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The Strength of Weak States? Non-State Security Forces and Hybrid Governance in Africa


  • Kate Meagher

    1. Lecturer in Development Studies at the Department of International Development, London School of Economics and Political Science, Houghton Street, London WC2A 2AE, UK. She is the author of Identity Economics: Social Networks and the Informal Economy in Nigeria (James Currey, 2010), and has published widely on various aspects of African informal economies. Her current research interests include informal institutions and hybrid governance, religion and informal organization, and comparative analysis of informal economies.
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I would like to thank an anonymous referee and a not-so-anonymous reviewer, Timothy Raeymaekers, for helpful comments on this paper. The views expressed and any ensuing errors are of course my own.


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.