannan". If Cannan become no better than Egypt, they will have to act, and act decisively, to deal with the devil's messengers.

The third possible cause of the gang crime could be economic marginalization or poverty due to unemployment. This is just hunger and anger! And the solution is carrot not stick. Those administrative and public bodies dealing with the problem must exercise extreme caution to distinguish the three categories. Undifferentiating actions are more harmful than the gang violence itself. If the first and the third categories could be resolved peacefully, those gang members in these categories could help in resolving the second category. Otherwise, the existence of the two groups will serve as a camouflage for the notorious second category.

The third possible category is a logical outcome of inequality that follows the maldistribution of wealth. If a Nation counts its success based on how much wealth is created rather where the wealth is concentrated it would simply be playing with a time bomb. When the greater part of the youth is unemployed, uncertain about where to get the next meal, but sons and daughters of the affluent (hard earned or stolen) are living lavishly under the very eyes of the impoverished youth in the streets, no one should expect them to take their predicament lightly as "God-given". They would resort to violence because they feel death is much better. Of course, only as a temporary first step this group has to be legally controlled. Soon enough government and the public bodies have to collaborate and work hard to bridge the economic gap in society. Otherwise, affluent groups will be forced to protect themselves by building their own secret army wreaking havoc to stability, thus, rendering society ungovernable.

Although I have no full knowledge of the origin, my wise guess about why the Palermo Mafia evolved is relative poverty in Southern Italy as compared to the relative affluence in the North. The anti-Mafia squad of the Carabinieri is engaged in a wild-goose chase of the Mafia who breed like mosquitoes with every rising Sun. President Duterte of the Philippines thinks he is doing the right thing by killing drug-addicts. He will never live to finish them all because the more he kills the more drug addicts there will be; as poverty breeds drug addicts at a much faster pace. Duterete has to deal with the root of the problem rather than act like a trigger-happy cowboy.

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