Conceptualizing militias in Africa


How can citizens hold a powerful executive accountable? The power of the ballot box has historically been complemented by the power of the street: the risk of large-scale protest or violence that threaten the executive's control. This paper turns to the role of non-state armed groups—commonly referred to as “militias”—in an attempt to disentangle what militias are and what role they play in stabilising or destabilising the state in Africa. It considers the wide-ranging definitions of militias, including debates about whether they are state or non-state, whether they help organize society or pose a threat to political order, and so on. The paper argues that such disagreements are central to contemporary militia studies, and have important political impacts, through the creation of confusion, uncertainty, and unpredictability about whose voice and whose interests, if any, might be heard and promoted at any given time.