In this article, I explore the recent revalorization of non-state forms of order and authority in the context of hybrid approaches to governance and state building in Africa. I argue for a more empirical and comparative approach to hybrid governance that is capable of distinguishing between constructive and corrosive forms of non-state order, and sharpens rather than blurs the relationship between formal and informal regulation. A critique of the theoretical and methodological issues surrounding hybrid governance perspectives sets the scene for a comparative analysis of two contrasting situations of hybrid security systems: the RCD-ML of eastern DR Congo, and the Bakassi Boys vigilante group of eastern Nigeria. In each case, four issues are examined: the basis of claims that regulatory authority has shifted to informal security systems; the local legitimacy of the security forces involved; the wider political context; and finally, whether a genuine transformation of regulatory authority has resulted, offering local populations a preferable alternative to the prior situation of neglectful or predatory rule. I argue that hybrid governance perspectives often essentialize informal regulatory systems, disguising coercion and political capture as popular legitimacy, and I echo calls for a more historically and empirically informed analysis of hybrid governance contexts.