Protection from Crime: What is on Offer for Africans?
To what extent do non-state actors provide policing in Africa? Policing is defined as any organised activity that seeks to ensure the maintenance of communal order and security through prevention, deterrence, investigation and punishment. Policing in Africa is increasingly diversified away from the state to non-state formal and informal agencies. This Journal of Contemporary African Studies paper explores these complex and changing patterns of overlapping policing agencies and introduces a typology of the categories and features of policing groups.
The fragmentation of policing has been observed as a global phenomenon. Traditional distinctions between ‘public’ and ‘private’ fail to capture diverse and overlapping patterns of policing, or the fact that in Africa public policing fails to serve all equally, and frequently it is not free. Considering security from the perspective of African citizens reveals the fluidity of policing and choices based on availability, effectiveness and affordability.
A provisional typology of policing groups in Africa is presented. It is based on policing groups' roles (authoriser or provider), operational range, legality, cooperation with state police, commercial status and mentality (surveillance or punishment):
- Informal organised security groups, emphasising punishment security by the community, are commonly known as vigilantes. Occasionally, under the patronage of political or economic agents, they grow into commercial operations.
- Religious police and ethnic or clan-based militias exercise both surveillance and punishment security with little regard for state law or the state police.
- Political party militias tend to use similar methods as clan militias. Where they operate on behalf of the ruling party they may work closely with or overlap the state police.
- Formal commercial security groups and non-profit civil guarding initiatives essentially operate within the law and in cooperation with the police.
- Traditional courts, based on customary law, are still the predominant administrators of justice in much of rural Africa. They typically work within national constitutions and with state police approval.
- Restorative justice committees or ‘community courts’ seek to maintain social order and restore relationships. They can be the product of NGOs or the community and generally operate within the law with police approval.
Policing in Africa presents a separation of those who authorise policing from those who provide it, and a widespread exercise of both functions by non-government actors:
- Non-state policing in Africa is ubiquitous to the point that few challenge its legitimacy, even if they criticise some of its practices.
- Though private and commercial initiatives can never ensure equal provision and access, state policing services are too deficient to simply absorb non-state police roles.
- Efforts to bring responsible elements of non-state policing under statutory legislation to improve public accountability could be hampered by limited government resources.
- Reliance on non-state policing can create problems for new democracies by undermining the legitimacy of the state police and possibly, by extension, that of the state itself.
- Concerns about the standards maintained by some non-state police groups, including violence and human rights abuses, are genuine. However they also apply to state police to varying degrees.
- Research into the structure of policing in Africa is limited. This includes analysis of the effect of fragmentation on justice, accountability and quality of service, along with the actions of governments to control policing.
Author: Bruce Baker | www.africanpolicing.org
Source: Baker, B., 2004, âProtection from Crime: What is on Offer for Africans?â, Journal of Contemporary African Studies, 22, 2, 165-188.
Size: 24 pages (140 kB)