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School CP - May 1997

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Inter Press Service English News Wire, 6 May 1997


U.S. Influences Blamed for Delinquency in Sierra Leone

By Lansana Fofana

FREETOWN, May 2 (IPS) -- An upsurge of crime among juveniles in Sierra Leone is being blamed on the influence of U.S. rap music and movies that glorify violence.

One sign of this influence are the names adopted by some of the roughly 400 groups -- from gangs to youth clubs -- which exist in Freetown, according to the Ministry of Social Welfare.

Two of these gangs, the Bloods and the Crips, took their labels from the feared youth gangs of Los Angeles. Other bands of Freetown youths have imported names like X-Clan, Bad Boys and Niggas with Attitude.

The similarity does not end there. Last month, the government hospital in the northern town of Makeni was damaged when students went on a rampage after a sports meeting at their high school. In another incident in Makeni, a secondary school student was detained recently by the police for alleged possession of rifles, grenades and other explosives. He went by the name of Tupac, the slain U.S. gangsta rapper.

Education officials are worried by the phenomenon.

"This is not the United States," said Mike Sesay, a senior official at the Ministry of Education here. "Our kids should not be encouraged to promote thuggery, drug abuse and violence in and out of schools. If we don't act fast, soon kids will start carrying weapons to school."

Obtaining weapons is easy in Sierra Leone, which suffered a civil war from 1991 to 1996. A peace accord in November 1996 was supposed to have ended the war but skirmishes between rebels and the pro-government militia have continued. The clashes, along with foot-dragging by the rebels' leader, have delayed the demobilization and disarming of combatants.

Against this background, many sociologists see the romanticized portrayal of violence in cultural products imported from the United States as a dangerous trend.

The gang names and attitudes adopted by some young Sierra Leoneans reflect the influence of the gangster movies and rap music that have proliferated in the country, according to University of Sierra Leone sociologist George Thomas.

"All our FM radios play more rap music than local music, and in video clubs gangsta movies top the list," he said. "Gangsta" culture attracts mainly school-going teenagers in the 12-19 age group. It has already entered some schools, not just in the capital and other large centers such as Makeni, but even in smaller country towns.

A teacher in Magburaka, some 270 kilometers from Freetown, told IPS he was recently threatened by some of his students because of what they saw as his strong sense of discipline.

"The boys said they would shoot me dead if I questioned their marijuana-smoking habit on campus," he said.

Education Minister Dr. Alpha Wurie has admitted that things have changed in the country's institutions of learning. "I think that standards in our schools are falling drastically," he complained recently. "Something urgently needs to be done."

Authorities also are concerned by the emergence of widespread graffiti, allegedly painted by gangs, on various walls and pavements in the capital. One group damaged an installation of the local telecommunications utility when they sprayed it with paint.

The new development gave rise to a special discussion program aired last week on national radio and TV, while the police have threatened to arrest any graffiti artists they catch.

Should they deliver on that threat, many capital residents are likely to applaud them. "I think that these gangster kids need to be stopped in their fantasies," commented social worker Bockarie Lahai. "They are the future leaders and such a development is too unethical to entertain."

Dr. Edward Nahim, Sierra Leone's leading psychiatrist, feels that what the youths need is counselling. "Most of them use drugs such as crack cocaine and marijuana and have therefore lost their minds," he said. "Violence is not a surprising behavior among them."

But educators here do not always resort to counselling or persuasion when confronted by non-conformist behavior among young people, such as male students braiding their hair and wearing earrings like some of their counterparts in New York and Los Angeles.

When students here do that "we flog them publicly in school and send them home," said a Freetown high school principal.

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