Capacity and accountability in the military: some examples from the SSD-program, Burundi


In April 2009 the Dutch and the Burundian government signed a Memorandum of Understanding(MoU) concerning the professionalization of the police and army following SSR principles (later called: the Security Sector Development program: SSD). Although the situation in Burundi since 2015 has deteriorated significantly, this does not mean that all programs and projects executed in Burundi in the previous years have failed. This is certainly not the case of the SSD-program. There are good examples in the program of how the participating Dutch military tried to balance the reinforcement of capacity and the reinforcement of accountability and integrity.

Entry points

The SSD-program is divided into four phases of two years. From the beginning on it was decided that the first phase would be “SSR-light”. This phase was used to gain a certain status as partner country so that the program could introduce gradually the more sensitive issues and become more focused on strategic planning instead of solving the day to day, often post-conflict, challenges.

The program has three pillars: Governance, Police, and Army. The Army pillar consisted of Burundian military project-managers and was reinforced by a Dutch army officer, who acted as team leader during the 1st phase and became coach of the team in the 2nd phase.

Although the first phase was more train and equip oriented than the second phase, the first phase implicitly tried to combine capacity and accountability. Accountability is part of military daily life. It is so common that we do not see it. For example one of the projects was the delivery of cooking kettles for the kitchens, which had been constructed by UNDP but there was no budget for equipping them. The project delivered the necessary cooking kettles and introduced a system of maintaining them and how to control regularly the maintenance of the kettles and the presence of the linked kitchen equipment.

The SSD-program delivered also medium-sized trucks. The truck project foresaw the delivery of spare-parts. Spare-parts have a certain financial values, certainly the more exchangeable ones like tires, mirrors, batteries and filters. The program introduced a system of how to manage spare-parts and how to control the use of spare-parts. Through this project, the larger SSD program was able to propose a more profound project concerning the organization and management of the maintenance and repair unit of the Burundian army. This project was monitored and assisted by two additional Dutch military and reinforced the oversight and control of the maintenance and repair organization. Unfortunately the turn in political circumstances in Spring 2015 prevented the continuation of the project but the plan was that this project should become the pilot project of the entire logistical organization of the Burundian army.

Before the MoU was signed one of the PBF-projects was the project “Moralisation”. Despite the awkward name, its contents was extremely important: it concerned the revival of the lost norms and values of the Burundian army. The SSD-program continued this project and recalled it: “Military Ethics”. The project started by training 12 Burundian officers for two months. The training was executed by two additional Dutch army officers (one legal and one psychologist). They trained Burundian officers so that they could become the trainers of the Burundian army. There was an exam at the end, which only one officer failed and he was not to become a Military Ethics trainer.


After the training, the program facilitated Military Ethics training throughout the whole Burundian army resulting in some 2500 officers trained. In the meantime the trainers wrote the Manual on Military Ethics including some 25 cases which could be used in training. The manual was accepted and became a formal manual of the Burundian army. The program was asked to deliver a two-day training to all Burundian military going on mission to Somalia and Central African Republic. For years the Burundian army received positive remarks from the Somalian civil society on their behavior. The project continued in the 2nd phase leading to the first “Open doors of the Army” in Burundian history. For people in Europe this is something which happens on a yearly base but people who know Burundi or who are used to work in fragile states understand the value of this enormous breakthrough.  

The situation in Burundi as of Summer 2015 is very tense and there is an increasing number of casualties. In the media, the police is often blamed for using disproportional force or lethal force without sufficient reason. In the same media, the army has been mentioned as being more professional and moderate in their behavior. This illustrates a continued positive outcome of the efforts done within the “Military Ethics” project.

Lessons Identified

The progress made does not mean that every member of the Burundian army always performed well. There was a criminal case in Somalia in which Burundian military are said to be involved in Cibitoke-province in 2014. However, things would have been worse if the DSS-program had not conducted the “Military Ethics” project.

Comparisons judging the performance of an army of a post-conflict state only against internationally accepted norms and values are often made too soon. Consideration should be given to where this army comes from and what the context is. This is not the same as accepting the abuse of force. On the contrary, evidence of improvement in the functioning of command and control, including internal investigations and disciplinary action, are evidence of progress in governance and denouncing impunity.

The military can significantly contribute to the reinforcement of accountability and integrity, which will lead to more professional behavior of armed forces in other countries. Reinforcing accountability sounds more complex than it is: it starts at the operational level and is not always that difficult to introduce as it concerns the daily life of every member of the armed forces.

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