Toward a Critique of Policing
and National Development in
Sub-Saharan Africa Since 1990
One thing can be stated categorically. Very little is known about the police in Africa.
—Otwin Marenin 1
In years to come, 1990 may be seen as a significant point in the development of African power structures. Just as 1960 was characterized by independence and 1966 by military coups, so 1990 was marked in many states by cautious moves toward a redistribution of political power by increased popular participation. The multiparty elections held or scheduled in countries as diverse as Gabon and Zaire, did not amount to a transition to democracy—indeed, they did not ultimately amount to anything positive in some countries—but they did suggest that a rebalancing of political power was possible. Optimists thought that most African states were moving away from the authoritarian political model they had followed since independence and thus were transforming the role of the state coercive agents responsible for regulating political life.
In 1960 the rebalancing of political power was based on the triumph of nationalism over external powers, but the upheavals of 1990 had more to do with the oppressiveness of the resulting internal structures and their inability to satisfy popular expectations in the face of international political change. The unrest derived from general beliefs that Africans should be able to criticize political appointments without being murdered or imprisoned. This belief resulted in pressure for change in the management of regime relations and the exercise of political authority, for citizens believed they should exercise a much greater influence over state institutions and officials and that these would demonstrate a degree of accountability to public