African perspectives on security sector reform

United Nations website. A two-day United Nations meeting on the African perspectives on security sector reform ended in New York with agreement that, if such processes were to be sustainable and viable, they must be built on the basis of national ownership, Adedeji Ebo, Chief of the Security Sector Reform Unit of the United Nations Department of Peacekeeping Operations, said at a Headquarters press conference.

Mr. Ebo said it was the meeting’s assessment that voices from societies where reform was taking place were often not sufficiently captured in the policy agenda of security sector reform.  The aim of the meeting – co-sponsored and co-chaired by the Permanent Missions of Nigeria and South Africa to the United Nations – was to provide an opportunity for African voices to be amplified and worked more effectively into the broader security sector reform agenda.  That was important for both the United Nations and the African Union, he said, explaining that the Organization had been working on a security sector reform framework for some time now.

Many would argue that the world body’s global approach was only as legitimate and sustainable and as viable as the original building blocks made it, he said.  If that framework was to be viable, therefore, strong participation by the regions would be needed, a point also explicitly stated in both the Secretary-General’s report on security sector reform, and in Chapter VIII of the United Nations Charter.

At the same time, the African Union was putting together a regional security sector reform policy framework following a decision by African Heads of State in 2008, he said, adding that the African Union was in partnership with the United Nations in two broad but related areas: articulating the African security sector reform policy framework; and ensuring the requisite capacity to implement that policy framework once it was articulated.

He explained that, very often, the challenge was not in the absence of policy, but rather in the implementation.  There was therefore a need to ensure that that aspect was also captured.  Another important dimension was the frequent misconception that African States were only recipients of support for security sector reform.  However, a closer examination of the revealed an “emerging trend” in which African States were increasingly “donors of supporters” of security sector reform, thus creating a horizontal relationship between those countries.

In that regard, he continued, whether one talked about South Africa and Angola supporting the process in the Democratic Republic of the Congo, Egypt’s role in Burundi, or that of Nigeria in training military officers from many countries, there were many intra-African supports taking place.  It was the view of the Co-Chairs that “this intra-African horizontal support, if you like, not only is it not sufficiently recognized, it is not sufficiently integrated into the security sector reform agenda more broadly”.

Asked whether the two co-sponsoring countries were looking “for more positions” by supporting the initiative, Mr. Ebo said that, without assuming to speak on their behalf, one of their main arguments was that there was insufficient African content and voice in what was understood as security sector reform.  There was insufficient emphasis on the existence of informal, traditional, indigenous security institutions that often played more of a role in delivering governance and security in many African contexts.  That was not captured in the world body’s formal approaches, and unless it found creative ways to link its own approach to those indigenous African institutions, there would be a “legitimacy gap”, he cautioned.

The second main argument was that the efforts of African countries supporting each other deserved recognition, he continued.  Beyond that, the co-sponsors also mentioned that the United Nations needed to build its own capacity in order to better support the regions.  Their message was that the focus on capacity and coordination for security sector reform must shift from donors coordinating themselves to the recipient countries doing the coordination, since that would entail an element of owning the process.

In terms of capacity, the Co-Chairs had indicated that the African Union would need United Nations support in further establishing its own security sector reform capacity.  As part of that, there were already plans for the Organization to deploy a security sector reform officer to work directly with the African Union in Addis Ababa.

Mr. Ebo said that another initiative proposed by the co-sponsors was for the United Nations and the African Union to undertake joint assessments in areas requiring security sector reform.  A third area related to harmonization of security legislation, since the continent had at least three jurisprudential traditions – Anglophone, Francophone and Lusophone.  “So, one of the ideas they proposed is that there should be some effort to harmonize these various traditions.  I think these are sufficient projects to start working on together, but the main purpose of the meeting was agenda-setting,” he said.

Asked how security sector reform would fit in the Democratic Republic of the Congo, given the Government’s request for the termination of the United Nations presence, and the reported abuses taking place there, Mr. Ebo emphasized that security sector reform was necessary, but not sufficient for peace and security.  Reform would make a difference within the framework of a broader agenda, but on its own it was no panacea.  Thus, the challenge in the Democratic Republic of the Congo was not only security sector reform, but state-building more broadly.

In that regard, responsibility lay not with the United Nations, but with the Government in Kinshasa, he said.  The Organization was only able to do “what there is room to do” within the Security Council’s mandates.  “While these are certainly unpalatable events, our elbow room is quite limited.  But what we do ensure is that the United Nations does not contribute to those abuses,” he added.  At a minimum, the Organization ensured that its resources and personnel were not part of any contingent or group identified with abuses.

Similarly, the situation in Somalia was not only about security sector reform, he said.  Unless and until there was a negotiated national vision for state-building more broadly, security sector reform would be no answer to that country’s difficult questions.  National actors were responsible for negotiating that agenda, within which the United Nations could then contribute, he said.


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