Balancing Accountability and Effectiveness

Good governance of the security sector is a key enabler for wider progress. Accountability in security and justice provision is related to protection from abuses, the ability for citizens to seek redress and hold providers accountable, and to the responsiveness and accessibility of provision itself. Accountability helps build the confidence and legitimacy needed to overcome societal mistrust in violence-affected countries. 

A tendency exists to confuse the value of an SSR programme with its cost, meaning that more is expected of expensive SSR support aimed at effective security institutions than of comparatively less costly governance-focussed activities. However, sustainability of training and building capacity largely rests on functioning checks and balances, and a suitable mix of internal control and external oversight mechanisms. A 2016 mapping of SSR support in Mali is revealing in this sense: about 80% of international SSR support in the country is for train and equip, while barely 20% of support cover accountability and governance aspects.

The challenges, ISSAT's Governing Board Members still struggle with, hindering SSG/R from effectively balancing effectiveness and accountability, inlcude issues such as: 

  • How to engage on accountability and governance issues when the context does not yet allow programmatic engagement?
  • What is the value-added of focusing on accountability and governance, when the most immediate needs post-conflict are linked to capacity building and effectivenss?
  • How to engage on accountability and governance when state institutions do not give priority to this aspect or consider it to be an area closed to donor support?

In the below section, ISSAT identifies some lessons or key takeaways from current SSG/R programming which could provide positive examples or guidance to donors as they grapple with the above challenges.

Lesson 1: When the context is not ready for accountability reforms, invest in strong initial assessments which provide evidence of the need for accountability and governance reforms.

Lesson 2: Focusing on accountability and governance reforms supports peacebuilding in post-conflict settings.

Lesson 3: Local ownership and community participation in accountability is a good channel for achieving better oversight of security institutions

Selected Resources

Lesson 1: Strong initial assessments can provide evidence of the requirement for accountability to support effective reforms

Effectiveness comes from a holistic balance with issues of governance, accountability, and integrity. Governance within the security forces is key (to generating a coherent force with the will to face major security challenges and to being able to deal with breaches of conduct at the point of breach). Focusing on effectiveness alone comes at the expense of accountability that cannot keep up with new equipment, systems and practices. To avoid the pitfalls of ungoverned and unaccountable train and equip measures, a thorough and joint assessment on capacity and integrity of forces can help manage any potential SSR programme.


  • The Netherlands DSS-Programme in Burundi illustrated both a long-term commitment with flexible short-term joint objective setting, and a strong link to governance within the security forces. The Baseline Study of the Burundian Security Sector referenced four main priorities: greater clarity on the roles and responsibilities of the police and military; a stronger focus on corruption and human rights violations; improving internal oversight; and strengthening political leadership to move the change process into the next phase. Whilst the programme has been cut short by political circumstances, the programme’s many exemplary facets remain instructive. Nicole Ball’s report Putting the Governance back in SSR, and the DCAF-ISSAT evaluation of the second phase of the DSS programme both highlight governance and sustainability, and the reports themselves illustrate the type of evidence-gathering needed to inform lessons and good practice.
  • European Union (EU) engagement in Mali has demonstrated potential avenues for cultivating good governance practices as well as balancing accountability and effectiveness of the security sector. Since the outbreak of the 2012 crisis, the EU has mainly been active in providing training and equipment to enhance the effectiveness of the Malian security forces. It has then more recently bolstered its support to governance and accountability mechanisms within these forces based on segment-specific initial assessments (given that these are related to CSDP Missions, they are not available in the public domain). In addition to providing basic, technical trainings and equipment for security forces, the EU Training Mission (EUTM) and the EU Capacity Building Mission (EUCAP) have incorporated trainings on leadership, ethics, human rights and international humanitarian law as well as provided administrative trainings on human resources, logistic support and oversight and auditing. Efforts have additionally incorporated the ministerial level with a number of support activities targeted towards internal control and accountability mechanisms. For example, EUCAP is working towards strengthening the internal security by actioning the recommendations from the “Audit de l'inspection générale de la gendarmerie malienne,” and the “Audit de l'inspection générale du ministère de la sécurité publique”. EUCAP and EUTM have jointly tried to implement lessons by implementing the EU Comprehensive Approach through tighter collaboration with other EU instruments. One example is the collaboration between the European Commission (through the Intstrument constributing to Stability and Peace-IcSP) and EUCAP on community policing. The IcSP is providing funding and project management experience, while EUCAP provides the technical expertise. Additionally, the EU is providing direct budget support to the Malian authorities, part of which is to support SSR. The disbursement of the funding is tied to internal control and accountability indicators, thereby providing political leverage that can help cultivate accountability mechanisms.
  • The EU SSR mission (EUSEC) in the DRC illustrates how troop effectiveness comes not only from training on equipment, but also from wider issues of working and living conditions which contributed to low morale, corruption, looting and absenteeism. An initial assessment of the capacity of the armed forces of the DRC identified that (among other things) a scattered and opaque information collection system was leading to issues of non-payment and/or poor salaries to troops, contributing to instances of misdemeanour, poor work ethics, and opportunities for corruption. The EUSEC chain of payment project which resulted from the assessment took an entry point of eliminating ghost soldiers to look at wider issues of chain of payment governance and budgetary allocation. The elimination of ghost workers from the payroll eventually allowed for salaries of troops to be raised using existing budget allocations previously allocated to ghost soldiers. In turn, this improved troop morale but also reduced the dependence of troops on illegal activities for subsistence. The project helped improve not only governance and accountability within the armed forces of the DRC, but also the effectiveness of troops.

Lesson 2: Focusing on accountability supports more sustainable peacebuilding processes

Sustainability of any measure undertaken needs to be built in from the start, and this will require long term commitments, building in flexibility, and a system of nationally owned objectives. It will require ensuring that organizational and behavioural change takes place at a number of different levels and in the right order. Starting with train and equip without looking at political engagement, regulatory frameworks, any organizational development will have negative consequences downstream. Evidencing and sharing lessons has been poor in train and equip programmes. SSR should insist on all programmes being monitored, evaluated, and lessons shared with a wide audience.


  • A New Zealand-supported community policing project in post-conflict Bougainville, an autonomous region of Papua New Guinea, provided an innovative and socially embedded policing initiative as part of the political architecture of the 2001 peace agreement. The project supported a community auxiliary police scheme with sworn police officers, whose role extended beyond policing to include mediation, working with traditional leaders, and supporting community governance mechanisms. This approach proved effective and sustainable because it paid attention to the multiple actors involved in policing activities and dispute resolution in a region with high levels of legal and normative pluralism, and also engaged with non-state providers of policing and justice services. Thus, the project was attuned to hybrid local justice and security practices. The auxiliary police operated within prevailing local conceptions of authority and approaches to dispute resolution, as well as with Bougainville’s nascent local-level government system, linking the authority of the State with that of local social systems.
  • While the South African security sector is not without problems, the transformation of the sector, which took place in the first decade following the end of apartheid, includes notable examples of a well-balanced, sequenced and inclusive transformation process in a fragile context. The reforms in the defence sector are widely cited as significantly contributing to improving both the effectiveness and accountability of the defence forces while ensuring that security sector actors are a source of stability in the process of democratization. Most notably the reform process was structured around four key goals, as outlined in the 1996 Defence White Paper, and modernization and effectiveness remained only one of the pillars of reform rather than a defining characteristic. The goals included:
    • Integration and representativity
    • Civil Control over Defense
    • Improved international and regional defence cooperation
    • The provision of a modern, effective, affordable and accountable defence

One of the landmark characteristics of the defence transformation in South Africa was the inclusion of a broader definition of defence and security in the aforementioned White Paper. In this regard, the definition focused on human security and a people centred approach to the operations and mandate of the security forces rather than the classic state centric approach which predominated under apartheid. This enabled the reform process to ensure that the new security forces were right sized, commensurate to the need of ensuring primarily security from external threats, and more affordable (thus also sustainable). Training of new recruits took place alongside key reforms of the management, planning, and oversight mechanisms of the security forces. New equipment was purchased only after the structures and personnel of the new armed forces was in place and was deemed as accountable, representative and integrated. In this regard, by 1999 South Africa had purchased some of the most modern and advanced technology and combat platforms available. One of the key and defining characteristics of the South African defence transformation was that it was locally led and driven, with South Africans from both the previous regime and the African National Congress (ANC) managing and leading the full process from the onset. This includes defining the vision (Defence White Paper from 1996) to allocating budget.

  • The reform of the armed forces and police in Slovakia shows how the NATO Planning and Review Process (PARP) for interoperability with NATO goes far beyond train and equip, using a regular system of assessment to look at governance and accountability not only of the armed forces and police services, but also the judiciary, public financial management, the intelligence services, and civil democratic control. Furthermore, the NATO Membership Action Plan (MAP) is a programme of advice, assistance and practical support tailored to the individual needs of countries wishing to join the Alliance. Broader than the PARP, it also includes aspects of civilian control of armed forces dimensions. Following the implementation of the MAP, Slovakia has been a member of NATO since 2004.

Lesson 3: Local ownership and community participation in accountability is a good way of achieving better oversight of security institutions

Engagement with civil society on security matters is an essential part of a meaningful dialogue around security sector governance. Indeed, the singular importance of civil society actors in promoting SSR and contributing to its momentum suggests these actors should have a role from early stages of SSR. Through increased public dialogue, security is demystified, reducing fear and mistrust, and the security organisations are linked with their community. When a broad constituency of actors is engaged, they create bridges across different branches of government, the security sector, civil society and media. Inclusive national security policy processes create shared understanding of the roles and responsibilities of different security actors. Civil society bodies are a core component of external oversight of security organisations. They can give feedback on policy development and implementation and promote public awareness and debate of security issues.


  • Local Police Partnership Boards (LPPBs), Sierra Leone: Established by the Sierra Leone Police (SLP) following the collapse of the country in the 1990s, Local Police Partnership Boards have proven themselves a transformative instrument in increasing trust, participation, and successful policing under the banner of “local needs’ policing.”
  • Community Safety Partnerships (CSPs), Nigeria: Community Safety Partnerships have been a measure of preventing, reducing and containing the social and environmental intimidation. Threats of a social and environmental nature impacts the quality of people's lives, damages the social fabric and trust within a community, and put a burden on policing services. Community Safety Partnerships have delivered local solutions to local problems by working with local people to establish institutional and organisational coordination and implementing mechanisms.
  • The Philippines: The "Bantay Bayanihan" Forum: Building on a decade of capacity building training programmes and joint programming for the military and civil society in the Philippines, a novel initiative created a permanent forum for civil society-military-police coordination and civil society oversight of the security sector. Launched in 2011, the Bantay Bayanihan forum institutionalized the goodwill that began with the 2010 formulation of the Internal Peace and Security Plan (IPSP) that included strong participation from civil society groups.
  • One-party rule in Taiwan ended with the election of Chen Shui-Bian as president in 2000. Despite military resistance and political challenges, by structuring a civilian role in Taiwan’s defence policy, Chen oversaw a sharp increase in the number of non-military personnel in the defence ministry and the creation of new opportunities for civilian influence over defence policy and oversight.
  • The reform of the armed forces and police in Senegal shows a very high degree of national ownership, looks at issues of command and control, leadership and integrity, all while facing an ongoing conflict in the south. One of the few countries in Western Africa never to suffer a coup d’état, Senegal shows a level of sustainable reform that is enviable in the region.

For information on a related issue, see also Policing Nigeria: A case for partnership between formal and informal police institutions.

  • A two-part study of Indonesia details how a group of reform-minded military leaders and a civil society organization played vital roles in redefining the relationship between the armed forces and civilian government after three decades of military rule.
  • Chile restructured its defence ministry and hired civilians to manage tasks long controlled by military officers, twenty years after the fall of Augusto Pinochet's military regime, marking a change in the relationship between the armed forces and government.
  • Croatia rethinks national defence: Five years after the end of Croatia's war for independence, a new government battled opposition from conservative members of the armed forces to introduce civilian oversight, downsize a bloated post-war military, and prepare their country for membership in NATO and the EU, which took place in 2009 and 2013 respectively.
  • In terms of bottom-up accountability, Ecuador provides the legal and institutional frameworks for increased citizen participation in governance. There are citizen observatories known as Veedurias, which allow citizens to form oversight groups to monitor the implementation of government programs including the National Security Strategy and citizen security at the different governance levels. In the same context, local municipal governments have the obligation to create local municipal security councils or MSC. The participants of the MSC include the mayor, head police officials, judge and prosecutors, civil society, health officials, and other actors such as oil companies. These MSC are also meant to provide some civilian accountability of the security providers, including police. There is an annual process for all government entities to “rendir cuentas” or be accountable to the public via a report on programme implementation and fiscal management.