Columbia International Affairs Online: Working Papers

CIAO DATE: 11/2013

Africa's Information Revolution: Implications for Crime, Policing, and Citizen Security

Steven Livingston

November 2013

Africa Center for Strategic Studies


Violent crime represents the most immediate threat to the personal security of most Africans. According to the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime, 36 percent of all homicides globally occur in Africa. With 17 deaths per 100,000, the homicide rate in Africa is double the global average. Rates of robberies and rape in Africa also exceed global norms. The problem is worse in urban areas, with many of Africa’s urban-dwellers “often” worrying about crime. The risk of violent crime has implications for Africa’s development, governance, and stability. Crime ranks as one of the major inhibitors to investment on the continent according to private business owners. Parents choose not to send children to school rather than put them at risk in high- crime areas. Countries with higher rates of violent crime tend to make less progress in reducing poverty and expanding development. Closely linked to the threat of violent crime is the weakness of many of Africa’s police forces. They are often underfunded, understaffed, and undertrained. Surveys show that a majority of Africans see police only infrequently, and therefore do not view the police as a source of protection. In addition to being ineffective in combatting crime, inadequate police training contributes to unprofessional behavior. In some cases, police are active participants in criminal activity. In others, corruption permeates the force. In still others, police use extrajudicial violence to intimidate and coerce suspected criminals, potential witnesses, and even victims. This generates high levels of distrust of the police in many African countries.