“There’s always a reason to riot in TZ”

So said a twitterer this week in a brief exchange on Tanzania’s series of riots over the past year. There are plenty of reasons: rising unemployment, increasing inequalities and a dismal education system come to mind.

For the past year, to go with the reasons, we have had plenty of riots. It is worth reminding ourselves of the extent of the trouble.

January saw two rioters killed in trouble surrounding a  banned demonstration in Arusha by opposition party CHADEMA.  Mwanza has seen trouble twice – in July and September, with over 130 arrests in July’s ruckus. Mbeya erupted in November, as did Tabora to a lesser degree, both incidents involving the army. Violent mass incidents have been markedly limited in Dar es Salaam, with the occasional half hearted demonstration at the university, though in the past 18 months  I have three times found myself in the middle of unhappy and seemingly spontaneous mobs in Dar es Salaam.

This all comes on top of the perennial violence at rural mining operations. This peaked in May of this year with over 1,000 involved in clashes with police and Barrick security at Barrick’s North Mara Gold mine that left five dead. Trouble is a daily occurence there. Tanzanian mining investors are not immune either, with one ruby miner’s trucks impounded by angry villagers in Dodoma Region the other day.

Proximate causes vary: party political activism; street trading disagreements; religion; student grants; natural resource rents; and, in Tabora, a soldier’s refusal to pay for a pair of trousers down the market.

This won’t have escaped the attention of political and security forces leadership. No doubt the CCM District level Political Committees have fascinating dossiers on the causes, patterns and implications of the unrest.

Certainly , security  forces and local governments will need to better understand these things – in order to predict, deal with them and maybe prevent them. Political parties already understand these dynamics, and the power that large groups of young men can have in both town and village. Chadema’s youth support can shut down public transport in Arusha, while their Red Guard militia face off against the Green Guard of CCM at every by election. There are few things as intimidating as a truckload of young men kicking up dust and insisting on a good reception as they roll through the village.

Parties may be happy to use young men purposively, but a with demographic bulge not matched by opportunity, that may backfire. It is unclear if  the parties have considered this.  Whether the state has the capacity to deal with the uncertainty is another matter. But the sooner we start seeing things through the lens of the demographic bulge, the better.

If nothing else, expect more riots.

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