Police Legitimacy in Sub-Saharan Africa

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Is fairness in process and outcome a generalizable driver of police legitimacy? In many industrialized nations, studies have demonstrated that police legitimacy is largely a function of whether citizens perceive treatment as normatively fair and respectful. Questions remain whether this model holds in less-industrialized contexts, where corruption and security challenges favor instrumental preferences for effective crime control and prevention. Support for and against the normative model of legitimacy has been found in less-industrialized countries, yet few have simultaneously compared these models across multiple industrializing countries.

Using a multilevel framework and data from respondents in 27 countries in sub-Saharan Africa (n~43,000), I find evidence for the presence of both instrumental and normative influences in shaping the perceptions of police legitimacy. More importantly, the internal consistency of legitimacy (defined as obligation to obey, moral alignment, and perceived legality of the police) varies considerably from country to country, suggesting that relationships between legality, morality, and obligation operate differently across contexts. Results are robust to a number of different modeling assumptions and alternative explanations. Overall, the results indicate that both fairness and effectiveness matter, not in all places, and in some cases contrary to theoretical expectations.