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Community violence in Dar es Salaam, Tanzania: A mixed methods study

A.H. Outwater
E Mgaya
J.C. Campbell


Most homicide deaths in Dar es Salaam, Tanzania (DSM) are a result of violence arising from within the community. This type of violence is commonly called, by perpetrators and victims, “mob justice”. Unilateral non-state collective violence can take four forms: lynching, vigilantism, rioting, and terrorism. The purpose of this paper is to report what leads to death by such violence in DSM. A cross-sectional mixed methods study design was used. Surveillance data were collected on all 206 victims of “mob justice” in DSM for the year 2005. Fifteen in-depth interviews were conducted with the relatives of deceased victims, a policeman, a journalist, community members, and youths who survived these types of community violence. A focus group discussion was conducted with eight youths at risk of such violence. The deceased were young adult males and differed significantly from assault victims as to age, occupation, weapon causing death, and injury site. Ninety percent were identified as: unemployed, thieves, unknowns, or street vendors. The immediate history of the deceased usually involved theft. The stated desire of community members was to live in peace; they acknowledged that murder is unlawful. Often the victims had been warned; if transgressions continued, male community members punished the individual, which led to death. Family reactions varied from relief, to confusion, and loss. Community level violence in DSM is defensive; the goal is to protect the community. It is focused on individuals, not groups; incidents can be classified along the continuum of lynching and vigilantism in which lynching is a spontaneous reaction to deviance and vigilantism is an organised activity. Decreasing the number of deviant social acts should theoretically decrease cases of lynching and vigilantism. The most humane way to decrease petty theft is through appropriate employment.

Keywords: homicide; Africa; Tanzania; vigilantism; lynching; community; mob