How we work

The Institute for Security Studies (ISS) partners to build knowledge and skills that secure Africa’s future. Our goal is to enhance human security as a means to achieve sustainable peace and prosperity.

The ISS is an African non-profit organisation with offices in South Africa, Kenya, Ethiopia and Senegal. Our work covers transnational crimes, migration, maritime security and development, peacekeeping, peacebuilding, crime prevention and criminal justice, and the analysis of conflict and governance.

Using our networks and influence, we provide timely and credible analysis, practical training and technical assistance to governments and civil society. This promotes better policy and practice, because senior officials can make informed decisions about how to deal with Africa’s human security challenges.



Areas of work

Conflict, peace and governance: the ISS conducts fieldwork and quantitative futures research to understand national, regional and continental trends in conflict, politics, economics and development. Results inform local and international policy and strategy, and enable decision makers to test the implications of their policy choices well into the future.

Crime and justice: the ISS collaborates with government and civil society in South Africa to develop evidence-based policy that improves the performance of the criminal justice system and prevents violence.

Maritime security: the ISS raises awareness about maritime security and its role in Africa’s blue economy, and works with the African Union, regional economic communities and states to develop policy and strategy.

Migration: the ISS examines the causes and consequences of mass migration from and within Africa, and uses the results to inform policy and strategy in Africa and globally.

Peace operations and peacebuilding: in countries coming out of conflicts, the ISS works with governments and regional and international institutions to improve policy and practice.

Transnational threats and international crime: the ISS partners with governments, regional and international institutions, and civil society to respond effectively and appropriately to terrorism, organised crime, arms proliferation, crimes against humanity, war crimes and genocide.


What gives ISS the edge?

The ISS is able to improve human security in Africa and achieve impact because:

  • We are African. ISS is invested in and committed to the continent. We are sensitive to the African context and responsive to Africa’s needs and complexities.
  • Our approach is collaborative. We partner with those who can improve policy and practice. By providing practical support, these partnerships enable the ISS to bring about lasting change.
  • We build trust with governments and civil society by being credible, independent and committed to the best interests of Africa.
  • We harness our networks in Africa and globally to build connections and influence debates and decisions in a constructive way.
  • Our authoritative and relevant research responds to African priorities and informs policy and practice. Research and analysis underpins the training and technical support that ISS provides.


Who does ISS work with?

The ISS collaborates with government and civil society at national, regional, continental and international levels. The media is key to the ISS’ goal of improving accountability by providing independent analysis to the public.



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.

  • 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
  • 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. Current ISS donors are:

Partnership Forum

European Union
Government of Denmark
Government of Ireland
Government of the Netherlands
Government of Norway
Government of Sweden
Hanns Seidel Foundation
Open Society Foundations

Project funding

Adelphi Research Gemeinnutzige GmbH
Berghof Foundation Operations GmbH
British Peace Support Team (Africa)
Conseil de L'Entente
Eastern African Standby Force
Embassy of Chile in South Africa
Embassy of Finland, Pretoria, Fund for Local Cooperation
Embassy of Spain
Embassy of the Czech Republic
Federal Department of Foreign Affairs
Foreign & Commonwealth Office/Conflict Stability & Security
Georgetown University
Government of Australia
Government of Germany
Government of Namibia
Government of Senegal
Government of Switzerland
Government of United Kingdom
Government of the United States of America/USAID
Humanity United
Igarape Inc.
International Committee of the Red Cross
International Development Research Centre
Istituto Affari Internazionali
Millennium Trust
Norwegian Institute for International Affairs
Omega Research Foundation
Open Society Foundation
Open Society Policy Centre
Oxford University
Seven Passes Initiative
Social Justice Initiative
Southern Africa Trust
United Nations
United Nations Development Programme
United States Institute for Peace
University of Denver Pardee Centre
University of Edinburgh
University of Exeter
Wellspring Philanthropic Fund
World Childhood Foundation
World Bank

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.

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