Aligners, lovers and deceptors: aspirations and strategies of young urban hustlers in the Gambia
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This study investigates young Gambians’ social and economic aspirations. It considers how young Gambians’ aspirations are shaped and negotiated, and the strategies they employ to achieve their objectives. Whilst existing research tends to view young Gambians’ social and economic advancement through a lens of international migration, this study focuses on the aspirations and strategies of those who find themselves in a state of ‘involuntary immobility’ – that is, an aspiration to migrate but the inability to do so. The study looks at how two groups of young urban Gambians from low socio-economic backgrounds pursue local livelihoods. Known as ‘beach hustlers’ and ‘chanters’, these youths take advantage of the resources of the tourism sector and of opportunities provided by information and communication technologies (ICT) in an attempt to fulfil their aspirations. Drawing on data collected from multi-sited ethnographic fieldwork conducted between 2013 and 2014 in Kololi, the country’s main tourism hotspot on the shore of the Atlantic Ocean, and Brikama, where internet use in cybercafés has rapidly grown over the past two decades, I use the cases of ‘beach hustlers’ and ‘chanters’ (cyber hustlers) to shed light on the life-trajectories of young Gambians. I discuss how ‘beach hustlers’ take advantage of the Gambia’s booming tourism industry by engaging in diverse informal economic activities. I then consider how ‘chanters’ accumulate wealth by employing various methods and ruses in their interactions with toubabs (white westerners) through internet-mediated encounters. This study shows that the majority of young Gambians who find it increasingly difficult to migrate to the West pursue local livelihoods to fulfil their aspirations of social and economic advancement. The aspirations and strategies of the hustlers in this study are shaped and influenced by intervening social, cultural and religious obligations and expectations. The study argues that the formation of Gambian hustlers’ aspirations is the result of an interplay between familial and societal dynamics; such as generational and gender relations and reciprocal social exchange, and personal desires of upward social mobility. The study further shows that the strategies young Gambians employ are influenced by the structural constraints and opportunities that appear in specific space–time conditions. By doing so, this study contributes to the literature on the aspirations of urban youths in developing countries and the strategies they employ to achieve them, and how young people experience and respond to conditions of ‘involuntary immobility’.