Because maintaining law and order is such a vital function of the state, studying policing can reveal clues about the nature of a country’s government. In its better chapters, this collection of insightful ethnographic studies of policing in sub-Saharan Africa details the accomplishments and limits of state building in the region. Police organizations there continue to be shaped by colonial-era institutions but demonstrate surprisingly strong norms of professionalism, even as individual police officers struggle to perform their jobs with limited means in increasingly dangerous environments. Well-organized police bureaucracies have formed in recent decades, but various forms of bribery and corruption remain extremely common, and inadequate skill levels persist. A fascinating chapter by Beek deconstructs the practices at a police checkpoint in Ghana, where officers will ignore multiple infractions if a citizen offers them a small gift. This ritual follows long-standing local norms, but the behavior of individual police officers is increasingly shaped by worries that people will complain about them on local radio stations, which may result in social sanctions, as well as an official reprimand.
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