Egalitarian Lives and Violence

Community Policing in Mozambique

in Social Analysis
Author:
Bjørn Enge Bertelsen Professor, Department of Social Anthropology, University of Bergen, Norway bjorn.bertelsen@uib.no

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Abstract

Since independence in 1975, Mozambique has experimented with society-state relations, including an Afro-socialist revolutionary transformation followed by a multi-party democracy with nominal state functions, such as policing. Building on fieldwork, this article analyzes the genealogy and practices of community policing, arguing that while its emergence reflects a global transformation of state apparatuses reliant on securitization, this transition is still in progress. Community policing practices interconnect with both (petty and organized) crime and nominally past experiments in revolutionary citizenship in socialist Mozambique, including the promises of egalitarian life that linger on in political cosmology and memory. Mozambican community policing thus exhibits the core characteristics of a fluid and ‘predatory-protective’ security assemblage, while simultaneously harboring the potential for instantiating forms of egalitarian life beyond hierarchical state ordering.

This article addresses the ways in which urban Mozambican spaces have witnessed a profound transformation and fragmentation of police-based security mechanisms, which are often concealed under such generic terms as ‘multi-choice policing’ (Baker 2008), ‘nodal policing’ (Shearing 2016), ‘non-state policing’ (Albrecht and Kyed 2015), ‘plural policing’ (Loader 2000), ‘private policing’ (Berg 2004; Diphoorn and Kyed 2016), ‘citizen forces’ (Akarsu 2020), and ‘street authorities’ (Kyed 2018). Mozambican trajectories also resemble what can be considered global forms of decentralization of the violent force of policing—sometimes willed and sometimes appropriated (Pratten and Sen 2007)—and, generally, reflect a contested thrust in urban governance initiatives that conflate urban citizenship with policing capacities (Akarsu 2020; see also Buxton and Hayes 2016). Arguably, such developments reflect more encompassing processes of state transformation, on the one hand, and changes in the relationship between the state order and what might be called the social order, on the other (Samara 2010; Wacquant 2009). Finally, policing has in many contexts become integral to comprehensive practices, not only upholding the law in a narrow sense, but also becoming part of domains such as health, sanitation, urban planning, and wealth distribution, among others (see, e.g., Lattas and Rio 2011; Risør 2010).

While these traits of policing are fundamental, the emergence of urban community policing in the post-colonial context of Mozambique must also be analyzed in relation to localized violent practices, such as instances of summary justice, the nebulous presence of police death squads, and the legacy of violent post-colonial politics and the ensuing civil war from 1976 to 1992 (Bertelsen 2011; Serra 2008). In this article, I will also show how urban community policing is straddled between the hierarchical and predatory possibilities inherent in ‘state ordering’, on the one hand, and aspirations for a more ‘egalitarian life’ on the other. Let me comment first on state ordering and then on the notion of egalitarian life.

Das and Poole (2004: 5) have argued that much anthropological analysis of state ordering is often concerned with identifying “signs of administrative and hierarchical rationalities that provide seemingly ordered links with the political and regulatory apparatus of a central bureaucratic state.” While such a view of an anthropological analysis of the state has some merit, it bifurcates far too easily the notions of the state and society into clearly distinguishable domains. This neat separation conforms to neither post-colonial state formation (see also Bertelsen 2016) nor a more dynamic notion of the state that approaches it analytically as a modality of vertical or hierarchical power that resides both within and outside a formal state apparatus. It is in this latter sense that I, as a point of departure, use the term ‘state ordering’.

Second, egalitarian life, as also developed in the introduction to this special issue, is taken to mean here often impermanent contexts comprising practices that disturb, rupture, dissolve, or take advantage of open potentials or lacunas in existing systems that are often hierarchical in nature, such as state formations. The egalitarianism of egalitarian life, then, is not necessarily (or even primarily) about equality in the sense of, for instance, an equal distribution of rights, income redistribution, or other parameters by which equality is often measured and gauged on national scales. It is instead a dynamic that is oriented against hierarchical systems, and in the context of this case study of community policing in Mozambique, I take the notion of ‘egalitarian life’ to be an analytical approach that will allow for capturing the street-level modes of experimenting with more horizontal modes of enacting policing functions.

Crucially, as I will argue through presenting and analyzing the unfolding of a few decades of community policing in Mozambique, the experiments in horizontal forms of policing enact modes of sovereignty conjoining aspirations for egalitarian life together with the hierarchical possibilities inherent in the logic of state ordering. State reforms, such as community policing, clearly originate inside a specific variety of an international ideology of egalitarianism, namely, to attribute to local governance the ambition to place authority within ‘the people’ (see also Diphoorn and Grassiani 2019). I will, however, outline the effects of such a horizontalizing policy in a context where citizens experience their lives as insecure and thus appropriate and redefine the egalitarian impulse of community policing to include violent and unlawful practices as well.

The material presented here draws on multiple periods of short- and long-term fieldwork carried out between 1998 and 2019. Fieldwork was conducted primarily in and around the provincial capital Chimoio in Manica Province in central Mozambique. From 2012 onward, I also carried out fieldwork in Mozambique's capital city, Maputo. During fieldwork in all localities, I was struck by the constantly changing dynamics of ordering that urban and peri-urban spaces have been subjected to. In Chimoio, particularly evident has been the distinction between the bairro cimento—the town center, with its well-built shops, thriving commerce, government and NGO offices, and upper-middle- and middle-class housing—and the surrounding populous and predominantly poor bairros. In the former, police officers and uniformed private guards employed by multinational security companies are visibly present, and my interlocutors predominantly experience this part of urban space as ‘safe’. However, the surrounding bairros (where more than 90 percent of the people live) are characterized by an absence of either private security guards or police officers. This is a form of spatial division in which private security companies work to fragment the urban space and produce enclaves for the wealthy and the middle to upper classes; it has also been identified in African cities such as Johannesburg (Murray 2011, 2015), Maputo (Nielsen et al. 2021), and globally (Albrecht and Kyed 2015). Often lacking electricity, enshrouded in nocturnal darkness, and inhabited by the poor, Chimoio's bairros are characterized by stifling forms of insecurity, reinforced by the fact that homes are exposed to the violence of robbers, thieves, and evil-doers (see also Bertelsen 2009a). I found a similar conviction in Maputo's impoverished and populous bairros of Maxaquene B and Maxaquene C. In conversation in January 2013, Paula, a young woman, commented: “We do not have any security here. Here, there is no police at night. Our houses are open [to criminals/evil-doers].”1

In order to understand this pervasive sense of unprotectedness and, in a sense, of being left open to external threat, we need to recognize how the domain of security has undergone a series of radical and intricate shifts in terms of politics and governance. If we explore these urban and peri-urban regimes, we can see that security has often been characterized not necessarily by protecting individual citizens but by dynamics of control, punishment, and, frequently, violence—as Morton (2019) has documented historically for Maputo. These long-term trajectories have profoundly shaped the ordering and reordering of Mozambican city spaces, resulting in various forces of policing that are both predatory and protective.

Outlining what I term urban Mozambique's ‘predatory-protective’ trajectories, this article shows that the violence and the transformation of the sovereign basis of the state are part of a wider development of ‘the corporate state’ (Kapferer and Bertelsen 2009). These traits are clearly visible in the case of community policing, which is, as shown here, a prominent form of policing in Mozambique's towns and cities (see also Folio et al. 2017). Through providing, first, an outline of the emergence of the Mozambican post-colonial state and its changing landscape of legalities in order to substantiate my argument and, second, presenting and analyzing ethnographic cases of community policing in this context, I will link such trajectories to both national and global dimensions of security and statehood and anthropological analyses of these developments (see also Glück and Low 2017; Graham 2010; Holbraad and Pedersen 2013; Maguire et al. 2014).

Community Policing: Horizontalizing Sovereignty

Frelimo (Frente de Libertação de Moçambique/Front for the Liberation of Mozambique) fought a war of liberation from the mid-1960s until Mozambique gained independence from Portugal in 1975. Within a few years and oriented by ideologies derived from contemporary Marxist thought, Frelimo, now wielding state power, embarked on a radical re-formation of Mozambican society. As Harry West (2005) and others have shown, Frelimo's implementation of this policy was deeply antipathetic to crucial traits of the socio-cultural order of what were seen as colonial relics, including structures of so-called traditional rule (see also Coelho 1998). From 1977 onward, Frelimo attempted to forge ‘New Men’ and ‘New Women’ (o homem novo)—that is, fresh revolutionary subjects who would not only spearhead a new revolutionary society but also pursue state-organized forms of egalitarian life in urban as well as rural settings. As such, all aspects of the ‘traditional’ were attacked as obscurantismo (obscurantism), and Mozambique experimented thoroughly with utopian cosmologies and politics of the egalitarian kind that still reverberate in popular politics of protest (Bertelsen 2016, 2021).2

During recent decades, however, influential foreign powers—including the World Bank and numerous Western donors—have pushed for decentralization policies at various levels globally, including in Mozambique. This has resulted in a clear departure from the state- and party-driven revolutionary impulse to egalitarianize Mozambican society and, clearly, in a more market-driven approach to politics that has replaced socialist state rhetoric in hegemonic discourse. As Obarrio (2014) observes in his analysis of the liberal framework that followed the 1992 peace agreement, foreign donors and interests were heavily involved in creating politico-legal orders of government and state. The push for decentralization has in part emerged from the creation of what Obarrio terms a “state of structural adjustment” (ibid.: 10), but it is also a pragmatic response to the ineffective governance of urban and rural areas. Concretely, decentralization has included a recognition of “local authorities” (ibid.: 30) beyond the formal state apparatus dominated by Frelimo (see also Kyed 2007). However, as I have argued elsewhere (Bertelsen 2009a, 2009b, 2021), this has produced an ambiguous political and social arrangement in which a number of different authorities vie for power and overlap, including a complex tapestry of gendered authority forms (see Rosario 2021).

Among other developments in Mozambique, this reorientation toward local governance and authority has involved the formation of security entities known as community police (polícia comunitária). As Kyed (2012) shows in her analysis of community policing, this was seen as necessary to counter a growing perception of unlawfulness in Mozambique from the early 2000s onward. Kyed lists three community policing aims: to reduce criminality through citizen participation in the identification of problems and security issues; to democratize the police and its performance in relation to transparency, responsibility, and adherence to human rights; and to strengthen the internal coherence of communities and their confidence in the police within the dual contexts of collective resolutions of problems and education on laws and rights (ibid.: 228–229).

While these traits are key to understanding the rationale from a governance perspective, on the ground the form of self-governance that was introduced provided, as I will show, a dynamic yet volatile horizontal, egalitarian platform. Community police forces were introduced to Chimoio's bairros in the years following the decentralization reforms. In 2008, in one of the bairros where I conducted fieldwork, the leader of the council of community police organizations (Conselhos de Policiamentos Comunitário) explained how the community police were recruited and organized by the council leader. According to him, in November 2008 the community police squad consisted of 48 men divided into groups that patrolled and controlled the bairro zones, each of which holds between 10,000 and 25,000 people. He explained that a key target was the rise in crime and the uncertainty people experienced due to this increase: “What we do is to walk at night to see that all is clean [limpo]. That there are no thieves there that create problems [a fazer merda] in a particular place.” He also explained that when making the nocturnal rounds, if they saw thieves, they apprehended them and took them to the nearest police station, which for this bairro was some four kilometers away. However, the distance to the police station was not the only issue making work difficult for the comunitários, as the community police are commonly known:

It is also very difficult because a lot of the thieves have weapons—pistols, knives, machine guns. The government has not given us anything. We do not carry anything beyond what people have—which can be machetes, sticks, knives. This is a great problem. We try to control the bairro at night but do not have anything to protect ourselves with.

Two further problems were raised by the council leader. The first surfaced in relation to a question I asked regarding how the comunitários communicated among themselves:

This is very complicated. Each group should have a telephone but this does not work well. At times communication is very difficult. Another great problem is that we do not have any documentation as community police. And when we walk at night in this way. It is not good. People think we are thieves! We have said this to the government many times but [angrily]—nothing! But then again, we get things from the thieves—telephones, money, other things. This is good.

This extract demonstrates some of the challenges faced by the comunitários as regards their work, their relationship with the government, and, not least, how they are perceived by the inhabitants of the bairro whom they are formally supposed to protect. In interviews, the lack of formal police identification was recognized as a serious problem by local bairro authorities, such as the lider comunitário (community leader) and the secretário do bairro (secretary of the bairro). Indeed, this was known to be an impediment to community policing as early as 2005, when I interviewed local representatives in the (now defunct) Chimoio branch of the NGO Liga dos Direitos Humanos (Mozambican League of Human Rights). During an interview in November 2005, the leader commented on the comunitários when I queried whether the (then) recent phenomenon had had a positive impact on crime and security, and on how the law was upheld and exercised in Chimoio's bairros. He responded:

Yes, perhaps they are doing well. But there are two key problems in terms of human rights. One of these is that the comunitários do not have any form of identification. And every citizen has the right to know who he or she meets as this form of police officer. The other problem—and a big problem—is that they beat people. And they not only beat people lightly but really a lot. This they should not do.

These early concerns in Chimoio have not abated with subsequent developments for the majority of interlocutors: without formal ID or uniforms, and lacking salaries or other forms of remuneration, the work of the comunitários is challenging, to say the least. It is also worth noting that the head of the community police in 2008 regarded the valuables confiscated from people identified as thieves as items that could be kept by comunitários. Moreover, upon visiting the same bairro in 2010, the situation of the comunitários vis-à-vis the local population and these issues had changed—apparently for the worse. By now, the leader of the community police was a close associate of the secretary of the bairro. In an interview in October 2010, he told me: “Now we are only ten people here being comunitários. These are still only men with machetes and sticks. We do rounds at night sometimes—but very often not. It depends. It is difficult to find anything. It is also difficult to get people to work at night without getting anything for it.”

However, there was a further twist to this reduction in numbers noted by several people, including the head of the local community court system: community policing now followed the ebbs and flows of the seasons. In the months following the maize harvest in the surrounding rural areas, on which almost all bairro households are dependent for food security in an urban context of dire poverty, the number of thieves is relatively low, and the feeling of security increases. However, in the ‘hunger months’ from the end of the year until around March, when the first vegetables and fruits from the land close to rivers and streams (the matoro) are harvested, the number of thieves increases—and so do the rounds conducted by comunitários. For my interlocutors in 2010, this created a form of double predatory practice comprised of both the urban bairro population and the (alleged) criminals: comunitários were seen at one moment as feeding off criminals by appropriating their loot (or extorting it) and at another as undertaking criminal activities themselves. The latter was frequently summarized in cynical remarks made by bairro inhabitants, such as “all the comunitários are thieves” or “comunitários are the ones organizing all the thefts and robberies around here.”

By August 2011, the system of comunitários had again changed slightly in the same bairros I had visited from 2005 onward. In an interview, a lider comunitário (LC) gave me (BB) the following account:

LC: Well, the old system of policia comunitária we had before ended. But we have this system of self-defense now. The type of policia comunitária we have now is organized around a list of people. The list is made by every chief of the 18 zones we have in this bairro. Every zone has ten members and one chief who makes the list.

BB: A few years back these policia comunitários worked alone—doing rounds at night, for instance. Do they still organize this themselves?

LC: No, they will only walk [at night] with one or two officers from police station X.

BB: How many members are there—normally—when they do the rounds at night?

LC: [hesitantly] Well, it depends.

BB: But are they three or eight, normally …

LC: Including the police officer or police officers, more like three, sometimes up to six, all in all.

BB: So is this new system with police officers and comunitários working well?

LC: Yes. It is important to organize the people [organizar o povo] so that the people will know that we are here and that we can [do many things].

This account from the lider comunitário reveals some fundamental changes to the community policing system. For one, the previous system used by many self-organizing comunitários has been abandoned, and there are new formations of smaller groups of police officers and comunitários undertaking the night shifts. Further, the lider comunitário saw the role of such groups as one of ‘organizing’ the people; he regarded the potential of this for demonstrating state sovereignty.3

The plural nature of such collaborative forms, in which comunitários sometimes work with the ordinary police force, was corroborated by other inhabitants. However, accounts varied as to how this was organized, for instance, between secretaries of the bairros and among the comunitários themselves; the latter sometimes alleged that they worked alone and sometimes not. Ordinary inhabitants also alluded to a number of different configurations of comunitários comprising inhabitants of the bairro, police officers, and/or criminals. Thus, by 2011 the system seems to have taken on multiple, changeable shapes. Generally seen as problematic were the ways in which the transformations and mutations of collaboration among the various policing practices were detrimental to oversight and issues around trustworthiness. Concretely, many interlocutors alleged that comunitários, in addition to their reputation for stealing and cooperating with thieves, had picked up the illegal practices carried out by the ordinary police, such as extortion and bribery. It also appears that the violent unpredictability of the community policing organization included several acts of severe beatings and even murders—as reported from the Vanduzi district (near Chimoio) by Club of Mozambique (2016)—in addition to murders and violence carried out by national Mozambican police.

Fieldwork material from Chimoio therefore suggests that the community police organization is constantly changing, as observed in 2016 by its leader in a recently settled bairro to the north of Chimoio's center. João, a carpenter in his forties, reflected upon accomplishments by community police in his neighborhood earlier that year:

Look, there are all kinds of problems here. Sometimes we have a lot of criminals, sometimes not. Sometimes the [national] police are the real culprits, sometimes they are helping us and the population. It is all very uncertain. We [the community police] are also like that. Earlier this year we had a lot of break-ins; people had TVs stolen, cell phones, money, some women were even raped. That time, community police grew! Suddenly I had a lot of men at my disposal. So we started patrolling at night and we, finally, came upon them and beat one of them very, very badly. He turned out to be Zimbabwean. Then we forced him to take us where the loot was. It [the house] was full, full, full! It was so much that we could all get something as we did not know all the owners of the stuff! So we sorted out the problem of the bairro and we sorted out a bit of our own poverty. You see?

Similar dynamics have also been identified from long-term and recurring fieldwork (2012–2019) in Maputo, the capital of Mozambique. Here materials from fieldwork in Maputo's bairros of Maxaquene B and C and Polana Caniço outline similar changing features of community policing, complementing those of Chimoio. For instance, in an interview in January 2013 with a prominent member of the Conselho Comunitário da Seguranca—a council connected to the community police organization in Maxaquene C—I started by asking Flavio (F) what had happened to community policing in this area.

F: Well, it has not ended, but we do not have much strength now. The big chiefs [os grandes chefes] do not recognize our work! For instance, in the reports written by the police, there is never any mention of the work we do! This is very difficult for us.

BB: But you [comunitários] do some work?

F: Yes, we do some rounds at night. But there are also problems. In Polana Caniço [a neighboring bairro] a group of the community police there stole MZN150 [around US$5] from a woman at night. We all felt dirty afterward. But you have to remember this is unpaid work for us. At night. It is not easy.

BB: How about the police?

F: Ah! We have police here that never patrol! At 22.30 they go back to the station. They are policemen in name only—in reality they are delinquents and thieves [marginais e ladrões]! We do not want anything to do with them. To walk at night [like they do] you should not ask for money like that.

Flavio's ambivalent account of policing points both to an uneasy relationship between regular police officers and community police officers and to issues arising because community police officers remain unpaid and regular police officers are underpaid—a situation that foments predatory practices.

A similarly troubled impression of policing was provided by a group of young men in neighboring Maxaquene B during a conversation in February 2013, as illustrated by the following extract from my discussion with José (J):

J: Before, there used to be comunitários. They used to collaborate with youths. But now it has all fallen apart. Before we used to walk with the police at night—we patrolled with a chamboko [police stick]. Now this has ended and we have to do it ourselves—we have become the comunitários. We will walk at night until 3 or 4 in the morning to prevent criminals from working this “hood” [English term used].

BB: But what about the police? Are they not also patrolling at night?

J: Ah! No! In Maputo, there is no justice. It is not like in South Africa with the “fingerprints” [English term used]. Here there is no system: the police are also criminals. So, here, if you want to move around [circular] to different bairros you need money to pay the police.

José's account was supported by his friends and by other people I met during 2012 and 2013. They conveyed a strong conviction that not only are the police corrupt but that this hampers the (supposed free) movement of individuals. More generally, this suggests that a post-colonial neoliberal state places constraints on movement across an urban space conditioned by power and wealth (see also Archambault 2021). In these urban spaces, security tasks are—as we saw above—outsourced (in multiple meanings of that term), and predatory behavior, surveillance, and punitive policing are subject to shifting orders that are both integral and external to social orders. This bleak outlook on policing was summarized in August 2011 by a young woman who sold dried fish at a local informal market in one of Chimoio's bairros. Asked about the problem of crime there, she responded: “The comunitário is a thief [mbava]. This is true. But the chiefs of the police are even greater thieves.”

Spending time with young men in Maputo's bairro Polana Caniço in 2016 and 2017 taught me how being a comunitário is experienced by those who participate. What follows was told to me by Elias (E), who was 24 years old in 2017. He sometimes worked as a ticket collector (cobrador) on a chapa (mini-bus), integral to Mozambique's informal system of public transport:

BB: Why did you join the community police?

E: Look, our bairro is in trouble. There are too many thieves here—many coming from Bairro Maxaquene. They have gangs coming here!

BB: So thieves are not from here? They come from elsewhere?

E: Ih, ih, ih! Well, sometimes—and sometimes from here. But we need protection and there is no security here. At night, the police don't dare walk here! So we do it ourselves. Also, it is a bit like a job; we do not have anything to do, we do not have any money.

BB: But you do not get any money from it? And many say comunitários are just like the thieves themselves. Is this true?

E: Well, we do this work of violence and threat—it is a bit like the lynchings (linchamentos). It helps. It protects the people in the bairro because thieves become scared or run away. And we get some money also from those who work the night.

Egalitarian Life, Horizontalized State Power, and Predation/Protection

As we have seen above, in both Maputo and Chimoio the changing nature of comunitários means that those involved waver between protection and predation, between horizontalizing state power and hierarchical formations. Crucially, the notion of involving the people by ‘organizing’ them has been a key political practice of the Frelimo party since the experiments in socialism and the creation of New Men and New Women—the post-independence egalitarians of Mozambique. Especially in the period from 1977 onward, Mozambican revolutionary subjects also become forged as citizen police within this party-induced egalitarian ideology, which formed both citizen militias, tasked with policing functions, and so-called dynamizing groups (grupos dinamizadores) that roved the bairros, policing the political and moral popular support for the revolution and its subjects. In addition, popular courts, manned by ordinary revolutionary subjects, formulated vernacular and popular law in practical contexts, horizontalizing and egalitarianizing the domain of state law—a legal aspect that has today transformed into Mozambican community courts (see Bertelsen 2013). In addition, citizen policing groups (Grupos de Vigilância Popular, GPV) were formed, constituting popular militias crucially tasked with patrol, solving criminal cases, and sensitizing o povo (the people) to the revolutionary cause.

As critical analyses have shown (see, e.g., Chichava 2013; Igreja 2010), these society-wide experiments in fomenting egalitarian life—in the guise of the New Man and by radically democratizing law and policing power through horizontalizing state power—had deep and long-term impacts. A key means to understand comunitários as a phenomenon, however, is to grasp the extent to which these experiments, which were formally aborted from the mid-1980s until the early 1990s, have nonetheless created a political cosmology where egalitarian orientations are central and where appropriating—that is, horizontalizing—state power is an object. In other works, I have analyzed how this involves resuscitating notions of poder popular (popular power) in large-scale political protests (see, e.g., Bertelsen 2016). Furthermore, these concepts also endure in the hegemonic understandings of elite politicians in contemporary Mozambique. For instance, in 2019 the governor of Cabo Delgado Province suggested to reinstitute GPV to combat insurgents and to mimic the forms of horizontal and egalitarian citizen policing of the revolutionary era (VOA 2019).

What is crucial in this context is that the egalitarian, horizontal quality of the implementation of community policing instills a form of stateliness in the bairros that resonates with an already existing political cosmology of an experimental and ambivalent relation between the hierarchical state form and egalitarian possibilities of exerting forms of authority, protection, and predation. These Maputo and Chimoio experiences are not unique, and at a systemic level they reflect a policing system that was perhaps destined to disintegrate due to a lack of means and infrastructure, no tangible support from local government, and an absence of incentives in the form of salaries or even minor remunerations for work carried out (see Folio et al. 2017). Nonetheless, what the materials from two very different urban settings share is that those commonly seen as ‘community police’ consist in practice of a few machete-wielding youths who make the rounds at night to ‘protect people’; they are interchangeably in competition and in cahoots with regular police officers. Unpaid and lacking uniforms and IDs, which would otherwise make them distinguishable as police or security, these young men are known to be both corrupt and corruptible—running extortion rackets, or organizing muggings, burglaries, and beatings.4

Under the circumstances, it is unsurprising that they tend to mimic the practices of their (supposed) targets, the thieves, by relieving people of their belongings—in attempts, one could argue, to gain a remuneration that is lacking from the state and its donors. Paradoxically, they thereby contribute to creating the situations that policy makers thought they would prevent when supporting the decentralization of policing and security functions. Instead, the situation illustrates, as Comaroff and Comaroff (2006) have argued, that post-colonial dynamics of law and justice involve processes of counterfeiting, mimicry, and appropriation among the erstwhile domains of crime and the fighting of crime—and protection and predation. Similar dynamics of mirroring and thus eclipsing formal distinctions between state formations and subjects—that is, hierarchical relations of power—have also been explored in Krøjer's (2013) analysis of the configuration of security during the 2009 United Nations Copenhagen Summit (see also Risør 2010). Crucially, Krøjer (2013: 34) shows how radical activists and police officers mutually constitute each other as “transformational beings” capable of both violence and security—a dynamic much akin to the oscillation between predation and protection for comunitários.

Comunitários may therefore reflect a wider trajectory of urban policing: while offering protection and producing public safety, they may also be involved with threats of violence and extortion, both of which are integral to the country's regular police forces. From this perspective, the creation of community police as yet another force of policing further complicates already opaque structures of power and violence in the bairros that surround the well-policed and orderly city centers of most Mozambican cities.5 Arguably, the predatory-protective nature of the community police may also be seen to reflect the dismantling of the post-colonial state and the resulting fragmentation of legal authority, in terms of both occluding formal authority structures and creating new avenues of policing, security, and violence. Comunitários, thereby, tangibly index a devolution of state sovereignty that is pluralizing, mutating, and, at the moment at least, uncontained. It is therefore understandable that the community police are sometimes mistrusted by bairro inhabitants, as demonstrated above. However, both comunitários and some bairro residents in both Chimoio and Maputo point out that comunitários are better than regular police forces at being present in the urban areas riddled with crime and threats (also from regular police forces). In a sense, then, they are, in perspective, seen to embody the promises of an operative political cosmology where forms of egalitarianism are valorized and where a more horizontal modality of state power is envisioned. Put differently, in the oscillation between assuming state power or not, and wavering between protection and predation, comunitários embody an experimental form of the possibilities for egalitarian life within a dire post-colonial context.

Imagining and Enacting the State and Egalitarian Life

As the historical trajectories of the Mozambican post-colonial state outlined above also suggest, there has been a protracted conflict between predatory formations and assemblages of state power in revolutionary and post-revolutionary contexts. This long-term legacy has contributed to the creation of a widespread, popular, and powerful cosmology of o governo (the state) as harboring a murky potentiality of both violence and arbitrariness, but also egalitarian and even revolutionary potential. Stark realities undergird this political cosmology where, for instance, those assuming the authority of the state mimic the criminal acts of those they seem to pursue—as in the case of the community police. A paradoxical situation thus prevails in which vigilante youth, corrupt police officers, members of community policing units, and criminals are frequently indistinguishable: the violence of one mirrors that of the others.

As I have argued elsewhere (Bertelsen 2009a, 2009b, 2016), state rhetoric and practices of popular justice from the era of Mozambican President Samora Machel are often appropriated, re-enacted, and redeployed in contexts where violence is a constant threat, such as in the bairros of Chimoio and Maputo. Thus, an appropriation of state authority, with its potential for both violence and egalitarian (even revolutionary) potential, goes to the heart of state imaginaries that are real and become real. Drawing on Deleuze and Guattari ([1987] 2002), we could say that the Mozambican state is subject to perpetual becoming and experimentation, rather than reflecting classic ideals of statecraft such as enduring, stable state institutions and practices. In an urban topography dominated by multiple sources of violence—or threats thereof—shifting and ambiguous predatory-protective entities, such as the comunitários, demonstrate not only that the state is heterogeneous (Santos 2006) but also that violence becomes inherent in any reform of social order, as well as among those meant to promote equality and autonomy on the local level.

Drawing on a peri-urban context of marginalization and violence in Cochabamba, Bolivia, Daniel Goldstein (2012) provides a similar and compelling argument about simultaneous exposure to the violence of crime and the violence of the state through law (see also Goldstein 2016). Endorsing Jacques Derrida's notion of ‘spectrality’ to capture political subjectivity, and ‘being’ as instantiated in unstable conditions between life and death, Goldstein (2012: 82–83; italics added) emphasizes the problematic duality of presence and non-presence that characterizes this urban context:

The state is present through the law, which imposes certain requirements and restrictions on citizens, encouraging certain types of behaviors and punishing others; and through the deadening rituals of its bureaucracy, which consume time and money but are often arbitrary and seemingly punitive. At the same time the state is nonpresent, in that it does not consistently enforce the law, protect citizens’ rights, defend them against threat and harm, or offer a way for them to secure justice when their rights are violated or they are injured through willful negligence.

Thus, if we follow Goldstein's arguments, which together recognize actual experiences of police violence, law, and their shifting and unstable nature, then Mozambican policing may be perceived to be characterized as ‘spectral’ and thereby as demonstrating a violent and hierarchical potential of the state form (see also Clastres [1974] 1998). However, what the material also reveals is that, on an analytical level, the community police may in addition be viewed as comprising fleeting, bottom-up instantiations of not only the violence of accumulation, rule, and predation on non-elite grassroots segments of the post-colonial state order—thereby inverting the practices commonly expected of a country's political and economic elite. They also exhibit ways in which the promise of egalitarianism contained in Mozambique's political cosmology may be appropriated and experimented with—how egalitarian life may be enacted and practiced in the form of community policing. In urban Mozambique, and against a (historical and contemporary) backdrop of elusive and changing formations of policing, imaginaries of violent and predatory power have indeed become institutionalized. More importantly, the outsourcing (and thus pluralizing) of police authority intensifies such imaginaries, not least by throwing open different possible violent assemblages wherein the dynamics of the real and the spectral are cast into relief. In the narratives from Chimoio and Maputo, these are frequently violent and predatory practices, unmoored from notions of contemporary liberal law but reflective of former political revolutionary experimentation of the egalitarian kind.

In summary, then, through appropriation of the supreme power of the state—in which a capacity for violence is so often represented by the police—and also in emulation of criminal accumulation and networks, an egalitarian form of the spectrality of community policing becomes evident. As an effect, the outsourcing of (potential and actual) state violence through community policing substantiates social imaginaries of power and its composite of predatory and protective, liberating and horizontalizing instantiations in post–civil war environments such as Mozambique, generating also the sense of a more horizontal and egalitarian order in which life unfolds.6

Conclusion: Community Policing and Egalitarian Life

Similar to Danny Hoffman's (2011) analyses of young men and mobile forms of violence in West Africa, the unmooring of a capacity for violence from state apparatuses creates hybrid, transgressive, and opaque modalities of power that conform to what Deleuze and Guattari ([1987] 2002) term ‘the war machine’. In the shifting circumstances for mobilization and oscillation between predation and protection, this modality is particularly important because of its rhizomic capacity: “The rhizome connects any point to any other point, and its traits are not necessarily linked to traits of the same nature” (ibid.: 21).

Above we have seen that, much like Hoffman's analysis, this indistinct, complex character of the war machine—complemented by fluidity, mobility, and speed—is a key characteristic of community policing as it unfolds in Chimoio and Maputo. Crucially, however, we have seen that the notion of the war machine also harbors egalitarian horizontal registers and thus cannot be considered (only) as a modality of abstract power. Instead, it can be approached as a formation of social, cosmological, and political significance, replete with aspirational and generative horizontal registers. Furthermore, the Mozambican case of community policing, through its experimentation with de-hierarchizing state power and being fueled by a still lingering political cosmology of revolutionary egalitarianism, demonstrates how egalitarian life forms may emerge in very dire post-colonial circumstances. Put differently, the potential to pursue an egalitarian life is not just the privilege of those inhabiting a well-organized revolutionary context (state, community, or guerrilla), nor is it necessarily a pure and pacific practice.

The formation of community policing as a site of experimentation with egalitarian as well as hierarchical forms and relations in an urban context—a form that challenges more classic approaches to sovereignty and political and miliary force—is not unique to Mozambique. For the pervasive global concern with security, the close relations between development and security and the vast increase in security personnel reflect, as Avant (2006: 330) has shown for global theaters of war, the fact that the ratio of military personnel to private contractors in recent war zones has shifted spectacularly. As shown here in the context of Mozambican policing, the national police are widely perceived to be corrupt, sometimes criminal, and performing badly, while community policing continues to proliferate in constantly mutating forms (see Matangue 2016). As a result, a realization of the state's monopoly on violence is precluded, leading to a plethora of practices of justice and security emerging alongside the gradual decrease in state control of policy and development planning, which have instead been taken up by neoliberally inclined national, foreign, and multinational interests. The trajectory of community policing in Mozambique also reflects such transformations of security and development. In many contexts in the Global South, development has been co-opted by a politics and rhetoric of security. In Mozambique, this is evident in the developmental state if not withdrawing (Obarrio 2014: 94) then being transformed and devolving its legal and absolute powers to local actors, forged by global powers. This eclipse by security is particularly apparent where development is integral to policing strategies at the governance level and on the ground—or when the figures of the police officer and the private security guard are indistinct from the aid worker and the humanitarian medical doctor.

In the bairros of Maputo and Chimoio described here, the contours of a post-Westphalian state order cater to, are integral to, or comprise corporate as well as criminal interests and economies—albeit also with a potential to experiment with egalitarian possibilities, as I have described. Neil Whitehead (2011: 4) has traced this order historically and terms it the “cannibal war machine”: it “consumes persons and ecologies through forms of commodity production and price speculation that profit from the systematic creation of social chaos.” Although locating the cannibal war machine at the heart of the Euro-American modern state, where it operates through colonial expansion, Whitehead argues that “the nomadic war machine of the global financial elite—the modern pirates of the global Caribbean—need[s] no territorial ties” (ibid.: 8) and is increasingly to be found external to the contemporary nation-state. The unleashing of the full potential of this order/war machine may be traced ethnographically through changing ideals of development and security, often decoupled from notions of the social contract that were contained in past nation-state ideologies. In this reconfiguration, the redistribution of material goods, communal solutions, and societal prosperity are subsumed into a multitude of local and metropolitan long- and short-term military and security aims. These aims are integral to economies of production and extraction—reminiscent of Whitehead's war machine—rather than to strict definitions of policing or development.

Drawing on its actual unfolding over time in the bairros of Mozambique, community policing shares traits with the logic of a nomadic war machine that is moving, mutable, unaccountable, opaque, violent, and predatory, similar to how other policing and security forces in Mozambique operate. However, and crucially, as I have shown, community policing can also enact more horizontal forms of statehood at the street level, engendering visions of a (state) order that is more egalitarian. In this context, life itself remains central—as that which is targeted in crime and violence, and as that which bodies are mobilized to protect, and, indeed, extract.

Acknowledgments

This article was supported in part by the ERC Advanced Grant “Egalitarianism: Forms, Processes, and Comparisons” (2014–2019), awarded to Bruce Kapferer and centered at the Department of Social Anthropology, University of Bergen. I wish to thank the many participants in the project who at different times critically contributed in discussion to the ideas presented here. In addition, I have received valuable comments from the anonymous reviewers, Social Analysis editor Martin Holbraad, and also Knut M. Rio, Bruce Kapferer, Ørnulf Gulbrandsen, Randi Gressgård, Erica Robb Larkins, Tomas Salem, Nancy Scheper-Hughes, Carolyn Nordstrom, and Sverker Finnström.

Notes

1

As the performance of community policing is contested, I have chosen to anonymize both the Chimoio bairros on which this article is based, as well as individual interlocutors. Translations from Portuguese are my own.

2

For details on the long-standing figure of the New Man within Frelimo, see Zawangoni (2007). For its installment in Mozambique's early post-independence, see Cabaço (2001) and Chichava (2013).

3

See also Kyed (2007, 2017) for reflections on similar dynamics from a rural area in Manica Province.

4

Similar conclusions outlining structural problems of funding, organization, and involvement in crime are drawn by Ruben Domingos (2012), based on an impressive in-depth study of Matola city, which is close to Maputo.

5

The establishment of the community police is analogous to the opaque assemblages of private security companies that dominate the wealthy suburbs. Community police, the national police, a range of state and non-state authority figures, and significant criminal networks (Reisman and Lalá 2014) all constitute what Comaroff and Comaroff (2006: 35) term “partial sovereignties.”

6

The example of community policing also underlines Benjamin's (1986) argument about the role of the police when the separation between lawmaking and law-preserving violence is suspended.

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Contributor Notes

Bjørn Enge Bertelsen is a Professor in the Department of Social Anthropology, University of Bergen. His research includes political anthropology, egalitarianism, and urban Africa. Recent publications include the monograph Violent Becomings: State Formation, Sociality, and Power in Mozambique (2016) and the edited works Crisis of the State: War and Social Upheaval (with Bruce Kapferer, 2009); Navigating Colonial Orders: Norwegian Entrepreneurship in Africa and Oceania (with Kirsten Kjerland, 2015); Violent Reverberations: Global Modalities of Trauma (with Vigdis Broch-Due, 2016); and Critical Anthropological Engagements in Human Alterity and Difference (with Synnøve Bendixsen, 2016). ORCID-ID: https://orcid.org/0000-0002-3194-3664. E-mail: bjorn.bertelsen@uib.no

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  • Akarsu, Hayal. 2020. “Citizen Forces: The Politics of Community Policing in Turkey.” American Ethnologist 47 (1): 2742. https://doi.org/10.1111/amet.12879.

    • Search Google Scholar
    • Export Citation
  • Albrecht, Peter, and Helene Maria Kyed, eds. 2015. Policing and the Politics of Order-Making. New York: Routledge.

  • Archambault, Julie Soleil. 2021. “Urban Precarity and Aspirational Compromise: Feeling Otherwise in a Mozambican Suburb.” City & Society 33 (2): 303323. https://doi.org/10.1111/ciso.12406.

    • Search Google Scholar
    • Export Citation
  • Avant, Deborah D. 2006. “The Privatization of Security: Lessons from Iraq.” Orbis 50 (2): 327342. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.orbis.2006.01.009.

    • Search Google Scholar
    • Export Citation
  • Baker, Bruce. 2008. Multi-Choice Policing in Africa. Uppsala: Nordic Africa Institute.

  • Benjamin, Walter. 1986. “Critique of Violence.” In Reflections: Essays, Aphorisms, Autobiographical Writings. Ed. Peter Demetz; trans. Edmund Jephcott, 277300. New York: Schocken Books.

    • Search Google Scholar
    • Export Citation
  • Berg, Julie. 2004. “Private Policing in South Africa: The Cape Town City Improvement District—Pluralisation in Practice.” Society in Transition 35 (2): 224250. https://doi.org/10.1080/21528586.2004.10419117.

    • Search Google Scholar
    • Export Citation
  • Bertelsen, Bjørn Enge. 2009a. “Multiple Sovereignties and Summary Justice in Mozambique: A Critique of Some Legal Anthropological Terms.” Social Analysis 53 (3): 123147. https://doi.org/10.3167/sa.2009.530307.

    • Search Google Scholar
    • Export Citation
  • Bertelsen, Bjørn Enge. 2009b. “Sorcery and Death Squads: Transformations of State, Sovereignty, and Violence in Postcolonial Mozambique.” In Kapferer and Bertelsen 2009, 210240.

    • Search Google Scholar
    • Export Citation
  • Bertelsen, Bjørn Enge. 2011. “‘Entering the Red Sands’: The Corporality of Punishment and Imprisonment in Chimoio, Mozambique.” Journal of Southern African Studies 37 (3): 611626. https://doi.org/10.1080/03057070.2011.597626.

    • Search Google Scholar
    • Export Citation
  • Bertelsen, Bjørn Enge. 2013. “The Gender of Law: Politics, Memory and Agency in Mozambican Community Courts.” In Gender Justice and Legal Pluralities: Latin American and African Perspectives, ed. Rachel Sieder and John-Andrew McNeish, 82108. Abingdon: Routledge.

    • Search Google Scholar
    • Export Citation
  • Bertelsen, Bjørn Enge. 2016. Violent Becomings: State Formation, Sociality, and Power in Mozambique. New York: Berghahn Books.

  • Bertelsen, Bjørn Enge. 2021. “A Lesser Human? Utopic Registers of Urban Reconfiguration in Maputo, Mozambique.” Social Anthropology 29 (1): 87107. https://doi.org/10.1111/1469-8676.12988.

    • Search Google Scholar
    • Export Citation
  • Buxton, Nick, and Ben Hayes, eds. 2016. The Secure and the Dispossessed: How the Military and Corporations Are Shaping a Climate-Changed World. London: Pluto Press.

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