Since emanating from the OECD, Security sector reform (SSR) has largely and rapidly become a tool for international approaches to insecure countries. Since its emergence, SSR has been adopted by a number of regional governments in their pursuit of broader democratic, development and security goals.
Since its emergence, SSR has been adopted by a number of regional governments in their pursuit of broader democratic, development and security goals. Despite its giant strides, SSR hasn’t enjoyed much of the accolade it deserves by way of strong evidence of success. Niagale Bagayoko, in this interview, outline what SSR means in practice, hinging the initiatives approach on process and politics rather than linear managerialism. Security Sector Reform is among a number of new concepts that have penetrated current discourses on democracy, security, peace, and development.
Security sector reform refers to the political and technical efforts aimed to improve the professionalism, effectiveness and governance of the defense and security forces as well as their respect of human rights and rule of law. SSR has assumed an increasingly prominent role on the international agenda over the past 20 years, especially in the context of development cooperation. In fact, this concept has mostly been put forward in the Global South, particularly in countries emerging from conflicts or political crisis in Africa, in Asia or in Eastern Europe. The South African experience to transform its security system after the end of the apartheid was key for instance in forging the SSR concept.
Today, most of international organisations like the United Nations and the European Union as well as an important number of Western countries such as France, Germany and the United States have developed their own SSR doctrines. But SSR has also gained a lot of influence at the African level. The age-long discourses on human security in the continent continue to put a premium on the role of the security sector. Until the end of the Cold War period, the concept of “security” was almost exclusively understood as national and state-centric whilst being narrowly defined in militarised terms.
Rather, as very strongly stated by the concept of “human security”, security might also be endangered by threats other than military, which include political, economic, societal and environmental aspects. The so-called “Democratic Security Sector Governance” is aimed to improve state and human security by strengthening democratic civilian control, within a framework of rule of law and respect for human rights by state and non-state security providers. It does share with the concept of human security a special focus on the safety and welfare of individuals, communities and population at large, including legal protection of citizens’ rights and personal safety as well as independence and fairness in judiciary procedures.
What has been the impact of the African Security Sector Network since it was established ?
The driving vision of the ASSN is that of an African security sector that is democratically governed, people-centred, well managed, accountable and effective. The central feature of the ASSN vision is to promote an African-centred approach, which involves drawing primarily from indigenous knowledge, expertise and resources to support democratic security sector governance and design SSR programmes both pragmatic and sustainable. The principal objective of the ASSN is enhance the capacity of African governments, security institutions, legislatures, civil society and African multilateral organizations to undertake and own SSR programmes. This inclusive structure enables sharing of experiences and lessons from different traditions of security organisation and practice .
How do you characterize the role of the private sector on peacebuilding across the continent ?
The private security industry is burgeoning across Africa. Ten years ago, states were the major clients, but today a diversification in the client base is occurring with the private sector , international organizations such as the United Nations or the European Union and diplomatic missions and also increasingly individuals resorting to their services. On the African continent further sensitivities exist because the ghost of mercenarism continues to haunt the debate around private security companies in a number of fora. Innovative international initiatives such as the Montreux Document and the International Code of Conduct have emerged to clarify relevant international law and encourage both states and PSCs to develop good practices.
Yet, most African states do not have the regulatory frameworks required to capture the growing importance and multifaceted roles of PSCs. In most African countries, legal frameworks are outdated, with no indication of the nature and purpose of authorized private security provision or on the respective jurisdictions of private security on the one hand and of the state armed forces on the other.
What has been the greatest success of the security sector in Africa in the past decade ?
An increasingly essential challenge for Africa today is to support the SSR agenda in non-conflict settings with a much longer-term approach, particularly in post-authoritarian environments as well as stable countries. Yet much still needs to be done to arrive at professional, effective and accountable security sectors accessible to the population, in particular by operationalising international policy frameworks and by bridging the divide between policy and practice. “Train and equip” approaches, essentially aimed to reinforce the operational capacities of the defence and security forces, remain dominant.
What is the greatest remaining challenge to security sector reform in Africa ?
Yet, such approaches are fundamentally at variance with the underlying realities of the African context, where many political and social transactions take place in the context of informal norms and systems, and where a wide array of institutions operate alongside or within nominally formal political institutions. This may well account for many of the limitations of efforts to reform the security sector and its governance systems. Finally, African-led research on security-related matters has tended to be limited, resulting in dire lack of an African evidence- base to underpin SSR efforts. Consequently, there is a need to engage and empower African academia and think tanks on security issues.
South/South knowledge transfer and experience sharing are particularly important because the realities and contexts are similar even if the political and historical trajectories are different.
Is there an effective way to resolve conflict and build lasting peace ?
Previously, the nature of West African response to security challenges had been defined by the deployment of regional military forces , mostly to tackle national and cross-border armed conflicts. With the emergence of piracy, cooperation between navies was increasingly required and major progress has been achieved in the promotion of maritime security, not only at the ECOWAS but also the inter-regional level . Today, to fight terrorism, cooperation in the realm of intelligence is the new challenge. Police cooperation, mutual and legal assistance and collaboration to combat organized crime are also crucial.
Countries not involved in conflict face threats which transcend borders and pose unprecedented challenges, hamstrung by weak, corrupt, or absent institutions. Fighting impunity in post-conflict countries is also a very important tool to be mobilized. It is a combination of all those instruments, rooted in a genuine democratic governance of the security sector, which will ensure a more long-lasting peace. You’re in charge in a sector where women tend to be underrepresented.
How did you find yourself in the Security sector ?
Initially, I am a political scientist, holding a PhD from the Institut d’Etudes Politiques in Paris. Then I have done extensive field research on Western security policies in Africa, security systems in African Francophone countries and African conflict-management mechanisms, focusing on the interface between security and development.
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