African states rank among the weakest in terms of their control of corruption in the security sector, which diminishes public trust in government and threatens national and regional security. Most states in Africa lack basic provisions for legislative oversight of the defense sector, budgets are rarely made public, and engagement with civil society is rare. African states must improve oversight of the defense sector and reduce the secrecy of defense budgets and policymaking so as to better meet the complex security challenges they face.
Security sector reform (SSR) is increasingly put forward as a solution for a broad spectrum of African states facing security challenges. Yet, for a variety of reasons, there are relatively few examples of successful SSR implementation. The case of Burundi’s Security Sector Development (SSD) program, while still a work in progress, is noteworthy for having advanced both security sector effectiveness and democratic accountability since its inception in 2009. The success of SSR programs depends heavily on the ability to address politically sensitive issues. For the most part, SSR programs have fared poorly in this regard. Burundi’s SSD program, however, proactively addresses the politics of reform at both the policy and operational levels on a daily basis. Insights from Burundi’s SSD program can inform other African SSR initiatives.
A failure to adequately define and clarify security sector reform provisions in peace agreements has often allowed spoilers to undermine subsequent reforms and institutionalized dysfunctional and abusive security and justice systems. Along with a range of other adjustments to peace agreement approaches, Africa’s Regional Economic Communities should create security sector reform frameworks that can be integrated into their frequent conflict and crisis response efforts.
Positive security sector transformations realized in the 1990s and early 2000s in Southern Africa have recently been undermined by politicization of the security services, suspected coup plots, and other unconstitutional actions in several countries. Consolidating past improvements will require better knowledge of and access to the security services among civil society actors and resources for security sub-sectors such as policing, corrections, and post-conflict restructuring.
Security sector reform requires more than just training and equipping a professional and well-structured military. Management, monitoring, and other administrative mechanisms are also key to constructing an efficient and responsible security service. Priority features of this reform entail fiscal, long-term, and regular assessment strategies as well as better donor coordination.
Efforts to reform the security services in West Africa face civil-military mistrust, vaguely defined missions, and misaligned structures, among other obstacles. This compendium assesses the configuration, operational efficiency, and civil oversight of the security sector in 16 West African countries finding noteworthy reforms and priorities for improvement.
Reform processes often fall short when those undertaking them lack a sense of ownership and investment. Experiences from Ethiopia, Sierra Leone, South Africa, and elsewhere reveal how donors can better assist security sector reformers to overcome political and organizational struggles and make SSR a national priority, enact necessary legislative provisions, and execute appropriate programs and projects.
Security Topics: Security Sector Governance