Skip to main content Accessibility help

Unchanging public order policing in changing times in East Africa

  • Bruce Baker (a1)


This article offers a political analysis of the practices and motives of public order policing in Ethiopia and Uganda. It offers an explanation of the continuation of forceful tactics against political protest in a context of changing methods of information gathering, organisation and mobilisation by urban activists resulting from their access to internet and communication technology. It finds the two regimes, as anocracies, are caught between legally allowing protest and yet, conscious of their fragility, determined to crush opposition. For the latter approach, their militarist leaderships rely heavily on continued police violence. The paper concludes that failure of the police to adapt their public order policing to the new protest environment leaves them increasingly ineffective and unpopular. It is likely to provoke an escalation of violence and may both undermine the legitimacy of their regimes and reverse their attempts to open political space that justified their rebellions against former autocracies.


Corresponding author


Hide All
Aalen, L. & Tronvoll, K.. 2008. ‘Briefing: The 2008 Ethiopian local elections: the return of electoral authoritarianism’, African Affairs 108, 430: 111–20.
Abbink, J. 2006. ‘Discomfiture of democracy? The 2005 election crisis in Ethiopia and its aftermath’, African Affairs 105, 419: 173–99.
AFP. 2006. ‘Ethiopian panel calls for police reform after poll violence’, 7 November. <>, accessed 19.6.2014.
Alderson, J. 1984. Law and Disorder. London: Hamish Hamilton.
Anonymous. 2013. ‘Remembering Meles Zenawi, the Prime Minister of Ethiopia (1955–2012)’, 15 February. <>, accessed 1.7.2014.
Arriola, L. 2013. ‘Protesting and policing in a multiethnic authoritarian state: evidence from Ethiopia’, Journal of Comparative Politics 45, 2: 147–68.
Baker, B & Das, D., eds. 2013. Trends in Policing: interviews with police leaders across the globe. Volume 4. Boca Raton, FL: CRC Press.
BBC. 2011. ‘Uganda riots over Kizza Besigye's arrest’, 30 April. <>, accessed 19.6.2014.
Brodeur, J-P. 1983. ‘High policing and low policing: remarks about the policing of political activities’, Social Problems 30, 5: 507–20.
Carey, S. 2006. ‘The dynamic relationship between protest and repression’, Political Research Quarterly 59, 1: 111.
CIPESA. 2014. State of Internet Freedoms in Uganda 2014. Kampala: CIPESA.
Clapham, C. 2005. ‘Comments on the political crisis in Ethiopia’,, accessed 25.1.2015.
Davenport, C. 2007. ‘State repression and political order’, Annual Review of Political Science 10, 1: 123.
Dewar, M. 2008. ‘Modernising internal security in Ethiopia’. <>, accessed 21.6.2014.
Foucault, M. 1977. Discipline and Punish: the birth of the prison. New York, NY: Vintage.
Freedom House. 2012. Freedom on the Net: Uganda, <>, accessed 20.1.2015.
Fuchs, C. 2006. ‘The self-organization of social movements’, Systemic Practice and Action Research 19, 1: 101–37.
Gebru, S. 2011. ‘Riot preparedness and Ethiopia's internal security’, 23 March. <>, accessed 12.6.2014.
Guardian. 2011. ‘Uganda riots reach capital’, 29 April. <>, accessed 23.6.2014.
Hagmann, T. & Abbink, J.. 2011. ‘Twenty years of revolutionary democratic Ethiopia, 1991–2011’, Journal of Eastern African Studies 5, 4: 579–95.
Horn Affairs. 2015. ‘Ethiopia: police disbands a rally on an opposition party's fate, as deadline draws near’, 25 January 2015. <>, accessed 14.1.2015.
HMIC. 2011. Policing Public Order: An overview and review of progress against the recommendations of ‘Adapting to Protest and Nurturing the British Model of Policing. <>, accessed 10.6.2014.
Human Rights Watch. 2010. ‘Uganda: investigate 2009 Kampala riot killings’, 10 September. <>, accessed 20.6.2014.
Human Rights Watch. 2012. ‘Ethiopia: prominent Muslims detained in crackdown’, 15 August. <>, accessed 26.6.2014.
Human Rights Watch. 2014. ‘They know everything we do’: telecom and internet surveillance in Ethiopia. <>, accessed 26.6.2014.
Kagoro, J. 2012. ‘Why Museveni loves his army uniform and Besigye copies him’, The Independent, 15 April. <>, accessed 20.6.2014.
Kemigisha, R. 2011. ‘Public Order Management is much more than riot control’, JLOS Bulletin 2: 13.
Koopmans, R. 2004. ‘Protest in time and space: the evolution of waves of contention’, in Snow, D., Soule, S.A. & Kriesi, H., eds. The Blackwell Companion to Social Movements. Malden, MA: Blackwell, 1946.
Krogstad, E. 2012. ‘Security, development, and force: revisiting police reform in Sierra Leone’, African Affairs 111, 443: 261–80.
Lichbach, M. 1987. ‘Deterrence or escalation? The puzzle of aggregate studies of repression and dissent’, Journal of Conflict Resolution 31, 2: 266–97.
Magenta, A. 2011. Can it Tweet its Way to Democracy? The promise of participatory media in Africa. Oxford: Reuters Institute for the Study of Journalism.
Mariam, A. 2010. ‘Ethiopia: remember the slaughter of November (2005)’, Ethiopian Review 7 November. <>, accessed 17.6.2014.
Market Research Reports. 2010. Consumer Lifestyles.
Marshall, M. & Cole, B.. 2014. Global Report 2014 – Conflict, Governance, and State Fragility. Vienna, VA: Center for Systemic Peace.
Mason, D. & Krane, D.. 1989. ‘The political economy of death squads: toward a theory of the impact of state-sanctioned terror’, International Studies Quarterly 33, 2: 175–98.
Meyer, D. 2004. ‘Protest and political opportunities’, Annual Review of Sociology 30: 125–45.
Moore, W. 2000. ‘The repression of dissent: a substitution model of government coercion’, Journal of Conflict Resolution 44, 1: 107–27.
New Vision. 2007. ‘British police trains anti-riot unit for CHOGM’, 31 July. <>, accessed 26.6.2014.
Observer. 2013. ‘Otafiire blasts police on Besigye, Lukwako arrests’ 9July. <>, accessed 22.6.2014.
Observer. 2014. ‘Uganda: Police to spend sh15 billion on tear gas, riots’, 27 July. <>, accessed 11·2·15.
Odoki, B. 2011. ‘Word from His Lordship the Chief Justice of Uganda’, JLOS Bulletin, 2: 1.
OHCHR. 1997. ‘International human rights standards for law enforcement’. New York, NY: OHCHR. <>, accessed 11.10.2014.
Pausewang, S. 2009. ‘Political conflicts in Ethiopia – in view of the two-faced Amhara identity’, in Ege, S., Aspen, H., Teferra, B. & Bekele, S., eds. Proceedings of the 16th International Conference of Ethiopian Studies. Trondheim: Norwegian University of Science and Technology. <>, accessed 20.6.2014.
Red Pepper. 2013. ‘Kampala Riots 1 dead, Kiseka market closed’, 20 June. <>, accessed 25.6.2014.
Reuters. 2012. ‘Ethiopian police clash with Muslim protesters, several arrested’, 21 July. <>, accessed 15.6.2014.
Steinberg, J. 2014. ‘Policing, state power, and the transition from apartheid to democracy: a new perspective’, African Affairs 113, 451: 119.
Tankebe, J. 2011. ‘Explaining police support for use of force and vigilante violence in Ghana’, Policing and Society 21, 2: 129–49.
Tilly, C. 1973. ‘Does modernization breed revolution?’, Comparative Politics 5, 3: 425–47.
Toggia, P. 2008. ‘The state of emergency: police and carceral regimes in modern Ethiopia’, Journal of Developing Societies 24, 2: 107–24.
Uganda Human Rights Commission. 2013. Annual Report 2012. Kampala: UHRC. <>, accessed 19.6.2014.
US Department of Justice (Office of Community Oriented Police Services). 2013. ‘Social media and tactical considerations for law enforcement’. Washington, DC: US Department of Justice. <>, accessed 14.4.2015.
Recommend this journal

Email your librarian or administrator to recommend adding this journal to your organisation's collection.

The Journal of Modern African Studies
  • ISSN: 0022-278X
  • EISSN: 1469-7777
  • URL: /core/journals/journal-of-modern-african-studies
Please enter your name
Please enter a valid email address
Who would you like to send this to? *


Altmetric attention score

Full text views

Total number of HTML views: 0
Total number of PDF views: 0 *
Loading metrics...

Abstract views

Total abstract views: 0 *
Loading metrics...

* Views captured on Cambridge Core between <date>. This data will be updated every 24 hours.

Usage data cannot currently be displayed