Sarah Biecker


"‘The File, the Truncheon and the Patrol’ – Policing in Uganda"


Policing in Uganda is a highly ambivalent endeavor. In the most extreme form the Ugandan police are an instrument of violence and repression, whereas many daily policing routines are of rather bureaucratic nature. This project scrutinizes the role of the Ugandan police as guardians of order and creators of disorder by analyzing their daily practices. Based on long-term ethnographic fieldwork the project follows the police in their everyday work – both, at the station and along the streets. By following the approach of political ethnography, the project attempts to contribute to an exchange between social anthropology and political science. ‘The file, the truncheon and the patrol’ is a metaphor for the everyday practices of the Ugandan police and their power dimensions. ‘The file’ embodies the highly bureaucratic core of the Ugandan police. How is the material infrastructure created, how are bureaucratic objects enacted into practice, why and how is the act of writing constitutive for police work, how is policing negotiated between the police and their clients and how do these negotiations shape the institution are the questions the project is interested in. The metaphor ‘truncheon’ signifies the violent and repressive character of the police in Uganda. As standard equipment for officers on patrol and in operations truncheons are symbols of attempts of ordering the Ugandan police undertake in their everyday practices. By following the officers along the streets, the project asks about the self-image of the Ugandan police and their efforts to translate their self-imaged roles into practice, about police-public relationships and about social (dis)order in Uganda more general. Against this background ‘the patrol’ stands for another dimension of policing in Uganda: while ‘the file’ symbolizes the paperwork of the Ugandan police, ‘the patrol’ symbolizes their fieldwork. Patrols are inherent part of everyday policing in Uganda. Participant observation shows how brutal the Ugandan police put their self-imaged role as protectors of social order into practice. Simultaneously, patrols are answers to the public demands for police presence and yet again illustrate the ambivalent nature of the Ugandan police: whereas many acts are undoubtedly violent, brutal and arbitrary, ethnographic research also demonstrates that Ugandan police work is ‘just police work’: officers register crime cases, they listen to requests, they sort out conflicts, they administer files, they patrol streets, they organize traffic, they arrest people, and they produce a huge amount of bureaucratic documents.


Prof. Dr. Klaus Schlichte, University of Bremen

Sponsoring Organization

DFG, Studienstiftung des Deutschen Volkes

Academic degree

2009 MA Peace and Conflict Studies, University of Magdeburg

2006 BA Cultural Science/Education, Humboldt University of Berlin


Biecker, Sarah; Schlichte, Klaus, 2014: Between Governance and Domination - The Everyday Life of Uganda's Police Forces, in: Koechlin, Lucy; Förster, Till (Hg.), The Politics of Governance, the state in Africa reconsidered, London: Taylor & Francis, (im Erscheinen)

Biecker, Sarah; Schlichte, Klaus, 2014: Policing Uganda, Policing the World. Working Paper of InIIS, No. 40. Bremen.

Biecker, Sarah; Schlichte, Klaus, 2013: Policing Uganda, Policing the World/2013, Working Paper Series, DFG Sonderschwerpunkt "Adaptation and Creativity in Africa”, Link (Stand: 03.01.2014)

Biecker, Sarah; Schlichte, Biecker, 2013: Policing Uganda, Policing the World. Working Paper of SPP 1448, No. 3. Leipzig/Halle.

Schlichte, Klaus; Biecker, Sarah, 2012: Was macht die Polizei in Uganda? SPP-Blog, Link (Stand: 16.01.2014) 

Biecker, Sarah, 2012: Aili Mari Tripp, Museveni's Uganda. Paradoxes of Power in a Hybrid Regime. Boulder, CO 2010. In African Affairs (442), 160-162.