Security sector reform is vital to Silencing the Guns in Africa


Silencing the Guns in Africa by 2020 has been key to implementing the African Union’s (AU) Agenda 2063 since it was adopted in 2013. The AU’s July decision that ‘Silencing the guns: creating conducive conditions for Africa’s development’ will be the organisation’s 2020 theme is an opportunity to ensure this important goal can be realised.

A master roadmap of practical steps to silence the guns was adopted in 2016 to transform this vision into practice. A critical element is reforming, professionalising and strengthening the security sector in Africa. This is one of the roadmap’s 16 steps to help achieve sustainable peace and development. The roadmap also says disarmament, demobilisation and reintegration programmes must be more effective.

Without sound security sector management and governance, societies remain or become vulnerable to threats in both the short and long term. Limited or incomplete security sector reform can hamper efforts to address the root causes of conflict.

The first practical step in the AU roadmap deals with the need for African states to take ownership of these programmes. Security sector reform can only work when it’s driven and implemented by the primary beneficiaries. The AU’s role is to continue to provide political support so that member states are equipped and guided on how best to improve and strengthen their security sectors.

The AU should prioritise and be more focused in its contributions to sustainable peacebuilding

The AU helps set a vision so that all stakeholders understand their responsibilities and the processes needed to achieve peace and stability. National governments could be involved in the AU Peace and Security Council (PSC) discussions on security sector reform, either through specific or open debates. This will foster interaction between the PSC and senior government officials.

The second practical step in the roadmap addresses the need to increase synergy between security sector reform and other peace initiatives. For the AU this means harmonising its security sector reform responses with governance, transitional justice, human rights and rule of law efforts.

Security sector reform is often a crowded space with many actors and many different approaches. National governments, external donors and international organisations are all trying to show their relevance and impact on the ground and strategically. As a result, technical support, capacity building, strategic planning and funding often overlap.

Those involved must be clear on what they have to offer, or risk becoming irrelevant in a highly competitive space. This doesn’t mean the AU should be less ambitious, but rather that it should prioritise and be more focused in its own contributions to sustainable peacebuilding. The AU should work with regional economic communities where different actors are involved in conceptualising, funding, implementing and monitoring and evaluating security sector reform programmes.

Security sector reform is not simply a technical exercise – it is intrinsically a political process

An important way for the AU to increase coordination between actors could be the recently established AU Security Sector Reform Steering Committee. This committee should be able to provide recommendations, point out challenges and work with the PSC on security in Africa. The committee could add more value at a strategic level – for instance by facilitating coordination and information sharing, and encouraging south-south cooperation.

The master roadmap also discusses the need to stipulate clear timelines for disarmament, demobilisation and reintegration and security sector reform in peace agreements, including putting in place adequate follow-up mechanisms.

Security sector reform is intrinsically a long-term process. While the original target of Silencing the Guns was 2020, this date should rather be seen as a milestone – not the end of the process.

Security sector reform can take decades to become sustainable. Mozambique is a good example. Although it’s been 25 years since the peace agreements were signed, security sector challenges remain central to the crisis facing the country. It is vital that the AU and African states continue to support countries in situations of conflict and violence.

M & E needs adequate funds and technical expertise throughout the long security sector reform process

Tracking achievements is key to making security sector reform more effective. So the PSC’s request in February that the AU Commission quickly finalise the Draft Monitoring and Evaluation Mechanism of the roadmap is important. Monitoring and evaluation is vital for security sector reform, and shouldn’t be an afterthought. It needs to be context-specific, and provided with adequate funds and technical expertise to be sustained for the duration of long security sector reform processes.

Security sector reform is not simply a technical exercise. It is intrinsically a political process. Countries must provide a clear vision on how they can manage political divisions and deal with long-term rule of law priorities. The AU’s role in helping states achieve this is key. It needs to continue guiding security sector reform as a critical step to Silencing the Guns in Africa.

Gustavo de Carvalho, Senior Researcher, Peace Operations and Peacebuilding, ISS Pretoria

This ISS Today is published as part of the Training for Peace Programme (TfP), which is funded by the government of Norway.

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