Africa at Center of Council’s Debate on Security Sector Reform

On October 12, 2011, the UN Security Council held its first debate on security sector reform (SSR) since 2007. The debate, chaired by the Nigerian Foreign Minister, resulted in a Presidential Statement offering broad support by member states to the UN principles and approach to SSR as previously laid out in the 2008 UN Secretary-General’s report.

In addition to reaffirming that security sector reform is at the cornerstone of peace and sustainable development, member states noted that the bulk of the international community’s assistance on SSR is directed to countries in Africa. Out of 11 UN missions mandated with SSR, 10 are in Africa. It was also noted that a number of African countries are becoming important providers of SSR assistance, in addition to being major troop- and police-contributing countries to peacekeeping missions.

The Security Council requested that the Secretary-General submit, by early 2013, an assessment of the UN support for SSR—including those efforts in Africa—and make recommendations on how to best strengthen the UN comprehensive approach to SSR.

The key conclusions of the debate were:

– National ownership and political will are prerequisites for SSR efforts to be both legitimate and sustainable; SSR are long-term processes and should not be driven by donors;

– Regional and sub-regional frameworks should be a foundation for multilateral SSR efforts, and the finalization of an African Union (AU) SSR policy framework is an important step;

– The Peacebuilding Commission (PBC) should encourage coordination and coherence of SSR efforts in countries on its agenda;

– SSR can be an important conflict prevention and socioeconomic development tool, and should be situated within the broader and more comprehensive spectrum of peacebuilding.


An African Security Council president—Nigeria—taking the lead in organizing this high-level Council debate on SSR should be welcome. However, this should not come as a surprise, as Africa is no newcomer to the field of SSR, and many African countries (South Africa, Nigeria, Algeria, Angola, to name a few) have provided SSR support to fellow African states on a bilateral basis for some time, often with less visibility than traditional Western donors in the field of SSR. During the debate, Nigeria insisted that South-South cooperation should be encouraged in the spirit of the CIVCAP Review, and this was seconded by India, suggesting that the UN should, in the future, call on member states for civilian expertise in all SSR areas and not only for uniformed personnel.

What is newer is the elaboration of an African approach to SSR. The African Union (AU) SSR policy framework, which was developed in partnership with the UN and should be approved at the January 2012 AU summit, will be a milestone. Nigeria and South Africa, with facilitation support from the UN SSR Unit and financial support from the Netherlands, had jointly organized in May 2010 a High-Level Forum on African Perspectives on SSR which highlighted the significance of this AU SSR policy as an integral part of the African Peace and Security Architecture (APSA).

Beyond the AU, subregional organizations like West Africa’s ECOWAS are further strengthening their security sector governance policies. A major challenge will be to operationalize these frameworks and fund the implementation of concrete plans of action, with a focus on national ownership and complementarity between the UN, regional and subregional organizations. After all, SSR is still quite a new area of work for the UN  (the interagency SSR task force was developed in 2007 and the UN SSR Unit established in 2009), and this may be an opportunity for more coherence, at least on the policy side.

A major challenge for the future of UN support for SSR comes from the inherent tension between the mainly state-centric approach of the UN (an intergovernmental body) and the need for greater focus on the citizens of these countries, as well as the need to capture the role of informal security providers.  While the US and the UK recognized during the debate the fact that the current approach to SSR is too narrow and should take into account the voice and needs of the citizens, these were minority voices, as most of the member states focused their interventions on the importance of sovereignty and national ownership.  In that regard, the AU SSR Policy Framework puts a greater focus on human security than the current UN approach, but this will have to be verified in practice.

Finally, the debate on SSR entitled “Maintenance of International Peace and Security,” discussed SSR as part of a continuum between conflict prevention and peacebuilding. However, there was only limited mention of the important conflict prevention role SSR can play, and there was scant mention of the Arab Spring and the role of security forces in recent events in Tunisia and Egypt. On a different note, the US brought up the need for what they called “maritime SSR” to tackle issues of piracy and trafficking. These are some of the many challenges the Secretary-General will be expected to address in its 2013 report on SSR.

About the photo: Member of African Union Special Task Force (AUSTF) with Burundian National Police in Bujumbura, December 2009. Photo by Arthur Boutellis.