The dynamic security environment in Eastern Africa calls for security sector reform in order to effectively address the complex set of challenges facing the region. To facilitate the dialogue likely to bring about such reform, the Africa Center for Strategic Studies hosted a seminar titled “Challenges of Security Sector Reform in Eastern Africa” from 12-15 July 2011. The seminar brought together 35 participants from 9 countries in Eastern Africa (Burundi, Comoros, Ethiopia, Kenya, Mauritius, Rwanda, Seychelles, Tanzania, Uganda), and the United States, as well as the East African Community and civil society organizations.
The three-day seminar provided a forum for senior-level African military officers, civilian officials, and civil society representatives to explore strategies aimed at reforming security sector institutions. Participants discussed the importance of good governance to security sector reform and highlighted the critical oversight role played by parliaments, judiciaries, and the media. They also assessed the capacity of the African Union and Regional Economic Communities to catalyze reform and coordinate security cooperation among member states.
The seminar demonstrated the need for security sector reform to be comprehensive and responsive to the needs of citizens. Speaking on behalf of the host nation, Ambassador Taye Habte-Selassie, Director General for the Americas at the Ethiopian Ministry of Foreign Affairs, underscored the need for increased cooperation to counter transnational threats like violent extremism.
Conveying the urgency of the issue, Ambassador Donald Booth, U.S. Ambassador to the Federal Democratic Republic of Ethiopia, highlighted the ways in which the internet and social media have increased the need to reform government institutions quickly. Increasingly, African citizens have rapid access to information and expect their governments to demonstrate results and provide adequate security.
At the conclusion of the seminar, participants agreed that security sector reform should be an ongoing process that all countries carry out – even the United States – in order to build on existing defense capacities and counter emerging threats. The gathering was an occasion to engage in frank dialogue and generate policy recommendations that trigger security sector reform. At the end of the event, participants were reminded to remain in contact with the Africa Center via its alumni network once they return to their home countries.