In this eight minute abridged video, Ferdinand von Habsburg-Lothringen, a former strategic advisor to the United Nations Development Programme in South Sudan, shares his experiences on the dilemmas encountered in assessing existing capacity and identifying gaps when implementing Security Sector Reform in South Sudan. He discusses the process and challenges of implementing SSR strategies in a newly formed state and provides advice to those going out to the demanding and delicate role of advising. The full video of this interview can be found here.
It’s a tug of war.
Obviously what you put in the course of a structured capacity development approach, is one thing, what you provide outside of that, one-on-one, is another thing. And I think that goes back to what I was saying, is that you get some advisors who come in and present this kind of formal and kind of classroom style, and then pull out and say : "Ah, my job is done. My terms of references, I have put the ticks in all the boxes", against those who will conduct very formalised training but will also put in efforts outside of that on a day-to-day, one-on-one basis to help people who really are struggling with who they are, how they fit into an organisation, or not, variably it's not, they feel very uncomfortable, they feel out of their depth, they feel embarrassed and ashamed of their lack of knowledge. Particularly if there are people from diaspora who come in and show them up, as it variably happens, and thus the discomfort. But also very much because the other ilk, the other type of advisor who doesn’t empathise, is not really well-suited to the environment, they make people feel that they are inadequate. And the type of advisor I am talking about is the one who will recognise the symptoms, the gaps in somebody’s knowledge just by nature of having a chat with them over a tea or coffee or whatever, and saying : "I can hear you, you seem to be having some issues with this. I can help you with this." So somebody who has a much broader portfolio than just that technical area, but who might actually take time off and say : "You know what, I’ll come and help you open up a spreadsheet. I’ll come and help you draft a ministerial letter. I’ll come and help you look at some of these words that you seem to be having a problem with." Not doing it in public, just in private, so that that person actually feels like they are moving up a notch in terms of their personal capacities, not just their technical capacities, and I think that is a very, very big issue in post-conflict settings. You have a lot of people who are really grappling and who, if they are not elevated or assisted, to raise their level of engagement up a notch, will end up sitting back at their desk and becoming dysfunctional, possibly combative. You will lack the cooperation you need, and so will everybody else that is trying to engage with that individual. So I think there is a very real sense that it has to go way, way beyond the portfolio.
And so, in a sense it is challenging, because a lot of people don’t want to put that time in, they don’t feel, it’s exhausting because it goes way beyond office-hours. But I have seen that what pays off is that approach. And that seems to engender, builds confidence, to a degree that people then say : "You know what, I can do this on my own." Because it's more than just that technical issue, I feel more confident about myself. So I think that is where one ends and the other kind of takes off, in a way. Individuals are looking for more than what we offer them. They are looking to get out of that sense of "I am inadequate and I can’t do this job, and I am inadequate in the eyes of the others in the office, as well as in the eyes of the international community who come in and clearly seem to be mocking me." Those are residual issues in terms of people who have been feeling at the bottom of the pyramid, who are coming up and are in positions of authority. And so we have to try to work with that as well. And that I think helps us to then move to a step where we can say : "You seem to be very comfortable with where you are, who you are, and you are able to grasp some of these issues that I am coming in and trying to share with you and therefore in a way then the job is done" and then we can say "We can move away". But I have noticed that the time frame that we are talking about is not weeks or months but we are talking years and a minimum would be two years. That’s the absolute minimum in terms of, if we are talking about capacity development on complex issues with people who have come out of conflict, sometimes very protractive conflict, we need to be engaging with them for a minimum of two years, if possible three, what’s possible for that individual. What it does is that it builds a personal rapport between that individual, between the advisor and those whom he or she is engaging with. And that tends to build the confidence, the personal confidence. The risk is : the international community comes in, leaves after six months and there is a high turnover. What we are trying to do is NOT have that, is to build up a sense of personal rapport so that the transfer of information and knowledge is much much easier.
I would say : "Have lots of different versions of an approach". Obviously based on that you may not know who your audience is going to be until you get into that setting. But to have, I suppose materials for different levels of audiences. And to be able to find a way to mix-and-match those. I think that would be one. You would have a nice pocket full of tools that you can use. I would say definitely be aware and be able to recognise signs of trauma and symptoms of conflict within the groups that you are working with within the country, within those particular audiences that you are addressing. Try to understand the context before you get there. And that doesn’t just mean reading up on a one-page brief, that means delving into books and asking for advice on what kind of things you should be reading to make you understand the complexities, and there will always be complexities, and then I think, just making yourself approachable, which is not always easy for a lot of people they feel that it is very technical, it's very clinical, it's very easy, 1-2-3, A-B-C. But finding a way to stretch yourself to adapt and to make yourself palatable to others, particularly those that you will find are struggling with their identity, with being in groups in environments which is not necessarily their environment. So finding a way to break your own barrier down, so that you can be accessible and find yourself getting, gaining access. To me those would be the fundamental building blocks of any, besides your own technical competence of course and everything that comes with that, but for me these would be the fundamental building blocks of getting a good capacity development process.