Youth and marginality in urban Sierra Leone

Researcher: Mats Utas
Project established in 2004 and funded by Sida and the Royal Swedish Academy of Letters, History and Antiquities

Urban space
It is evident that pauperization of urban space is an important factor impeding the stability of many African countries; this phenomenon is urgently calling for deeper forms of analysis. Urban space has remained a locus of consumption—not production. To a large degree African production has remained rurally based and African cities have maintained their function as marketplaces—far from the accounts of earlier modernization theorists. Declining state revenues (partly a result of failures by national governments and partly due to international economic and political transformations), paired with a general decline in job opportunities, as well as cuts in regular wages, have put extreme pressures on African cities from the mid-seventies onwards. A steady increase in the urbanization ratio adds yet another dimension to the predicament. One highly perceptible outcome of this crisis has been an increase in the informalization of urban economies, and other extra-legal endeavours. This pauperization has among other things resulted in changing household structures and alteration in gender structures: issues addressed within the framework of this project.

Understanding marginalized youth
The project aims at acquiring a better understanding of the predicaments of marginalized young people in post-war Sierra Leone by taking a thorough look at economic transactions in the informal sector as well as exploring the abstraction of imagination and fantasies. Fieldwork was conducted for a period of two years (June 2004–June 2006) with focus on an informal group of young people surviving by washing cars, stealing and selling drugs. Their survival techniques and their social networking form the base for a study that takes a more general grip on urban poverty in Sierra Leone. The project links up with previous research by Utas on youth combatants in the Liberian Civil War by taking the initial standpoint that real and imagined marginality drives young people into participation in the war.

Informal sector
Mats Utas
Sierra Leone
Urban communities
West Africa
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