Niger: Breaking free from violence, crime and the grip of gangs

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How to escape the cycle of violence and crime in one of the world’s poorest nations? The film is set in Niger and describes the efforts of criminalized youth to turn their lives around and regain a foothold in society.

Education levels are low, the jobless rate is high, and the threat from the terror group Boko Haram is omnipresent. Zinder is the second-largest city in Niger. In the impoverished neighborhood of Kara Kara, many young men join gangs known as "palais”, or "palaces”. Bawa used to be member of such a gang and talks openly about his crimes: one-to-one interviews that pull no punches and at the same time, show how difficult it is to come to terms with one’s own guilt. The scars on his body are a constant reminder of that. Today he’s a father and earns a living riding a motorbike taxi. He’s also a member of a ”palais” of adult weightlifters with a bizarre name: Hitler.

Siniya Boy also lifts weights in the Hitler gang. He appears at the start of the film with the flag of his "palais”. When asked why his life has turned out this way, Siniya Boy has a one-word answer: "Education”. The acute lack of education in Kara Kara also explains the choice of name for the weightlifting gang: Hitler, says Siniya Boy, is a strong guy from America that doesn’t let anyone push him around.

The camera tells its story through the lives of three people. It is there at the prison fence, where Siniya Boy chats with three detained members of his "palais”; and in the red-light district when a sex worker shows her scars - scars that are far worse than those of the men in the film. And this is another of the documentary’s powerful messages: behind every man who has suffered violence, there’s a woman who has suffered even more.

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