Ghana Journal of Geography

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Beyond poverty and criminalization: Splintering youth groups and ‘conflict of governmentalities’ in urban Ghana

Martin Oteng-Ababio


Youth violence is a universal phenomenon and can take many shapes and forms. In Ghana the upsurge, scale and scope of such violence in major cities are becoming worrying, making it imperative to examine the nexus between poverty, splintering youth groups, and crime. Typically, youth criminal and antisocial behaviour raise questions as to whether city authorities lack effective structures to cope with increasing urbanization or are being overly accommodating to varying crime responses, some of which are above and beyond legal policing measures. Using content analysis of media reports, archival records, scholarly literature, 50 key informant interviews (KIIs), and 15 focus group discussions (FGDs), we examine the multiple fields of youth ‘governmentalities’ and their preoccupation with security issues—issues that are of great significance to formal state institutions. Borrowing from the philosophy of methodological individualism embedded in rational choice theory, our study reveals the emergence of a number of local youth groups whose activities, predicated mainly on the quest for better livelihood, incorporate varied rationalities, techniques, and practices, some of which are negatively impacting on the urban fabric. We contend that some of these activities not only challenge the legitimacy of the state but also call into question the ability of the official institutions responsible for maintaining law and order to guarantee protection and secure justice for all.

Keywords: urbanization; youth groups; organized crime; governmentalities; Ghana

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