Burundi: Civil Society Consultation and Oversight in SSR/D

The Burundian SSR/D process is unique for several reasons. The Arusha Accord’s attention to the ethnic balance of the Burundi security forces in the years following the civil war may have displaced needed attention to security governance, as evidenced by renewed fighting and frequent accusations against the police of human rights abuses. As part of the SSR/D process, the Burundian Defence Review included three pillars to assess the military, police, and the crosscutting theme of security sector governance. Unlike most train and equip-type SSR/D efforts, this programme gave more attention to local governance and the process of how local institutions earned public legitimacy through open, transparent, and inclusive processes. The military pillar, for example, included a UN Peacebuilding Fund project in strengthening military ethics and discipline through a “moralization” training for the military to improve the morality and behaviour of security personnel that could then improve the civil-military relationship. The overall purpose of the Defence Review was to identify diverse stakeholder’s security needs and perceptions through a participatory security assessment process. The process emphasized the diverse roles and the “matrix of responsibilities” of different stakeholders.

The “security governance pillar” focused on national ownership of the Defence Review process. The review assessed parliamentary roles and responsibilities for overseeing the security sector, to ensure it represented citizen’s interests. It also provided space and funding for civil society consultation, participation and oversight in security governance.

When the Defence Review began, tensions were high between civil society, the government, and the security sector, especially the police. In 2009, a civil society leader fighting government corruption was assassinated. The Ministry of the Interior and the Ministry of Intelligence denounced and threatened civil society, requiring all CSOs to obtain permission to hold public meetings and de-registering the main Burundian CSO network, the Forum for Strengthening the Civil Society (FORSC), until pressured to reverse the decision.[62] Early in the program, military leaders and some Parliamentarians objected to having civilians involved in discussing security and strongly opposed civil society oversight or monitoring of the security sector. Through the Defence Review process, multi-stakeholder security dialogue led by skilled facilitators, built trust and appreciation that diverse civil society stakeholders held legitimate roles and responsibilities in security sector governance.

The Defence Review set up a Governance Advisory Group and chose two Burundian civil society organizations with experience on peace and security issues Conflict Alert and Prevention Centre (CENAP) and the Centre des Femmes pour la Paix/Women’s Centre for Peace (CFP/WPC) to participate. The Governance Advisory Group played a variety of roles, from guidance and advice on programme activities, to evaluating the impact of activities, coordinating and overseeing the security governance in the entire SSD program.

As part of its role in the Defence Review, CENAP structured wide public consultation to support the SSR/D process.[63] With experience in conflict assessment and early warning, CENAP already had a positive track record on security issues. CENAP collected views of what was needed to create long-term peace from a representative sample of the Burundian population through focus groups, interviews, audio-visual sessions, and national forums. CENAP facilitated consultations with diverse local civil society organizations, women, youth, refugees, religious leaders, students, media, political parties and demobilized soldiers, CENAP organized dialogue groups in both rural and urban areas as well as national task forces on four identified challenges: illegal circulation of weapons; poverty and unemployment; attitudes during elections; and transitional justice and reconciliation. The consultations with diverse segments of Burundi society documented that people of different regions, classes and ethnic identities had different security challenges.[64] Research documented that most security threats did not have a military solution, highlighting the roles and responsibilities of other stakeholders.

The CFP/WPC supported consultation with women and girls, include female ex-combatants to ensure the public consultation was gender sensitive and included advocacy for women’s rights and the involvement of Burundian women in the peace and reconciliation process, particularly in light of UN resolution 1325’s mandate for women’s involvement in peace processes. CFP and CENAP also contributed in mobilization of civil society, including those of women and youth, to get understand security sector reform and on their role in supporting peace consolidation.

An example illustrates how civil society participated in SSR. Military and police units began hosting “open days” where the public could visit non-sensitive sites to dialogue with and improve relationships and understanding. On one military open day, civil society representatives from human rights and women’s organizations worked together with military officers to evaluate different military units as they demonstrated how they would protect a village from a rebel attack in an“ethics competition.” The participating military units with the highest rating won a prize and public recognition.[65] This exercise marked a new milestone in Burundian civil society oversight of the security sector.

Excerpt from the book Local Ownership in Security: Case Studies of Peacebuilding Approaches edited by Lisa Schirch with Deborah Mancini-Griffoli and published by The Alliance for Peacebuilding, The Global Partnership for the Prevention of Armed Conflict, and the Kroc Institute for International Peace Studies at the University of Notre Dame.


[62] Brigette Butt. Evaluation of Burundian Peacebuilding Programme. Interpeace, May 2010. p. 13.

[63] See Willy Nindorera. Security Sector Reform in Burundi: Issues and Challenges for Improving Civilian Protection. CENAP and North-South Institute. July 2007.

[64] Burundi Defence Review: Lessons Learned. Conflict, Security and Development Research Group (CSDRG), Department of War Studies, King’s College London in collaboration with the Institute of Economic Development in Burundi (IDEC). June 2014. P. 43.

[65] Found originally in Nicole Ball, Putting governance at the heart of security sector reform: Lessons from the Burundi-Netherlands Security Sector Development Programme. Netherlands Institute of International Relations Clingendael. March 2014. P. 41.