Accepted paper:

The collective response to the "microbes crisis" in Abobo, Abidjan: negotiating order in the city


Maxime Ricard (Université du Québec à Montréal)
Félix Kouamé Grodji (Université Alassane Ouattara de Bouaké, Côte d’Ivoire)

Paper short abstract:

This paper explores practices of ordering in the poorest area of Abidjan, Abobo, during the post-conflict era. Shifting interrelations among policing actors produced a collective response to a "security crisis", highlighting negotiations between the state, local police, and vigilante groups.

Paper long abstract:

Abidjan symbolizes a contrast of non-inclusive economic growth, with a fragmented security sector inherited from the war. A "security crisis" which became a moral panic seized Abidjan in 2012: youth gangs nicknamed "microbes" were developing, especially in the socially and spatially relegated part of the city, Abobo. As Abobo was the bedrock of the revolt against Laurent Gbagbo in the city during the post-electoral crisis of 2011, the local population perceived the police very negatively after the conflict. The government, criticized for its inaction against crime, responded by regularly launching "lightening raids" from the top to make the headlines. However, a collective response was being organized: a new urban policing configuration. This paper is based on a seven-month ethnographic study with local policemen, vigilante groups, and local leaders. It engages relationally with shifting interrelations among policing actors, to reshape practices of ordering in an urban margin. Created by local community leaders and youth, about 20 vigilante groups were developed, sometimes using symmetrical violence against youth gangs. This configuration is a product of a process of negotiation. The police formally denies the legality of these groups, but in practice, at the local level, tolerate them and most of the time collaborate with them or even participate in their organization. This specific configuration between delegation and discharge - without a prior assumption of a strengthening or weakening of the state - highlights how these groups have undeniably participated in the redeployment of the police, and the establishment of a coercive moral community.

panel Anth04
Urban policing and production of the city