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

21/05/2017 @ 10:08
by Ronnie Bradford

Dear Mark,


Thank you for your interesting additions to this forum. I take your point that SSR is basically a review of the contract between the citizens and the state and, if local ownership is effective, it is hard for donors and international partners to intervene. I don’t agree that there is no place for donors and international partners. Certainly the way in which many do so now appears to be opposed effective local ownership: a pre-planned programme of specific actions and results is hardly compatible with local decisions, some of which may be “learning by doing”. But external actors can assist by advice, support and training – preferably being aware of the need to allow plenty of room and time for local ownership.


Your suggestion of a revised framework of four activities to replace DDR might allow greater local flexibility in this respect. Though I suggest that it might help to let the locals choose which and how many activities they would wish to address, and in which order. They may identify and group their key problems differently. For example, in Somaliland, most major weapons were brought under the control of the Army when the main militias combined. This leaves a problem of what the army is now to do with an excess of useless items (which it controls but originated from the militias) which might be resolved once the older personnel leave service. There is an excess of small arms beyond state control, but discussions continue on how this might be gradually reduced. There are too many military personnel who are too old/infirm (the same situation occurs in all parts of government) which is a waste of defence funds (though it provides the equivalent of welfare) and hinders reorganisation and recruitment. This issue is also being addressed. But the order and way in which these various issues are tackled should be the responsibility of the locals – again with donors and partners providing careful and limited support.


My concern is over the way in which most donors and international partners approach their SSR and similar interventions. By “knowing best” they set up programmes which direct what the locals are to do to achieve the “required” result. A more humble approach, involving the locals defining their priorities and preferred results and allowing for “learning by doing”, might be more productive, if much harder to sell and explain to western management. 

22/05/2017 @ 11:50
by Bettina Kircher

Dear contributors to the community of practice,

I would like to pick up the case of Ivory Coast mentioned above as an example of how complex and inter-dependent a myriad of factors are that can play towards the operationalization of national ownership of political reform processes.

A brief recap of the last 15 years:

After the Coup d’État in 2002 which split the country in the rebel-controlled North and the Government-loyal South, two failed DDR processes followed and demonstrated the necessity to control illicit cross-border traffic and use of arms. Moreover, insufficient and malfunctioning security and justice institutions were not able to absorb ex-combatants on the loose.  The UN deployed its Peacekeeping Mission (UNOCI) in 2004. After the Ouagadougou Peace Agreements (Accord Politique de Ouagadougou - APO ) in March 2007 which included provisions for free democratic elections, DDR and SSR (in particular the integration of opposing armies), the former head of the rebellion was leading a transitional government. Peace was still fragile, trust in public security low and the reunification of the country far from effective. State-owned press and media polarized. Although a new institution, the Centre de Commandement Integré (CCI), led equally by a Northern and Southern commander, was symbolically built close to the buffer zone in the center of the country (in Yamoussoukro) to melt the opposing belligerents, military integration failed. The official start of the 2nd DDR program, shortly after the APO, ended up in a remobilization instead of demobilization of combatants due to a missing holistic approach for the process, insufficient incentives and re-integration opportunities as well as uncoordinated donor support.

The power struggle in the aftermath of the first democratic elections since the outbreak of war, in November 2010, culminated in 5 month of post-electoral violence. Yet, with the incarceration of former President Gbagbo who refused to relinquish power after his   election defeat and was ousted with the support of French and UN forces, the Ivorian crisis was not finished. The newly established national army, the Forces Républicaines de la Côte d’Ivoire (FRCI), by the elected President Alassane Outtara (ADO) and composed by mainly ex-rebels, was accused of victors’ justice; vertical and horizontal military integration created frustrations and pointed towards the need to solve the question of military ranks; both warring parties committed serious war crimes; the Truth and Reconciliation Commission, initiated to bring perpetrators of violence from both sides to justice, was criticized for mainly targeting the allies of former President Gbagbo, operating along ethnic lines and being non-inclusive; the wider public and polarized population did not trust the disrupted security sector with an estimated 70.000 illegal militias and ex-combatants (including foreign combatants) on the loose.

Can or should these challenges, to name just a few, be solved solely on a national level?

While the external promotion of military integration (inclusion of former belligerent in the state’s new national army) is seen critical by some academia, there is international consensus on the need to assist post-conflict countries in fortifying state structures, (inter)national jurisdiction,  parliamentary control of the security sector, DDR or the control of the proliferation of small arms and light weapons (SALW) to avoid a relapse into civil war.

The UN peacekeeping mission (UNOCI) as Ivory Coast’s main operational accompanying partner started supporting the third national DDR program in 2011. Contrary to previous DDR programs, a single national authority in charge of the process (the ADDR) was nominated and an operational and strategic modus operandi (Lettre de la Politique Nationale DDR) was formulated. By the end of 2012 an equivalent institutional and strategic framework had been accomplished for reforms in the security sector and the Secretariat of the National Security Council (S-CNS) was created as the SSR coordination structure. After peaceful Presidential elections in 2015, a constitutional referendum was held. Recently a military law has been passed and is to be operationalized until 2020 assigning national financial resources to re-organize the armed forces, command and control structures. It entails also a progressive reduction of troops (Army and Gendarmerie). Moreover, maybe as an attempt to develop a common sense of identity, the national army was renamed in 2016 Forces armées de Côte d’Ivoire (FACI).

These mostly institutional changes can be seen as a step towards the formulation of an (inclusive?)national vision on security sector reform and as a demonstration of political will and commitment of the leadership to engage and to push for a highly politically process. The nomination of one single authority for the DDR and SSR processes, common implementation strategies and a concluded national DDR program, parliamentary reform, truth and reconciliation committees, formulation of a common vision, solid economic growth (the 2nd highest in Sub-Saharan Africa according to the World Bank Report of 2016), an improved security situation and a legitimate government:  Ivory Coast has come a long way in the last 15 years.

Yet, challenges persist and could jeopardize the ongoing peace process.

Some of these challenges I was able to observe in the field (in the Western region where pro-Gbagbo militias dominate and in the central region). During disarmament operations and sensitization sessions, ex-combatants to be demobilized and waiting for socio-economic re-integration expressed unrealistic expectations such as being highly rewarded for fighting for their country or being promoted to high key positions within the state apparatus; others perceived the ongoing DDR initiatives as biased towards ADO supporters or referred to their existing network and close ties to militias in neighboring Liberia:  If the Government does not remunerate them as they deserve it, some stated, they would not hesitate “to rally with their allies” next door and simply rearm (around 2000 ex-combatants in Liberia are yet to join the national DDR program). The DOZOS, traditional hunters who provided community security in remote areas in the North during the Ivorian crisis, also participated in disarmament operations. Yet their motivation is not clear due to their cultural background, as one suggested: “A Dozo without a rifle is not a Dozo”.

This confirmed my experience within other regional and cultural contexts where institutional change or reform was advocated for by external actors: that mindsets (in terms of attitudes, perceptions, norm and values) and social change in the long run are decisive for sustainable results. To avoid frustrations, expectations of donors and host countries of long term political processes need to be matched Mindsets are as decisive as the institutions they are meant to underpin. They can play towards or hamper a common (security) vision and national identity. Here comes into play the social contract and inclusion of the wider public and civil society mentioned in the discussion earlier. A re-definition of a viable social contract between the state and its citizens is needed and civil society to be effective also needs a strong state in order to respond to grievances and needs and not least to contain violence. Building trust between citizens and state institutions starts with individuals being and feeling safer. Therefore not only the delivery of security services need to be improved, but also the participation of the whole population including marginalized and vulnerable groups and the capacity of authorities to respond to their needs.

In this respect, community violence reduction programmes have been implemented since the official start of the 3rd DDR program. These micro projects aimed both at enrolling all former combatants and the promotion of social cohesion with the whole community as beneficiaries of disarmament and demobilization programs. Similar projects are now being implemented in the Central African Republic by MINUSCA to encourage disarmament (pre-DDR) on community levels.

To be able to contribute to a sustainable SSR process, the CNS has planned sensitization seminars for local SSR actors (civil society, armed forces and administrative authorities) and capacity building seminars for democratic oversight (in particular the Defense and Security commission of the National Assembly and the Secretariat of the CNS) and local authorities. It is yet to be evaluated, if the operational capacity of the CNS can contribute to reconciliation and the restoration of trust.

If institutionalized, community based approaches responding to local needs can reduce insecurity, promote social cohesion and therefore contribute to peace consolidation.

Another observation in the Ivorian peace process is the interconnectedness and inter-dependence of DDR and SSR processes which are long-lasting, value laden and highly political since they influence existing power relations (and donors need to understand them in the first place when advocating for change).

If the SSR and DDR process in Ivory Coast can come close to an operationalization of national ownership or at best can serve as a positive example from the ground in hindsight, depends on numerous external and internal aspects but also on the political dialogue between the leadership and Gbagbo-followers, if the country and its population can maintain the momentum and if ADO can fulfill his promise of “prosperité pour tous”- also in view of the recent social crisis and fractions and tensions within his newly renamed troops.

Curious to hear your comments !

22/05/2017 @ 11:56
by Bettina Kircher

To conclude, I would like to refer to an example of justice reform in Somalia that might useful for one of Ronnie's questions. It is modest and evolutionary, sensitive to local conditions and produced positive outcomes:

Starting in 2006, the Danish Refugee Council (DRC) together with a local NGO took local reform needs of the current practice of xeer, an informal traditional Somali judicial system, as an entry point to start a broad-based consultation process that culminated in a platform of dialogue which included more than 100 traditional/community  leaders, Government officials and security providers. 

The objective was to improve adherence of the existing XEER to international human rights standards and international norms. Although an ambitious undertaking in patriarchal and clan-dominated societies, often fragmented by inter-community violence and with traditionally embedded judicial systems as it is in particular the case in the Horn of Africa, this long-term process gave communities a chance to express their interests and needs and raised awareness about human rights-related issues. More importantly, a National Declaration was signed modifying and harmonizing the existing local XEER in favor of the needs of vulnerable (in particular women) and marginalized groups. The law changes subsequently have been disseminated by the Elders in the region.

Full account with cross references of this example on the ground can be found in DCAF’s training resources on Justice Reform:

31/05/2017 @ 12:01
by David Chuter

Hi Ronnie,

Glad to hear that you finished your dissertation successfully. There's a lot to say about the subject, and I'm not the first to comment, but I'll briefly throw in a few more theoretical ideas which I think SSR has to deal with if it is to remain credible. 

First, you can see SSR as one of two things. Either it's a set of absolute norms, valid in all places at all times, in which case ownership means being taught about and accepting these norms without effective discussion. It also means that, in principle, norms should be capable of being applied everywhere, if not immediately, then after a period of time. Norms, by their very nature, cannot be negotiated or modified, since they would then no longer be norms, and no longer presumptively dominant over other arguments. The alternative view (which I have shared and practiced since before SSR was invented) is that it is simply a process whereby people with long and wide experience in the security area, and with the required intellectual and personal skills, make themselves available for advice to governments on specific problems. Now in real life there will be some blurring of lines, but what you can't do is try to mix the two together. Various intentional organisations have tried to square the circle through clever drafting, but that doesn't help on the ground. 

Second, whilst SSR norms claim to be "universal" it would be better to say that they have universalist aspirations, as many ideologies do (including the colonial/missionary norms from which they distantly derive). They are in fact highly specific in time and place, and are not shared widely around the world, nor even necessarily by a majority of the populations of donor countries. They are based on traditional liberal ideas of the individual against the state, and of the functions of the security sector limited to the protection of property and the enforcement of contract law. The traditional liberals from Locke and Hamilton to Hayek, were generally suspicious of the military   (indeed Washington claimed that a standing army was the greatest threat to individual liberties). These anti-statist ideas, part of the neoliberal consensus after the Cold War, make up a large part of the ideology of SSR. That ideology (or set of norms if you prefer) was in addition originated by development ministries, economists, human rights advocates and international organisations of different types, which, almost by definition, knew nothing about the security sector, but attempted to impose on its structure and functioning  various norms derived from political and development theory which they were familiar with. The effect of this was to overlay traditional liberal thinking about (and suspicion of) the security sector with more recent human rights-based and liberal interventionist theory. The result, to put it kindly, has been something of a mess. 

So there's a choice to be made. Do we, in good liberal terms, regard SSR as a "good" which we "sell" to other countries, after which they "own" it? If so, then its postulates have to be universally valid, and no discussion or debate is possible except about the speed of change. What is true or effective in one place will be true or effective anywhere. If we start to accept negotiation and compromise, as recent international documents are starting to suggest, then the precepts, by definition, can't be universally valid. 

Finally, one of the reasons for this debate, and the confusion surrounding it, is that liberal technocratic interventions customarily ignore the infrastructure of norms and enforcement created by ordinary people. This has been extensively studied in the development literature (see James Scott's "Seeing Like a State" for example). Fundamentally, the security sector will have no effectiveness and no credibility unless it reflects and enforces the social norms of the community it serves. As you rightly point out, it is highly unlikely that these norms will be identical with those of early 21-century western liberalism. But if our norms are, in fact, right, and universal, then they will have to be enforced on other communities, by persuasion as far as possible. The alternative, of course, is to look purely at the effectiveness of security sectors rather than their normative behavior. 

05/06/2017 @ 04:48
by Jim Rolfe

There is a lot to agree with in all of this, but my perspective is less philosophical and more practical. I think I'm with David Chuter in regarding SSR concepts as a means to an end rather than ends in themselves.

In three SSR roles (two UN and one through a consultancy, which some might not consider as 'true SSR') I've noted that almost always when the locals make a decision, put forward an idea or critique our perspective in a way that disagrees with our approach, the almost instantaneous reaction has been 'we have to get that changed because it's not what we are advising'. 'We' are almost always westerners or western trained and we are imbued with the norms in which we have been raised and trained. (Norms are not universal, they have local applicability). Our norms aren't the norms of the local host necessarily and the local approach may well be antithetical to everything we've learned as being 'right'. Nonetheless, if we believe that 'local ownership' is more likely to be sustainable than 'theoretically correct but foreign ownership', as I do, I believe we have a duty to:

1. Try to work out the thinking behind the local approach;

2. Advise why we think there might be a better alternative; but ultimately

3. Accept the local approach unless it is clearly criminal or equally clearly egregiously unworkable.

If the local approach falls under the criminal or the clearly unworkable we should at the least keep away from that aspect of the project (and probably take the issue to higher jurisdictions). Otherwise we owe it to the host nation to do our best to work with them to make their system work, all the time advising them of alternatives.

This all can make for difficult relationships, but we are the visitors.