‘Panya road’: Urbanised form of decadent hunter-gatherer society

05May 2022
The Guardian
‘Panya road’: Urbanised form of decadent hunter-gatherer society

FEW things are as disturbing on the public mind in the city of Dar es Salaam as the rise of groups of juvenile delinquents, petty armed robbers with machetes and knives, ready to harm anyone they are robbing, and especially with the slightest sign of resistance.

It isn’t the first time such groups have come as over the past decade they have come and gone, depending on what happens in the streets, and definitely, the diligence of the police force. 

Yet it appears that each time the police are taken unawares, and lately many minor case inmates were freed, and it is likely some experienced organisers got loosened.


Thus it is a familiar cycle of re-arresting wrongdoers after clemency gives them a new opportunity to wreak havoc in society and feel proud about it, as many of them don’t seem to bother if they are free or in prison, so long as they aren’t harmed.

Crowds often lynch solitary criminals caught in the act, but it is a different matter when an armed crowd approaches a shop or an individual in the streets; the shutters come down and people run for safety.  By the time the police arrive all has returned to an eerie calm, and can only start knowing who was there by investigation rather than by actually apprehending the delinquents.


Up to now President Samia Suluhu Hassan has addressed the upsurge on two occasions, first in the May Day ceremonies, in a rapid remark to caution the youths to stop the habit, but it evidently fell on deaf ears.

Then with the Eid Baraza at the Julius Nyerere International Convention Centre the president sort of underlined to police officers and the regional administration to see the back of this anomaly. Experience shows that it will not last long as it’s entirely spontaneous and arises from the fearlessness tied to a stick of  hashish, awareness of momentary invincibility, the thrill at crowds running away from them, and cash.


One feature of such phenomena is that there is an underlying copybook from which the youths imitate, though it is unclear who has been there, sees how it happens and then puts it to application in densely populated streets with juveniles hungry for cash – and ready for action.

They are also in an age group where thinking up to where the nose ends is enough to rush into action, without a clear idea of what happens next, what experts call ‘sustainability’ of such actions. Robbers plan out operations, unlike them.


It is not easy to map out how a ‘panya road’ group comes up but a few of those interviewed or asked questions by some investigative reporters seem to link the actions with excitement after smoking. This is consonant with how hunting expeditions, cattle rustling and primitive warfare operations are conducted, that a whipping up ritual is conducted to put village youths on the highest possible state of excitement, where they now resemble a pack of predators rather than a group of village youths.

Instead of village elders organizing the hunt (including rustling) conducting the ritual, it is an ex-inmate, a hero to his street admirers, who shows them what to do, with the personality cult strengthened by the wish in all of them to be heroes as well. It is like a ritual to prove one’s worth as in tribal circumcision and then being given a bride; the parameters aren’t strictly speaking far-fetched. Let ‘panya road’ gang leaders stay behind bars.