SSR and local ownership - policy vs practice

15/05/2017 @ 15:53
by Ronnie Bradford

I was  interested to read and re-read many of the documents relating to Local Ownership, published in this week's Digest. I wrote a Masters dissertation on this subject a few years ago which looked at the particular case of SSR in Somaliland, where I continue to work. But I was disappointed not to find some discussion or advice on the main difficulty of applying the principle of local ownership in practice: if a programme of SSR is genuinely locally-owned (by the authorities and communities of a state which is in need of SSR), it will inevitably differ from many "international norms" and from the ideas of donors or international partners. The locals will have their own views and make their own decisions, so the pace, direction and nature of SSR will be theirs and different. In practice this means:

- Locally-owned SSR is slow, modest, imperfect and individual, evolving as the locals gain in capability and experience, but also perhaps more likely to be sustainable and capable of delivering improved security.

- The right opportunities for the external involvement in SSR are in a supporting and influencing role, with a focus on individual and institutional capacity building to enable the local owners to do their job better. There may be a place for external partners in areas of particular weakness. But decisions on the scale, direction, content and pace of reform must remain in the hands of locals, for locals and according to local conditions and standards – however this may look and feel to donors and partners.

- The value and necessity of programing and M&E in the typical western approach to SSR is dubious. An evolutionary approach, where the locals select the most important areas to improve in iterations, is often sufficiently successful and appropriate to the limited resources and changing circumstances of a fragile state. M&E should also be evolutionary: each small step making the overall security situation better than it was before, in the eyes of the locals. 

Of course, this poses a problem for donors and partners. How many are prepared to indulge locals in running a slow, modest, imperfect and evolutionary programme of SSR, when their own systems of management require clearly defined interventions with specified and scheduled deliverables? Over the last few years I have looked in vain for some discussion on this aspect to which I could contribute and from which I could learn. Any ideas?

Ronnie Bradford

16/05/2017 @ 11:53
by Franziska Ehlert

Dear Ronnie,

Thank you very much for your interesting and thought-provoking response to the latest digest on local ownership. I appreciated your point on the tension between ‘genuine’ local ownership and donors’ and partners’ expectations towards the process. This is an issue of great relevance in my current work on Côte d’Ivoire’s DDR program within the framework of my Master’s thesis. The thought that I would like to share with you on this concerns your notion of a local evolutionary approach, which I think needs to be nuanced: There is probably no such thing as a local evolutionary approach independent of international norms.

Côte d’Ivoire concluded its DDR just two years ago and is now conducting an extensive SSR process that is widely applauded for its good planning and strong local ownership. Indeed, the government has been extremely active to take the lead on both DDR and SSR; the national structures responsible for the processes are directly attached to the presidency and the country is strongly involved financially, as opposed to other countries in which these initiatives are mainly donor-financed.

However, when conducting interviews in Côte d’Ivoire, many civil society actors shared with me that they understood the process to be government-owned rather than locally-owned (a very useful distinction from my perspective), that they were not consulted and that they thought international blue-print approaches had been applied. One example they gave was that many ex-combatants today still possess arms, a problem recognized by a number of actors involved in the country’s DDR. Ex-combatants often were in possession of several weapons, but only handed in some of them. This was in part because they wanted to secure future benefits (thinking that they might be able to participate again at a later point), but mainly because they had no confidence in the process and the fragile peace, especially those who had fought on the side of ex-president Gbagbo. According to Ivorian civil society, the process should therefore have been conducted the other way around: Start with demobilisation and give people a perspective for their lives, only then start talking about disarmament. Their argument was that people would then have understood the process better and turned in all their weapons voluntarily.

When I mentioned this argument to donors and UN personnel, most of them dismissed it right away, arguing that security needed to be restored first through disarmament. Only one of my interviewees said he had in fact witnessed such a reversed process in Afghanistan, where the Pashtuns would not give up their arms for cultural reasons. I realized that in Côte d’Ivoire, it had simply not occurred to people that doing the process differently, for example by reversing its sequences, could generate better outcomes. I therefore think it is useful to approach this discussion through the perspective of cognitive framings, with which I mean the narrative frames and conceptual metaphors in which our brain defines thoughts and words. It generates our perception of reality and influences, among other things, the way we communicate.

Côte d’Ivoire’s current leadership is extremely well familiar with the international system, international standards and ‘thinking’ on peace-building and security-related initiatives – one could say, they have been ‘socialized’ in it. It means that they know what international partners and donors expect, and that this may preclude certain ‘unconventional’ responses because they framed DDR as having to take place in sequences of a particular order, as suggested by international standards.

To finally get back to the local evolutionary approach: I think it is incredibly difficult to distinguish whether a process is what you call “genuinely locally owned” or driven by “international norms”, as even a local evolutionary approach is never exclusively local  due to the exposure of the local populations to the peace-building discourse. I think that we all need to be more strongly aware of the boxes within which we, international donors and partners, and national actors think.

I am highly interested to hear your perspective on this – maybe you had similar (or contradictory?) insights from your research on Somaliland.

17/05/2017 @ 12:46
by Mark Knight

I am going to throw-in a few comments to add to this discussion on SSR and DDR. 

First, on the concept of SSR and how this impacts the understanding of local ownership.  To begin, the two principle actors in our concept of SSR are defined as citizens and the state.  This understanding represents centuries of layered political philosophy, battered by history, that is the foundation assumptions on which SSR is built.  It goes without say that philosophy plus history will result in culturally specific view, but that is a given as the concept of the state and citizen draws its antecedents from ‘western’ political culture.  However, to view SSR as the relationship between the citizens (the many) and the state (the few with the power to compel) precedes nations as a human-group interaction.  By this I imagine that the first cave-man to pick-up a club would have been met with a howl of protest from the wider group of “Hey!  What are you going to do with that?”.  In this imaginary scenario, an agreement would be reach that clubs could be carried but only to hunt animals which would be shared amongst the group; this is pre-history SSR, the agreement between the many and the few on who, how, and when violence can be used for the benefit of the group.

From this slightly tongue-in-cheek example, it is possible to view SSR in its widest perspective as an endless iterative interaction between citizens and the state.  This interaction is constantly defining and re-defining the conditions, characteristics, purpose, and behaviours to ensure that the state’s compulsion is acceptable to the many.  In this view SSR began when someone picked-up a club and is never ending, the social contract being an evolving elastic agreement that is constantly being impacted by context, time, change, and innovations.  The citizen – state agreement on compulsion can be termed the security social contract.  From this view SSR consists of inputs intended to impact the existing security social contract, and can never be said to achieve genuine ‘national ownership’, as in this view the existing situation – security social contract – has been established by the ‘national actors’ and is genuinely nationally owned.  So, what is described as “slow, modest, imperfect and evolutionary”, by Ronnie, can be viewed as the natural evolution of the security social contract, and the genuine national ownership of this process is an element of the ‘problem’ that SSR is designed to impact and potentially solve. 

In summary, to Ronnie’s original question of ‘can SSR donors and international actors ever really allow for genuine national ownership’, my answer is a resounding ‘No’.  Because, as I have tried to argue, the security social contract has evolved and is evolving and is genuinely owned by national actors – the citizens and state.  Any interact with this evolution by an external actor, regardless of motive, cannot achieve ‘national ownership’ as the genuine national ownership constitutes an element of the ‘problem’ that SSR is designed to ameliorate or solve. 

17/05/2017 @ 20:05
by Mark Knight

Second, on the concept and practice of DDR.

In my experience of Disarmament, Demobilisation, and Reintegration programmes it is inevitable that the participants will never fully disarm, that demobilisation is a social and psychological impossibility, and that reintegration is – at best - a misnomer.  In fact, the only useful assistance during DDR comes in the form of cash payments as part of reinsertion assistance (The full and more coherent arguments for this conclusion I will reference at the end of this comment). 

However, I am struck by the comment that the process is “widely applauded” followed by the assertion that civil society are unhappy with the process and the outcomes, which leads inevitably to the question ‘who then is applauding’?  Furthermore, suggestions that an alternate sequencing could have been more effective are dismisses by “arguing that security needed to be restored first through disarmament.”  And yet it is also stated that most ex-combatants are still armed, so it cannot have been ‘disarmament’ that restored security as disarmament didn’t happen.    As I have no additional information on the process in Côte d’Ivoire, nor do I wish to criticise the hard work of those involved in the process, I would only suggest that a range of interests may have aligned around the development, funding and implementation of a DDR programme.  Such a view may answer the question asked previously, ‘who was applauding?’ with the answer being those whose interested were served by the process.

Overall, I would advocate that the DDR concept is jettisoned completely, as even a seemingly radical re-sequencing is in effect simply changing the order in which mistakes are made.  I would suggest that instead of a linear programmatic progression - D to D to R - it is more useful to focus on four themes, that whilst connect can be addresses separately initially until they coalesce at a later stage in the process.  This approach to conceiving a post-conflict security intervention requires a change from a linear programmatic approach, where the illusion of control is maintained, to a process approach where interaction between the four themes is inevitable but unpredictable and uncontrollable.  Such a radically reformulated post-conflict security intervention would consist of four separate, reciprocal, inter-related, and concurrent focus; each requiring a separate provision in a peace agreement.  Within this revised framework, the sequential DDR of fighters and structures is replaced with separate, concurrent, and inter-related focus on (1) Weapons, (2) Structures, and (3) Individuals.  Initiated simultaneously and implemented concurrently is the focus on reforming the state’s security provision, termed (4) Transition of the Security State.  (the full description of this approach is contained in a forthcoming article: reference 1 below). 

References promised above:

  1. Security & Human Rights in Peace Processes: Advising Armed-Insurgents Knight. M.  (2017 forthcoming).
  2. Reversing the Stabilisation Paradigm: Towards an Alternative Approach, Knight. M.  (2016), Stability: International Journal of Security & Development, Centre for Security Governance, Canada.
  3. SSR Post-Conflict Integration Knight. M. (2009): GFN-SSR Helpdesk Query. International Development Department, School of Public Policy, University of Birmingham.
  4. SSR, Democracy & the Social Contract: from implicit to explicit. Knight. M. (2009) Journal of Security Sector Management, Volume 7 Number 1, February 2009.
  5. Expanding the DDR Model: Politics & Organisations.Knight. M (2008) Journal of Security Sector Management, Volume 6 Number 1, March 2008.
  6. Guns, Camps and Cash: Disarmament, Demobilisation & Reinsertion of Former Combatants in Transitions from War to Peace, Knight. M, & Ozerdem. A. (2004) Journal of Peace Research, 41(4), July 2004.
18/05/2017 @ 11:12
by Franziska Ehlert

Dear Mark,

Thank you very much for your interesting contribution to this discussion. I would just like to clarify some things in response. Firstly, on the question “who is applauding?”: Even though this might be a broad generalization, I would say the international community is. The Security Council’s resolution to terminate UNOCI’s mandate in Côte d’Ivoire reads:

“The Security Council, […] welcoming the remarkable progress made by Côte d’Ivoire to achieve lasting peace and stability, as well as economic prosperity, and commending the leadership of the President of Côte d’Ivoire as well as the commitment of all Ivorians in this regard […] commends the crucial progress achieved in pursuing and strengthening national reconciliation and social cohesion” (S/RES/2284 2016).

This reflects the position I have most commonly encountered throughout my research; most representatives of international organizations, bi- or multilateral donors maintained that Côte d’Ivoire’s DDR program was very well planned and that the country is on a good path overall. I think you summed this up well in saying that “a range of interests may have aligned around the development, funding and implementation of a DDR program” – namely a shared interest and understanding between the international actors involved in DDR and the country’s leadership, which seems to stand in contrast to how grassroots actors such as local civil society perceived the process.

With respect to disarmament, you are right to point out the disconnect between the perceived necessity of disarmament to restore security, and the fact that many ex-combatants did not turn in all of their weapons. This, however, does not mean that disarmament did not happen, but that it only happened partially and could have achieved different results had it been approached differently.

I hope this clarifies some of the points you raised. 

21/05/2017 @ 09:39
by Ronnie Bradford

Dear Franziska,


Thank you for your comments.  Your example from Cöte d’Ivoire is an excellent example of how locals might wish to set about things in a different manner to donors and international partners. I take your point that a local view is likely to have been, at least, influenced by international norms and will never be exclusively local. But this does not invalidate the argument that if local ownership is strong and real, the locals are likely to do something different from what international partners might expect – and why not? Consequently, this throws doubt on the validity of much typical western-style intervention and programming: how can a donor set up a multi-year programme with specific outcomes at particular stages, if the locals have effective control?  


In a parallel to your suggestion that DDR in CdI might have been attempted differently, I offer this from Somaliland. After the civil war, Somaliland forged agreement with several militias to form their national army. In additional about 1,000 people went through a DDR programme (supported by GTZ). Some clan militias exist in the more distant parts of the country. Success or failure? It certainly looks different to what an internationally run programme might have attempted (Somaliland being partially neglected by the international community over many years, particularly in contrast to the efforts to support Somali governments based in Mogadishu). The army is too large and has many non-effectives: in part it acts like a welfare state for former fighters, though it is also respected by the population. There there has been no resumption of civil war in over 25 years and attempts continue to draw other militias into the army under similar agreements. Maybe this local owned process scores only half marks, so far – but that is better than many others. This local ownership has largely come about unintentionally, due to the partial neglect of Somaliland by the international community, particularly in its early years. The question is how to not to threaten this local ownership while trying to encourage more SSR.