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Domesticating Leviathan: sungusungu groups in Tanzania

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The end of the Tanzanian/Ugandan war in 1979 saw a sharp increase in rural banditry, official policies to combat which were largely ineffective. Local communities responded autonomously by forming their own community police forces (sungusungu), whose aim was to directly tackle the problem that the official police had so singularly failed to solve. Rather than opposing this, the central government actively encouraged such groups, seeking to involve them as an integral part of the rural administrative structure. In some areas this has shown itself to be a particularly successful means of controlling the rural crime and violence that was threatening to spiral out of control. Suzette Heald explores the development of the sungusungu in two regions where they proved to be most effective: Sukumaland, in Central Tanzania, and amongst the Kuria along the border with Kenya. She shows that respect for local needs and traditions, and the empowering of local communities, have been fundamental to this success.

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