How we work

The Institute for Security Studies is a leading African organisation that enhances human security to enable sustainable development and economic prosperity in Africa. It works across the continent, doing authoritative research, providing expert policy advice and delivering practical training and technical assistance.

The ISS has established a niche in Africa. It provides a unique package of services to governments, intergovernmental organisations and civil society by combining research with an ability to convene key decision makers to discuss policy options and partner on capacity building. The ISS invests in a collaborative approach to fulfil its vision of a peaceful and prosperous Africa for all its people. 

The ISS head office is in Pretoria, South Africa. Regional offices are located in: Nairobi, Kenya; Addis Ababa, Ethiopia; and Dakar, Senegal.

In 1991 the former executive director, Dr Jakkie Cilliers and Mr PB Mertz founded the ISS. At the time it was called the Institute for Defence Policy.



Areas of work

The ISS achieves its goal through the work of the following divisions and projects.


Governance, crime and justice promotes democratic governance and helps reduce corruption through better accountability and respect for human rights. It assists African governments to develop evidence-based policies that improve the performance of their criminal justice systems and reduce violence.

Conflict prevention and risk analysis helps prevent conflict by improving the understanding of the latest human security developments on the continent.

Peace operations and peacebuilding enhances peace operations and peacebuilding by assisting governments, as well as regional and international institutions, to improve their policy and implementation.

Transnational threats and international crime helps African inter-governmental organisations, national governments and civil society to respond more effectively and appropriately to transnational threats and international crimes.


African Futures and Innovation produces policy analysis on possible trajectories for human security, development, economic growth and socio-political change in Africa. The project enables decision makers to test the implications of policy choices well into the future.

The African Centre for Peace and Security Training enables government officials, journalists, human rights activists and the private sector to understand and implement human security policy through in-depth training courses. An influential alumni network encourages cooperation between countries and sectors.

The maritime safety and security project enhances Africa’s blue economy through raising awareness and assisting the African Union, Regional Economic Communities and states with policy and strategy development.

The migration project looks critically at the causes, catalysts and consequences of mass migration from and within Africa. The issue is under-researched and while its impact is known, responding effectively will require informed policies and strategic responses.


The ISS is registered as a non-profit trust in South Africa and is accountable to a board of trustees. The trustees are listed below.

  • Amb Nicolas Bwakira held senior positions at the UN High Commission for Refugees from 1970 to 2002. Since then he has been Director for International Relations and Partnership at the University of South Africa, and the African Union’s Special Representative for Somalia.
  • Dr Jakkie Cilliers is Head of African Futures and Innovation, and Chairperson of the ISS Board of Trustees. He is the co-founder of the ISS and was the organisation’s executive director until 2015. Jakkie is an Extraordinary Professor at the University of Pretoria and is on the advisory board of the Geneva Centre for Security Policy, and the Centre on International Conflict Resolution, Columbia University, New York.
  • Cassim Coovadia is Chairman of the South African Banking Risk Information Centre. He is also Managing Director of the Banking Association of South Africa and Chairman of the Johannesburg Civic Theatre.
  • Professor Gilbert Khadiagala is the Jan Smuts Professor of International Relations and Head of Department at the University of the Witwatersrand. Trained as a political scientist in Kenya, Canada and the United States, he specialises in African international relations, conflict management and resolution, African regional and sub-regional institutions, and comparative political institutions.
  • Saki Macozoma is the Non-Executive Chairman of Safika Holdings, chairman of Tshipi é Ntle and Ntsimbintle Mining, and a board member of Volkswagen SA. He is former chairman of Liberty Holdings and former deputy chairman of Standard Bank. Saki also served as managing director of Transnet and was a member of parliament and a member of the African National Congress National Executive Committee. He is now politically unaffiliated.
  • Dr Wendy Ngoma is the former Director of the Wits Business School and has worked as an academic at the Wits Graduate School of Public Management. She is the CEO of a management consulting firm and an alumni of the INSEAD Social Entrepreneurship Programme.
  • Prof Maxi Schoeman is the Deputy Dean: Postgraduate Studies and Ethics in the Faculty of Humanities at the University of Pretoria. She is also an adjunct professor in the School of Public Policy, George Mason University and the Deputy Chair of the Institute for Global Dialogue (SA).

An international Advisory Council meets annually to advise the ISS on strategic policy and management issues. Members of the council are:

  • Amb Saïd Djinnit, UN Special Envoy for the Great Lakes Region and President of the Advisory Council
  • Ibrahima Fall, independent consultant, Senegal and former UN Special Representative for the Great Lakes Region
  • Mohammed Ibn Chambas, Special Representative and Head of the UN Office for West Africa
  • Frannie A Léautier, Partner and Chief Executive Officer, Mkoba Private Equity Fund, Tanzania
  • Susanne Luther, Director, Hanns Seidel Foundation, Germany
  • Vijay Makhan, independent consultant and resource person, Mauritius    
  • Leonardo S Simao, Advisor, Funacao Joaquim Chissano, Mozambique
  • Amb Konjit Sinegorgis, Ethiopian Ministry of Foreign Affairs
  • Prof Elrena van der Spuy, University of Cape Town, South Africa
Development partners

The work of the ISS is made possible through the generous support of donor partners. The donors as reflected in the work of the ISS were:

Partnership Forum

Government of Australia
Government of Canada
Government of Denmark
Government of Finland
Government of Japan
Government of Netherlands
Government of Norway
Government of Sweden
Government of the United States of America / USAID
Hanns Seidel Foundation

Project donors

African Centre for the Constructive Resolution of Disputes
African Union
American Institute Research
Austrian Embassy
BICC / International Centre for Conversion GMBH
British High Commission
Centre for Humanitarian Dialogue
Chatam House
Chongyang Institute for Financial Studies
Egmont Royal Institute for International Relations
Embassy of the Republic of Korea
European Commission (EU)
Fahmau Africa Limited
Finn Church Aid
Ford Foundation
Geneva Centre for Security Policy
Global Institute Academy
Global Initiative Against Transnational Organised Crime
Global Justice Academy
Government of Canada
Government of Côte d’Ivoire
Government of Estonia
Government of New Zealand
Government of South Africa
Government of the United Kingdom/Department for International Development (DFID)
Hanns Seidel Foundation
Human Rights Institute of South Africa
Human Science Research Council
Humanity United
Indlela Growth Strategies (Pty) Ltd
Institute for Development Studies
International Development Research Centre (IDRC)
Knowledge Platform, Security & Rule of Law
Maxidor SA (PTY) Ltd
National Endowment for Democracy
Omega Research Foundation
Open Society Foundation for South Africa (OSF-SA)
Open Society Initiative for West Africa (OSIWA)
Seven Passes Initiative
South African National Defense Force
Swiss Confederation
The Centre for International Governance Innovation
The Development and Peace Foundation
The Water Research Commission
The World Bank
United Nations Children’s Fund
United Nations Development Program (UNDP)
United Nations Office of Disarmament Affairs (UNODA)
United Nations University Centre for Policy Research
United Nations Women
United States Institute of Peace
University of Cape Town
University of Exeter
University of Edinburgh
University of Leidenburg
University of Queensland
V&A Waterfront
Western Cape Government
World Economic Forum

ISS financial records are published in the Annual Review. To access the Annual Review, click here

What led to the establishment of the ISS?

The ISS was founded in 1991 as the Institute for Defence Policy by the former executive director, Dr Jakkie Cilliers, together with Mr PB Mertz. In 1996, the organisation was renamed the Institute for Security Studies.

‘We often forget the difficult times of our past and where we come from’, says Cilliers reflecting on the origins of the ISS. 'The idea and motivation for the ISS was born during a meeting organised by Institute for Democracy in Africa (IDASA) between a number of concerned South Africans and members of Umkhonto we Sizwe (MK), the armed wing of the ANC, in Lusaka in May 1990. This was a groundbreaking conference of South African and other security specialists and analysts – the first of its kind despite the unbanning of the ANC earlier that year’. The meeting was dominated by a debate on the future of the military in a post-settlement South Africa that took place between Chris Hani, commander of MK, and Cilliers. Several years before this meeting, Cilliers had resigned from the South African Defence Force (SADF) for political reasons.

Shortly after the May 1990 meeting, the forerunner of the ISS – the Institute for Defence Policy (IDP) – was established with a staff of three people. 'These were difficult times as South Africa was still under National Party apartheid rule’, says Cilliers. ‘Former military comrades considered me – a former Lieutenant Colonel in field artillery – a traitor, so the phones of the IDP and its staff were tapped; we were under heavy intimidation by the Civilian Cooperation Bureau and the lives of staff and those associated with staff were in considerable danger. Ironically, our credibility was guaranteed by an MK enquiry into whether the IDP was an apartheid government military front organisation, only to find out that military intelligence thought we were an ANC front organisation’.

For a non-governmental organisation, working on security issues at this time in South Africa was a major challenge. ‘We shouldn't forget that civil war threatened’, explains Cilliers. ‘The true transition of power in South Africa didn't happen during the elections of 1994, but during the events in the former homeland of Bophuthatswana. The SADF neutralised the right wing coup there organised by the leader of the Freedom Front, a former chief of the SADF, General Constant Viljoen, and a band of rag-tag racist thugs (the Afrikaner Weerstandsbeweging). The former SADF was a formidable military force and "white" South Africa was a heavily militarised society during a time of regional war and internal unrest’, says Cilliers.

Nevertheless, despite the challenges, the applied policy work of the IDP meant that the organisation played a key role in South Africa’s transition from an apartheid state to a democracy. After 1996 the work of the ISS focused less on South Africa and took on a regional dimension, resulting in the thriving continental organisation that exists today.

The development of the ISS would not have been possible without the support of partners from South Africa and the international community. The first funds that ISS received were from the Friedrich Naumann Foundation in Bonn, and Anglo American and De Beers Chairman’s Fund. Subsequently the Hanns Seidel Foundation became an important partner of the ISS, along with many valued local and international partners.