UNOWAS E-Magazine ISSUE 4: National ownership is a must for the success of the security sector reform in West Africa and the Sahel (July 2017)

National ownership is a must for the success of the security sector reform in West Africa and the Sahel

In the past few decades, countries in West Africa and the Sahel have enacted important and beneficial reforms to improve the performance of their political and economic institutions.

Significant progress has been realized in spite of the persistence of a multitude of challenges. The successive elections that were peacefully held in the sub-region have led to the promotion of new political alternation of power. Just as various ongoing or initiated reforms, such as the security sector reform, have helped improve governance and contributed to the emergence of an environment that is more dynamic at the economic level and more democratic and stable at the political level.     
Indeed, many countries in the region have initiated reforms of their security institutions to make them more professional, efficient and accountable. Moreover, these reforms aimed at establishing an impartial and accessible judicial system, with the objective of laying the foundation of sustainable peace and development. The security sector reform was also to address the expectations of populations seeking protection and justice when facing abuses from institutions or individuals engaged in authoritarian practices not compliant with principles of law.

The various experiences of the security sector reform in countries of West Africa and the Sahel, like elsewhere in the world, are marked by historical and political realities that influence the reform process.

Each country sets up its own security system with its various actors, and defines threats it must face to meet populations’ expectations. The most common threats in the West Africa and Sahel region are organised cross-border crime, illicit drug trafficking, human trafficking, terrorism, piracy and banditry on the high seas and on land. All these threats jeopardize security of individuals in the region and constitute a barrier to individual economic initiatives, development efforts and country stability.

It is critical to highlight how important the role of civil society organisations is in the reform process as their participation guarantees representation and inclusion while contributing to strengthening the control of the security sector governance.

But beyond the necessity to reform the security sector, it is vital that States and populations be a driving force in reform processes. Without the commitment of state and non-state actors at the regional and national levels, as well as the clearly expressed political will of government authorities, plans and programs implemented to carry out the security sector reform will not produce results.

With the assistance of regional and international partners, but mostly supported by strong political commitment, countries in the region have successfully launched the reform of their security sector and realized extraordinary progress.

The experience of Sierra Leone is significant and provides a good example of the importance of leadership and national ownership of the security sector reform process which allowed – by itself alone – to consolidate peace. There is no doubt that the Sierra Leone experience is an example that should be followed by other countries committed to the same type of reform.

Major countries like Liberia, Guinea, Ivory Coast, Burkina, Mali or Gambia, to name only a few, have initiated reforms of their security sector that will be key to their stability and that of the region.

The security sector reform remains a cornerstone for stability and development. We – regional, national and international actors – must continue to support countries in the region in their endeavour to reform the security sector which will pave the way for populations’ access to the rule of law and prosperity.
This is the purpose of the regional commitment of UNOWAS through its support of the ECOWAS reform of the security sector and governance, and through its continued support of the capacity-building of leadership and the national ownership of reforms.

Ms. Hiroute Guebre Sellassie
Deputy Special Representative of the United Nations Secretary-General for West Africa and the Sahel (DSRSG)