Arbitrary States: Social Control and Modern Authoritarianism in Museveni’s Uganda

Cover for 

Arbitrary States

Book by Rebecca Tapscott.

Today’s authoritarians use the rule of law and seemingly democratic institutions to pursue illiberal ends. Analyzing over ten months of research on Uganda’s informal security sector, including militias, vigilantes, and community policing initiatives, this book identifies arbitrary governance as key to sustaining and projecting this type of authoritarian power, particularly in lower-capacity states. In regimes characterized by arbitrary governance, the state’s stochastic assertions and withdrawals of power inject unpredictability into the political relationship between both local authorities and citizens. This arrangement makes it difficult for citizens to predict which authority, if any, will claim jurisdiction in a given scenario, and what rules will apply. This environment of pervasive political unpredictability limits space for collective action and political claim-making, while keeping citizens marginally engaged in the democratic process. The book is grounded in empirical research and literature theorizing the African state, while seeking to inform a broader debate about contemporary forms of authoritarianism, state consolidation, and political violence.

– Develops a novel and theoretically grounded framework of ‘institutionalized arbitrariness’ and examines the global implications
– Brings together two important literatures, modern authoritarianism and the post-colonial African state, to explain the relationship between state institutions and enforcement power
– Features in-depth qualitative material, including hundreds of interviews, non-participant observations of vigilante groups, political rallies, and local justice processes
– An open access title available under the terms of a CC BY-NC-ND 4.0 licence

Read it here.

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