Academic journal article African Journal of Criminology and Justice Studies : AJCJS

Crime, Criminology and Post-Colonial Theory: Criminological Reflections on West Africa

Academic journal article African Journal of Criminology and Justice Studies : AJCJS

Crime, Criminology and Post-Colonial Theory: Criminological Reflections on West Africa

Article excerpt

Crime, Criminology and Post-Colonial Theory: Criminological Reflections on West Africa, by Biko Agozino Review Essays on two chapters relevant to Africa in Transnational & Comparative Criminology, edited by James Sheptycki & Ali Wardak, 2005, London: Glasshouse Press, 375 pages

In his quest to provide a theoretical explanation for the militarized social control format that dominates West Africa, Biko Agozino in this chapter delves into a brief legal history of West Africa and the imperialist roles of powerful Western (European) countries in Africa. He contends that the colonizing Western countries, as well as their indigenous postcolonial versions ("'deputy imperialists' of gunslinger capitalism", p. 117), are responsible for the "'gunboat' or 'gunslinger' criminology" (p. 117) that pervades contemporary West Africa. The author is of the view that the true nature of the West African criminology and social control is to be found in an in-depth analysis and understanding of the West African pre-colonial, colonial, and postcolonial histories. Thus, he chastises criminologists, including those of the Western stock, who often lazily and condescendingly resort to reductionism when addressing law and justice in West Africa. These reductionists minimize social control in West Africa to a mere comparison with Western populations. Rather than fall into this error of many criminologists, Agozino concentrates on some of the unique criminological perspectives emanating from West Africa, especially those perspectives rooted in the immemorial cultures of the sub-region.

Scientific reviews of the long-standing cultures of West Africa demonstrate that the sub-region's pre-colonial social controls worked well and were dynamic. Consistently with numerous research conclusions, Agozino states: "... what cannot be doubted is that social control in traditional West African society was remarkably effective" (p. 119). This is precisely why the West's imperialist intrusions and contaminations of the indigenous West African criminology and social control systems are particularly offensive, especially because the West has since turned around to accuse West Africans (indeed, all Africans) of lacking "developed" systems, which they (the imperialist West) are responsible for shortchanging. One important reason, according to the author, why Europe overwhelmed and overtook the otherwise sophisticated Africa south of the Sahara was that at pre-modernity, these Africans were largely unaware of the rest of the world. This condition allowed Europeans to manipulate the African psyche by confounding and painting false images of the earth and the supernatural for the African acceptance and consumption. But for this fact, Africa and Europe would have related to each other as equals, rather than as master and servant with Europe as the self-anointed and domineering force.

Agozino surveys social controls in pre-colonial West Africa and highlights several key points. These features distinguish West African social controls from their Western counterparts. Early (before Africans' contact with Europeans) African social control and justice was rooted in forgiveness, communalism, healing, and restitution, instead of retribution. Early African judges aimed primarily at compensating injured parties and their families and reconciling disputants, and not to punish offenders, as the Western penal ideology emphasizes. This is a fundamental source of disagreement between Africa and Europe. Any wonder that the various European law and justice systems, which the European imperialists forcefully injected into Africa, are largely ineffective means of social control in West Africa and other parts of the continent.

Britain and France, as colonial powers, introduced two main European law and justice systems into West Africa. A postcolonial theoretical discussion of West African criminology will be incomplete without incorporating a comparison of the British and French criminal justice policy models. …

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