The SSR, a pilar for peace and stability in West Africa and the Sahel
Today, West Africa and the Sahel region is considered to be one of the main regions on the African continent to make significant progress in the area of security sector reform. Both at the policy and national levels.
Countries in the region have initiated processes aiming at transforming their security sector into democratically governed institutions in line with the rule of law and human rights principles
During the past decades a number of countries in the West Africa region experienced conflicts, political turmoil and instability. In order to address the security challenges and to resolve conflicts, some countries like Sierra Leone, Liberia, Guinea, Burkina Faso and The Gambia have initiated processes aiming at transforming their security sector into democratically governed institutions in line with the rule of law and human rights principles. In June 2016, the Heads of States of the Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS) adopted a policy framework on security sector reform and governance (SSRG) which is in coherence with the African Union as well as the UN SSR policies. ECOWAS is currently in the process of disseminating the policy throughout the region for better ownership and operationalisation.
While the regional policy was being developed by ECOWAS, security sector reform processes were initiated and implemented at national levels.
Sierra Leone for example, is often cited as one of the countries, which after 11 years long civil war, conducted a successful security sector reform process. Such endeavour contributed to consolidate peace and have since 2005, after the departure of the United Nations Peacekeeping Mission, prevented the country to relapse into conflict. During the past decade, Sierra Leone comprehensively transformed its security structures including those providing, governing, overseeing and managing security related issues.
In Guinea, after a long period under dictatorial and military rules marred with political instability and repeated military coups, the country elected democratically a new President in for first time in 2010. The new leadership embarked the country into a security sector reform process. Before then, the security sector was characterized by disorganization, confusion of roles on the ground, lack of civilian control, lack of means and efficiency, and the judicial system was dysfunctional while violations of human rights were rampant. This posed a real threat to the security of the people. The first years of the reform process helped clarify the roles and responsibilities of the defence and security forces, and allowed the armed forces to return into barracks. Since then, the military has not sought its way back into power. Nevertheless, much progress needs to be done concerning the management and behaviour of law enforcement agencies especially when it comes to conduct crowd control.
In Burkina Faso after the popular uprising of 2014 that led to the first democratic elections, the new President Roch Marc Christian Kaboré requested the United Nations support to initiate the reform of the security sector. Given the challenges faced during the previous regime and the role played by the military, the national authorities have taken actions in view of conducting a reform process that will lead to the depoliticisation and professionalization of the defence and security forces, as well as their submission to civilian democratic control and the rule of law.
In The Gambia, after 22 years of military rule by the former President Yaya Jammeh, the country is confronted with the challenge to build the foundations of long-term peace and development. The new dispensation that came to power in February 2017 is facing a high level of distrust in the national armed forces, the police and other security actors in ensuring the security of the state and the people. Going forward, the government’s priority would be to carry out urgent reforms of the security sector including defence, police, justice, corrections, judiciary, border management and customs with a focus on cross-border cooperation between The Gambia, Senegal and Guinea-Bissau, as well as relevant commissions within the parliament and independent oversight actors and civil society organisations. Such reform will take into consideration the security needs of the population in order to restore confidence that will facilitate the consolidation of the embryonic democratic system.