Policing the Postcolonial State
Contemporary African police systems have evolved directly from those inherited at independence. There have been no revolutionary and few unprecedented developments in policing since the 1950s, and the distinctive features of national organization remain much the same as at independence (see Figure 2.1). This characteristic is important for two reasons. First, it emphasizes two fundamental attributes of police systems that provide a key to understanding the relationship between policing and national development—that they are evolutionary and superbly positioned to accommodate political change. And second, it shaped the environment in which the events of the 1990s took place.
The police forces of all colonial states played a major role during the transfer of power, though I focus mainly on the situation in Anglophone Africa. The administrative and operational control of such forces was politically significant because they were in closer proximity to nationalist and anticolonial politics than were any other government agents. The centralized bureaucratic nature of their organization was tempered during independence because whereas the colonial state represented a body of law, the postcolonial state was effectively controlled by an elite that had captured the organization of the state and established their own governmental priorities. 1 But this was not a clear-cut process, for although British colonial rule imposed a body of law, it also displayed an institutional bifurcation of regime law and popular authority; British common law was used for some classes of offenses and “native law” for others. This may also be understood as presaging subsequent problems of legitimacy, when states attempted to impose uniform legal codes.
Such points do not, however, in themselves explain why the policing systems inherited on independence should prove to be so easily turned into instruments of regime interest. Nor do they explain why, if they were not