Panel 20

Security from below Civil society, self-defense movements and the rule of law

Panel organiser: Sten Hagberg, Dept. of Cultural Anthropology & Ethnology; Forum for Africa Studies, Uppsala University, Sweden.


This panel takes as its points of departure the current focus on security in general and in West Africa in particular. Political crises, terrorism, porous international boundaries, coups d’état, and socio-political upheavals underline the need to rethink what security means for citizens in this region. International and regional approaches to security still take predominantly military and macro-political perspectives. Yet there is a need to analyse and better understand security from below, from the grassroots and ordinary citizens. In this vein, local initiatives are central to analyses of politics, society and culture in West Africa.

This panel aims to focus on security from below, as to better understand how ordinary citizens are experiencing multiple insecurities and, in extension, how they seek to deal with them. Yet local initiatives when citizens take the law in their own hands may well challenge the rule of law, such as the resumption of innocence and a fair legal treatment.

The panel invites research papers that focus on locally based and legitimized self-defense groups and movements, particularly by looking at how they relate to civil society and more generally to the rule of law. Papers could be case-studies, or conceptual and methodological think-pieces. Comparative approaches are particularly welcome.

Approved abstracts panel 20

1. Security from below: Conceptual, methodological and epistemological challenges

Author: Sten Hagberg, Dept. of Cultural Anthropology & Ethnology; Forum for Africa Studies, Uppsala University, Sweden.

This paper aims to discuss conceptual, methodological and epistemological considerations in research that seeks to understand security from below. While the ambition towards integrating perspectives of the grassroots, of ordinary citizens, from below, is increasingly advocated by security scholars and organizations alike (see Witt 2018), there is a lack of more in-depth reflections as to what such a security from below might entail. Humanitarian organizations and development institutions are keen to promote grassroots perspectives. Still, lip service, more than actual practice, is most often paid to such perspectives. On the basis of recent anthropological research carried out in Mali and Burkina Faso (Hagberg 2018, forthcoming; Hagberg et al. 2017), in this paper I seek to identify key conceptual, methodological and epistemological challenges about how ethnographies of security from below – as part of an anthropology of human security – ought to be carried out in various countries. The paper starts from scholarly discussions on securities/insecurities, including (in)securitization processes, as to address the three following questions. First, how can we as scholars seek to understand popular, local, grassroots security initiatives without falling into the trap of populist ideologies? Second, how can we explain that self-defence movements often take shape in standardized forms despite the plurality of cultural and historical legacies of different African countries? Third, what are the different conditions through which self-defence movements inscribe themselves within the rule of law, and what are the conditions under which they do not? By discussing these conceptual, methodological and epistemological considerations, I will make use of ethnographic examples from ongoing research in Burkina Faso and Mali.


2. Documenting the Koglweogo in Burkina Faso – security or insecurity from below?

Author: Ismaël Compaoré, DroitLibreTV; University Joseph Ki-Zerbo of Ouagadougou, Burkina Faso & Heidi Bojsen, Roskilde University, Denmark.
E-mail: and

This paper discusses two levels of what we may call “practices of security from below”. The first level concerns the practices of the Burkinabè self-defence groups, les Koglweogo, in Burkina Faso who have taken increasing responsability and power in local security practices during the last years of the regime of Blaise Compaoré and particularly since his fall from power in 2014. Our knowledge on this matter derives not only from published research and news clips on the matter, but mostly on the extensive documentary work carried out by Ismaël Compaoré (co-author of this paper) and his colleague, Luc Damiba when doing the footage for and producing Koglweogo Land (LibreDroitTV, 2017). The second part of the paper will discuss the function of the documentary work and the documentary itself as they emerged from the growing dialogue between the Koglweogo and the documentarists. Within a few months, urban-based institutions of formal security as well as activist groups, the media and others sought out the documentarists in order to get more nuanced information about the Koglweogo, just like the latter sought them out to understand the urban cosmologies. Inspired by Hagberg et al. on perceptions of security in Mali, we wish to share our thoughts and receive input from the public, not only on Compaoré and Damiba’s documentary work, but also on the methodology and positioning of documentarists. The two levels are combined as we, following Hagberg et al. (2017), would like to discuss the documentarist as a co-producer of what the signs “security” or “Koglweogo” get to mean in public and political discourses in Burkina Faso. The positioning of the Koglweogo as “interlocutor-informants” (Bojsen 2015) within and outside of the documentary may challenge our received ideas about whose public and political discourse are “below” or not so “below” after all.

Works cited in abstract:

Bojsen, Heidi (2015) “Who decides What to Develop and How?” in Fred Dervin and Karen Risager (eds.) Researching Identity and Interculturality, pp. 169-189. London: Routledge.

Compaoré, Ismaël and Luc Damiba (2017). Koglweogo Land (Documentary) DroitLibreTV.

Hagberg, Sten Yaouaga Félix Koné, Bintou Koné, Aboubacar Diallo and Issiaka Kansaye (2017). Vers une sécurité par le bas ? Étude sur les perceptions et les expériences des défis de sécurité dans deux communes maliennes. Uppsala: Uppsala Papers in Africa Studies.

3. Hunters, a Soldier, Civil Society, and the State: Mimesis and the Modernity of Power in Contemporary Côte d’Ivoire

Author: Joseph Hellweg, Department of Religion, Florida State University, USA.

In his book, Making War in Côte d’Ivoire (2011), Mike McGovern argues that rebels and state soldiers played at combat during the Ivoirian rebellion from 2002 to 2007 and battle for Abidjan in early 2011. Sasha Newell has similarly argued in The Modernity Bluff (2012) that Ivoirian national culture centers on concerns about the authenticity of consumer goods that feature in popular practices of conspicuous consumption. In each case, things are not what they seem in a play of appearances designed to con adversaries into thinking that more lies below the surface. Armed attacks never went too far, and Ivoirian youth wear jeans that look like designer brands but are in fact counterfeits. Such mimesis aims not to simulate other realities but to assert the imitations as real. This paper explores the contrasting mimetic practices of former Ivorian warlord and dozo hunter Zakaria Koné. He began his career as an Ivoirian soldier, then helped lead the rebellion, and, since the end of the conflict, has held several state appointments, even negotiating with former dozo rebels who tarnished the new regime’s reputation due to allegations of war crimes against them. Koné has successfully straddled the boundary between civil society and the state as dozo-rebel and military official, respectively, to scale the heights of power. Contrary to the notion that nothing lies beneath the appearance of such mimesis, however, there are real war crimes to be adjudicated and real attempts to marginalize former rebels by the new regime. Koné’s dramaturgy therefore offers different insights into the exercise of power in Côte d’Ivoire than McGovern’s or Newell’s analyses. His version of doubling—as “modern” soldier and “traditional” hunter, “legitimate” bureaucrat and “illegitimate” rebel—reveals a play of doubled realities at the heart of negotiations over security and power in contemporary Côte d’Ivoire.

4. Lynching and Solidarity reconsidered: the effects of crimes in under policed urban settlements in Nigeria

Author: Dany Franck A. Tiwa, University of Hamburg, Germany; University of Kent, UK; University of Utrecht, the Netherlands.

Criminological theorists have overwhelmingly concentrated on why people commit crime; in addition, attention has been called to its economic impact. But is that all the problem with crime? This presentation seeks to explore the often-overlooked effects of crime on the social bond. Concretely, it asks the following question: what happens in a community (neighborhood, clan, village, etc.) when most crimes committed are not investigated, and, when they are, yield no or non-satisfactory conclusions? Based on fieldwork researches carried out in populous neighborhoods of Lagos, Nigeria, from October 2017 to March 2018, I argue that scores of non-investigated crimes often set in motion intra group suspicions and accusations that may precipitate embattled communities further into crisis. In addition, the presentation contends that such reactions have many consequences, including communities-backed lynching of suspected offenders. Complementing Durkheim’s insights that collective punishment aims at reaffirming shared norms, the paper further suggests that it also offers many the opportunity to publicly and unequivocally demonstrate their innocence with respect to previously-committed crimes.

5. Local security initiatives and the fight against terrorism on the shores of Lake Chad: stakes and challenges

Author: Aimé Raoul Sumo Tayo, Department of History, University of Yaoundé I, Cameroon.

Since the early 2000s, nations of the Lake Chad Basin are facing an insurgency perpetrated by Boko Haram; world's deadliest movement according to the Global Terrorist Index 2015 of the Institute for Economy and Peace. The management of this security issue by the states of the sub region has largely been militarize.  Although the soldiers are on the front lines of the counter-insurgency, the various States have mobilized the self-defense groups, called Dan Banga (Niger), Civilian Joint Task Force (Nigeria) or "Vigilance Committees" (Cameroon), as the case may be, in order to strengthen their respective defenses. Since the systematization of Boko Haram's use of improvised explosive devices (IEDs) and suicide bombings, their role has increased to the point where it can be said, without exaggeration that these local security initiatives are at the heart of the anti-terrorist strategy of the States concerned, as they play an important role in the register of securing spaces and populations. The present contribution addresses the issue of the local security initiatives in terms of their usefulness in the fight against Boko Haram. It gives an account of this dynamism and opens a comparative perspective which would make it possible to perceive the similarities between these initiatives in the different states of the sub-region. More importantly, it questions, in a sociological-historical approach, the rationality of the measure involving those groups in the fight against Boko Haram. What are the issues and modalities for their involvement? Does this option stem from the shortcomings of the security forces or is it part of the co-production logic of security? Is this option sufficiently framed? Does it involve risks? This work combines two empirical approaches: direct observation of the facts and a survey based on interviews during research trips in the shores of Lake Chad. It is also based on security archives and secondary sources. The constructivist approach to this work is influenced by paradigms such as Clifford Shearing's Vaccum Theory, Game Theory, and John Rawls' hypothetical contractualism. It is also inspired by the writings of Marc Antoine Perouse de Montclos on the reconfiguration of the monopoly on legitimate violence in Black Africa and those of Molly Dunningan on the impact of the Private Security Companies intervention in case of co-deployment or in case of substitution to a regular army. This paper envisages the use of these private security initiatives both as a response to the vacuum and as a co-production initiative of security. In a context of deregulation of the war and  incapacity of the classic declensions of the power, local security initiatives is part of this process of successful rehabilitation of old mechanisms for securing spaces around Lake Chad. This paper shows that even if the use of local security initiatives is risky, rejecting this option would entail even greater risk.

6. Informal gold mining and organised self-defence system

Author: SidyLamine Bagayoko & Ousmane Coulibaly, Institut des sciences humaines de Bamako, Mali.

This paper explores the management and social organisation of the informal gold mine of Kemogola located in the rural municipality of Syentoula, district of Bougouni, southern Mali. We explain how the gold mine association members, the so-called tomboloma and donso or traditional hunters, are organised in order to run the mine site and its activities. Indeed, the hunters or donso represent a self-organised kind of police, being in charge of mine security. The hunters work closely with the tomboloma. Together they implement their own rules of conduct and norms related to the safety and general well-being of the mining community. We also show the relationships between tomboloma and donso with gold washers, political and administrative authorities, represented by the nearest city council and traditional authorities or landowners, in order to demonstrate situations in which the various actors play their roles according to the arena of social intervention.  The mining site of Kemogola is managed by different groups of persons and security is assured by the donso under the authority of the tomboloma. To investigate this case of security from below, we carried out three months’ field work. Through in situ observation with the extensive use of video recording, we gathered empirical data that reflects the daily lives and realities of the informal gold miners.

7. Everyday security perception and practices in post-amnesty Niger Delta, Nigeria

Author: Harrison C. Ajebon, School of Government and International Affairs, Durham University, Durham, United Kingdom.

The Niger Delta region of Nigeria has witnessed protracted oil related crisis in the last three decades with grave consequences for the security of the region, the state and its oil interests. Several attempts by the Nigerian government to resolve the rising insecurity culminated in the proclamation of amnesty to the warring militant groups in 2009, which led to relative peace. However, questions remain about the security contradictions despite the Presidential Amnesty Programme (PAP) and what implication that might have for lasting peace in the region. This paper therefore examines the conflict dynamics in post-amnesty Niger Delta from the praxis of everyday security perception and practices of the Niger Delta people. It interrogates what security means for the Niger Delta people and the ways in which they experience (in) security in their daily life. Based on empirical evidence from a qualitative field research, this paper argues that people perceive and experience security in different ways and that the government’s focus on the presidential amnesty programme (a top-bottom approach) to peacebuilding in the region is unsustainable without local determinants of the peace process. It concludes that beyond the amnesty programme, the government should rethink the divergence in security perspective and consider what matters for the everyday security of the people as a means for conflict resolution.

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