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ASSN vision is to support democratic security sector governance and design

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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. 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.

Niagale Bagayoko, Chair, African Security Sector Network

  Security Sector Reform (SSR) is among a number of new concepts that have penetrated current discourses on democracy, security, peace, and development. How has the concept fared in Africa?

Security sector reform (SSR) 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. It was initially publicized in 1997 by the UK Department for International Development (DFID), and then further formalized by the Organisation for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD) in 2007. 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 (UN) and the European Union (EU) 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. In particular, the heads of state and governement of the African Union (AU) have adopted in 2013 the  AU Policy Framework on Security Sector Reform whilst those of the Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS) have endorsed in 2016 the ECOWAS Policy Framework for Security Sector Reform and Governance

The age-long discourses on human security in the continent continue to put a premium on the role of the security sector. Is that correct?

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. Consequently, the security sector was commonly and widely considered as based on two pillars: on the one hand, the defence and security forces themselves (including the military forces, the police/gendarmerie, the paramilitary forces, the intelligence services; border guards, penal and corrections institutions) and on the other, the relevant branches of the government (in particular the head of state, the Defence and Interior Ministries within the executive institutions etc.) with a legal mandate to ensure the safety, the sovereignty and the integrity of the state. Yet, a substantive widening of this traditional vision of security has become widespread in both academic and policy circles. It has been growingly recognized that security is not only about force structure, defence plans, intelligence gathering systems, or the level of expenditure on any of the security bodies. 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. According to this human security approach, individuals and communities other than the state should also be the object of security. Moreover, individuals and the general population might be endangered by the inappropriate or abusive behaviour of the defence and security forces themselves, sometimes enforcing policies emanating from an authoritarian civilian rule. As a consequence, a larger definition of the security sector has emerged which not only includes the aforementioned bodies legally authorized to use force as well as the executive authorities responsible for managing their intervention, but which also puts the stress on the crucial oversight role to be played by the elected (Parliaments) and duly appointed civilian authorities (such as Human Rights Commissions, Audit Accounts; Ombudsmans, branch of the justice sector, …),  as well as on the role of non-state actors, some being involved in private security delivery (self-defence organisations; private security companies), others (like civil society and the media) exerting a public control on security provision and the protection of citizens against acts of violence and coercion.

In your opinion, to what extent do those working in the pursuit of human security, democratic consolidation, good democratic governance, human development, and post-conflict peace-building, underscore the idea that SSR is a project that must be pursued with firm resolve and commitment by all its stakeholders?

Organising the security sector in Africa around democratic governance continues to present the most effective way of addressing African security challenges. 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 (ASSN) since it was established?

The African Security Sector Network (ASSN) was created at Elmina, Ghana, in November 2003 out of a recognition of the need to harmonise and facilitate the activities of the various African organisations working in the area of Security Sector Reform and Governance » (SSRG). 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. To do so, the ASSN has developed as a multidisciplinary network spanning academics, think-tanks, CSOs, security practitioners (active and retired), legislators in defence and security committees, etc, with a pan-African character. This inclusive structure enables sharing of experiences and lessons from different traditions of security organisation and practice (Anglophone, Francophone and Lusophone).

What do you consider the ASSN milestone achievements since inception?

Since its inception ASSN and its experts has been able to:

  • *Provide support to governments and/or Parliaments in very challenging (and often post-conflict) environments such as South Sudan; DRC ; Liberia ; Burundi; Madagascar ; Ghana, Mali ; Burkina Faso;
  • *Technically assist the AU and ECOWAS to develop it own SSR Frameworks;
  • *Empower civil society organizations to oversee the security sector;
  • *Establish a roster of 50 senior experts;
  • *Initiate and publish innovative research, in particular, related to Hybrid Security Governance in Africa (2014-2017); SSR and Public Review Expenditures (2011); Security Sector Reform in Francophone Africa (2010) ; Security Sector Reform Provisions in Peace Agreements (2009); Changing Intelligence Dynamics in Africa (2009).

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 (small local enterprises as well as multinational companies and banking establishments), 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 (PSC) 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. Related security challenges (for example the significant number of former-combatants recently demobilized with potential for destabilization) are another matter of concern as well as poor working conditions of the latter (ridiculously low salaries; absence of social entitlements in particular) and the quasi-absence of human-rights-based training for PSCs.

What has been the greatest success of the security sector in Africa in the past decade?

At the national level, the SSR agenda has been essentially driven by a conflict and post-conflict perspective (in Liberia, Sierra leone, South Sudan, Mali, Côte d’Ivoire, the Central African Republic) : successes are mixed in such countries. 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. It is also important to carefully consider progresses and setback in the most democratic countries of the continent. In fact, in spite of setbacks, significant progress has been achieved on the African continent as a whole. Within Africa, and in West Africa in particular, a number of important political advances (regular occurrence of presidential and legislative elections; growing involvement of civil society actors to engage security establishments; decrease in the number of attempts to seize power by military means; international protocols prohibiting unconstitutional changes of regimes ; increased civilian control over the security forces; initiatives at the regional level to support SSR) are already impacting positively on the governance of the security sector. 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. Even in contexts where democracy is relatively well rooted, Parliaments have not played the role they are entitled or expected to play and have often served as an extension of the executive. Democratic control however should not be reduced to Parliamentary oversight but expanded to include other institutions and actors. Judicial authorities and the justice system for instance have key roles to play in security sector by ensuring that it respects the constitutional order and the law. Independent state authorities with focussed mandates also need to the willingness and capacity to include the security sector and its activities in their remit: for example, Human Rights Commissions, financial audit bodies; Ombuds Institutions; anti-corruption commissions and the like.

What is the greatest remaining challenge to security sector reform in Africa?

There are several I am afraid. SSR policy documents have generally been adopted after slow validation processes without being reviewed nor adapted on an ongoing basis. Consequently, emerging threats and dramatic shifts in the security environment are not enough taken into account (conflicts at the community level, extremism, terrorism, …). Political will also remains a major issue and competing political interests beyond the security sector have not sufficiently been integrated into SSR assessments. If bilateral and multilateral donors have become convinced of the importance of SSR, such a validation has not necessarily been shared by security and civilian elites in most African countries where security cultures remain closed and narrow. Furthermore, prevailing approaches to SSR – and the associated policy literature – have more often than not concentrated on the formal arrangements of the state and its security and justice institutions. Yet, such approaches are fundamentally at variance with the underlying realities of the African context, where many political and social transactions (not least in the security sector) 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. Although understanding and controlling the state dimension remains essential, the complexity of Africa’s socio-political and security dynamics calls inseparably for a deep understanding of societal realities, often informal, within which security governance in Africa is rooted. 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?

Countering the terrorist threat in West Africa is a major concern, not least in terms of region-wide methodologies. Previously, the nature of West African response to security challenges had been defined by the deployment of regional military forces (mainly army and air force), 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 (collaboration with the ECCASS). 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. The threats posed by cross border crimes; trafficking of drugs, arms and people; money laundering; document forgery, identity theft and online extortion/cybercriminality, etc., demand not only more robust actions, but also a more efficient regional and international cooperation. 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 (Science Po) in Paris. Then I have done extensive field research on Western security policies (France, United States, European Union) in Africa,  security systems in African Francophone countries and African conflict-management mechanisms, focusing on the interface between security and development. I also taught international relations and was also a research fellow at the Institute for Develpment study (IDS) in the UK, before  being in charge of  the “peacekeeping and peacebuilding programme” at the International Organisation of La Francophonie (OIF). I’ve been collaborating with the ASSN since 2007 as a member of its Executive Committee and was appointed as its Chair in June 2018.

To what extent have women in the region played a part in security sector reform and peacebuilding process over the past decade?

The experience of Mano River Women’s Peace Network (MARWOPNET), NGO with headquarters in Sierra Leone, is a very good example : it has promoted peace and development in the Mano River region (Liberia, Sierra Leone, and Guinea). MARWOPNET was formed under the auspices of the ECOWAS in May 2000, when a group of women leaders from local NGOs met in Abuja to promote their participation in the process of restoring peace in Africa. It is also a primary instance of engagement in both the informal, traditional, grass-roots sphere of conflict resolution, and at the state levels of government.

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