Ex-Combatants and the Struggle for Urban Space in Post-war West Africa
Associate Professor, Department of Anthropology
University of Washington
Major General Human Garbage, like thousands of former fighters from the wars in Sierra Leone and Liberia, leads a precarious urban existence. All over Freetown and Monrovia are interstitial spaces in which young men temporarily shelter. “Barracked” in the ruins of government buildings, in graveyards, and in beach shacks throughout the city, ex-combatants are made available to be quickly redeployed wherever their particular form of labor is required. Informality, invisibility, and marginality, the terms most often associated with African urbanism, only begin to help us understand these young men’s struggles to live in the city today. To be recognized as subjects in post-war urban space, Human Garbage and other young veterans must make uncertain wagers on the benefits of visibility and the profitability of violence. The ways these young men talk about themselves and their futures, and the ways they attempt to shape those futures, may tell us a great deal more about the nature of the contemporary African city.