This book aims to show that an investigation of policing in sub-Saharan Africa during the 1990s can improve our understanding of the broader issues associated with state-society relations and state behavior, especially with regard to security. I reconsider the significance of regime transitions during the first half of the 1990s in light of the police systems that, since independence, have evolved to mirror the states that justify them. The book is thus ultimately about the institutional incapacity of the African state to fulfill the expectations for liberal political development so prevalent in the early 1990s. It also explains why the turmoil of those years did not, indeed could not, fundamentally change either the nature of African institutional democratization or police forces.
The idea of a state's police acting as a general barometer for political development is not new. Indeed, in some cases policing has provided a test case for assertions that regime transition brings greater accountability. Yet the relationship, both in Africa and elsewhere, has received astonishingly little academic attention. African police may be a comparatively modern— and alien—invention, and police forces may be less influential and effective than the military, but police systems are, in Africa as elsewhere, tenacious. Police systems in Africa have survived most events since the 1950s, even in juridical states, and are likely to remain part of state coercive facilities for the foreseeable future. They deserve consideration in any discussion about liberalization because, as an expression of regime power, the police help to illuminate the character of a regime. It is too easy to forget that power is as central to liberalization and democratization as it is to restriction and authoritarianism.
It is not always clear why the police act as they do and, given the dearth of relevant material, it is probably unprofitable to try to identif the detailed emergence of the police function in contemporary Africa. Instead,