Chris Lockhart Round River Conservation Studies Utah State University

Chris Lockhart Round River Conservation Studies Utah State University

Chris Lockhart Round River Conservation Studies Utah State University
Chris Lockhart Round River Conservation Studies Utah State University

The Life and Death of a Street Boy in East Africa Everyday Violence in the Time of AIDS

This article focuses on the life history of a single street boy in northwestern Tanzania, whom I name Juma. I suggest that Juma’s experiences and the life trajectory of him- self and of significant individuals around him (particularly his mother) were struc- tured by everyday violence. I describe everyday violence in terms of a conjuncture between macrostructural forces in East Africa (including a history of failed devel- opment schemes and the contemporary political economy of neoliberalism) and the lived experience of individuals as they negotiate local, contextual factors (including land-tenure practices, the power dynamics between immediate and extended kin, life on the streets, and constructions of gender and sexuality). I suggest that AIDS and its many impacts on Juma’s life course can only be understood in a broader context of everyday violence. From this basis, I draw several general conclusions regarding AIDS prevention and intervention strategies.

Keywords: [violence, AIDS, East Africa, street children]

If you knew that all your days life will always be like this with blood flowing daily and men dying in the forest, while others daily cry for mercy; if you knew even for one moment that this would go on for ever, then life would be meaningless unless bloodshed and death were a meaning.

—Ngũgı̃ Wa Thiong’o (Weep Not, Child 1964)

This article examines the experiences and circumstances surrounding the life of a single street child in Mwanza, Tanzania. In doing so, it draws parallels between this individual’s life course and wider social and economic patterns that shape the lives and experiences of street children generally. The study frames the conjuncture and interplay between macrostructural forces and the lived experience of street children in terms of everyday violence, it and situates their vulnerability to AIDS within a violence paradigm. It suggests that multiple forms of violence have come to define the life course of East Africa’s street children—and a growing number of children


MEDICAL ANTHROPOLOGY QUARTERLY, Vol. 22, Issue 1, pp. 94–115, ISSN 0745- 5194, online ISSN 1548-1387. C© 2008 by the American Anthropological Association. All rights reserved. DOI: 10.1111/j.1548-1387.2008.00005.x

Everyday Violence in the Time of AIDS 95

generally—to such an extent that AIDS and its impact on their lives is only fully understood in these terms.

The implications of this study are associated in part with the growing number of street children and orphans throughout East Africa, and their particular vulnerability to AIDS. In a four-year period, between 1990 and 1994, in Nairobi alone the number of street children increased from 4,500 to 30,000 (Macaloo 1994). According to some estimates, there are approximately 4,500 street children in Tanzania’s capital city of Dar es Salaam (Mehra-Kerpelman 1999), and at least 20,000 throughout the country (Rakesh Rajani, personal communication). In 1998, the number of street children in Mwanza, Tanzania (the location of the present study) was estimated to be more than 600 (Lockhart 2002).

Since most children experience the loss of at least one parent prior to life on the streets (UNICEF 2003), the number of street children will almost certainly continue to rise. Sub-Saharan Africa is the only region in the world where the number of orphans is expected to grow, an increase directly related to the rising proportion of children orphaned as a result of having one or more parent die of AIDS (UNICEF 2004). In Tanzania alone, the estimated number of orphans is close to two million, almost half of whom have lost a parent to AIDS (UNAIDS–WHO 2004).

Children themselves become more vulnerable to AIDS once they live outside of a family setting, such as on the street (UNAIDS–UNCF–USAID 2004). Preliminary evidence among street children in Mwanza supports this association by pointing to high rates of sexually transmitted diseases (Rajani and Kudrati 1993, 1996).

While the statistics and epidemiological associations between AIDS and a grow- ing number of East Africa’s children are significant, they are an imperfect reflection of more fundamental and causative processes. As this article suggests, contemporary ethnographic approaches to violence and their spotlight on the relational dynamics between power, suffering, and illness provide a more adequate explanatory frame- work for such purposes. By presenting the life—and death—of a single street child, the study situates AIDS and its impact as both a form and consequence of everyday violence.

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