Case studies provide excellent insight into the practical challenges of SSR initiatives and provide an opportunity to learn from those that have been successful, and not so successful. They help us to see the patterns of good practice, when to apply different approaches and what pitfalls to avoid. Please add your own case studies to help us build a rich repository of examples from real experience.
Introduction and context
Iraq is a war-torn country which faces enormous security and justice challenges, including a large number of internally displaced persons and concerns that small cells of defeated ISIL remain hiding in rural areas. Iraq’s youth are protesting for a better future with less corruption, better governance and lower unemployment; whilst security forces are being accused of using armed violence towards civilians.
With the defeat of ISIL, Iraq can now focus on reconciliation, recovery and reform of the security and justice sector to efficiently meet the challenges the country is facing. Security sector reform and governance is pivotal for long term stability and peace in the country. The official launch of the SSR process in Iraq was made in 2015, but there are still major challenges facing security and justice sector governance.
This short knowledge product aims to address emerging concerns in a country of high interest to ISSAT Members. It builds on ISSAT’s work, as well as on open-source documents and maps out some of the critical challenges impacting the security landscape in a given country. This note also aims to be a conversation starter and ISSAT welcomes comments and contributions from its Members and Community of Practice.
Internal Population Displacement and Returnees
The humanitarian and displacement situation in Iraq are one of the world’s most volatile and acute. Large waves of displacement have been tracked for more than 50 years driven by a combination of factors such as internal armed conflict, external intervention and political, ethnic and religious oppression, in addition to natural disasters including floods and earthquakes. The latest wave of displacement began in late 2013, when ISIL began to take over large swaths of territory. At that point, 2.1 million people were already living in internal displacement due to previous conflicts. The number of IDPs peaked at 4.1 million in 2016.
A decrease in scale and intensity of armed violence in 2018 allowed for around 900,000 displaced Iraqis to return to their hometowns. Since 2014, IOM estimate that around 4.6 million (February 2020) IDPs returned to their hometowns, amidst concerns about forced IDP returns and IDP vulnerability. According to IOM, around 1.4 million Iraqis remain internally displaced (February 2020), with over seventy percent of those originating from the Northern Ninewa and Salah al-Din governorates.
IDPs face challenges in access to safety and security, fair standard of living, employment, land and property, documentation, family separation and/or reunification, participation in public affairs, and justice services. Furthermore, inter-communal divisions between host communities and IDPs are also representing a challenge for future reconciliation and reintegration. The question still remains how to reintegrate IDPs into their host communities, if they are unable to return to their place of origin.
Armed Groups and Insurgency
Insurgent attacks by Daesh fighters and Sunni militias in western and central-northern Iraq, as well as, terrorist attacks across the country, continue to threaten the safety and security of Iraqis. Citizens still feel threatened of ISIL or other extremist groups if they are not eradicated (NDI, 2019).
There is also insecurity in the south with armed tribal groups and violent confrontations between rival Shia military groups which seek to control neighbourhoods in the capital, Baghdad. The neighbouring ongoing conflict in Syria facilitates arms, drugs, refugee flow and people trafficking and enables armed groups operations.
ISIL has suffered from territorial downfall and are today almost eradicated from the territory. It is although estimated that between ten and twenty thousand ISIL fighters are still active in the region and remain a threat to stability. As a small-scale insurgency, they indiscriminately target Iraqi civilians and commit human rights abuses. The United States-led Global Coalition to Counter ISIL continues its military operations in Iraq and Turkey focuses its operations in northern Iraq. The unstable and fragile security landscape in Iraq is jeopardizing a legitimate and efficient national security sector. It further demonstrates different interests and visions among the population based on sectarian, ethnic or regional ties.
Civil Action and Youth Discontent
Since the Fall of 2019, Iraq and especially Baghdad, has experienced civil protests, as thousands of mostly young people, have been demonstrating in different parts of the country against corruption, unemployment and poor public services. The protests, which started off in a non-violent and peaceful manner, has become more violent as time has passed. Security forces have responded using water cannons, tear gas, live rounds and rubber bullets. Several hundreds of protesters have been killed and thousands injured. Tens of thousands of residents in the southern governorate of Basra were reported to have been poisoned and hospitalized by polluted drinking water, fueling ongoing protests against government’s mismanagement of the neglected south.
Nearly 60% of Iraq’s population is under 25 years of age which is impacting the society and the country’s development. Lack of proper education, early marriages, gender inequalities and high unemployment rates are issues that affect the governance, security and justice needs by the population.
The civil protests in Iraq are one in a series of similar global mass demonstrations that have occurred over the past years. They have had significant repercussions on the security situation in the country, as they reveal shortcomings of State institutions and test the civilian accountability over security actors. Strong national consensus has been formed around the need for the government to be responsible for all firearms control and regulation and removal of all armed manifestations in public spaces. These protests in Iraq are an important watching theme for donors in the security and justice sphere, as this not only demonstrate citizen’s dissatisfaction but also reveals clashes between citizens and government, and between youth and government. Increased training and capacities in human rights training and non-violent protests controls are areas that are in need for support.
Weak Governance and State Institutions
Iraq’s public sector institutions have not been successful in equitably allocating resources across the country and its population and extend basic public services, including access to security and justice in an effective manner. In a poll from NDI 2019, most citizens see the government from federal to local level as ineffective, and a vast majority (74%) acknowledge that they are not aware of the government priorities. For decades state institutions have been captured by sectarian interests and decimated by corruption. The politicization of state institutions and control over state resources have undermined the effective and equitable delivery of services, thus exacerbating the crisis of legitimacy, the challenges to state authority, and, ultimately, the spiral of violence that we see in Iraq today. As noted in the 2011 World Development Report, weak institutions and a lack of legitimacy undermine states’ ability to provide basic security, justice, and economic opportunities for their citizens and can therefore be a key cause of conflict. This holds true in Iraq, where the fragility of key public institutions and processes is reflected most starkly in the chronic weakness of its civil service, public financial management, state-owned enterprises, public investment management, and judicial system.
Lack of Public Trust
Weak governance and accountability, unrepresentative institutions and insufficient access to security and justice services across the country result in lack of public trust in public services. A recent survey from NDI revealed that lack of public trust and low confidence in national elections, drive perceptions that Iraq remains a divided country and increases support for protests. This further strengthens divisions according to sectarian lines in society. According to the Head of UNAMI, increased public trust in governmental institutions is key for development in Iraq, particularly after the fight against ISIL. Lack of public trust is also driven by a view of ineffective and unaccountable governmental apparatus.
Despite a general lack of trust, citizens tend to do have increased trust in army and police institutions, and in the Popular Mobilization Units as the security situation is slowly stabilizing. However, citizens seem to have less trust in judicial institutions and provincial councils.
Today, Iraq needs robust and functional accountability mechanisms and community reconciliation to recover from conflict and its associated societal traumas. For this aim, restoring public trust in the judiciary and justice system to hold perpetrators accountable of key importance.
Endemic corruption is one of the main threats to Iraq’s stability, alienating the population from its ruling elite and driving young people into a protest movement that demands radical change. In a recent poll, more than 80 % of Iraqi’s were concerned, or very concerned, about corruption at the highest levels of government and the population perceive it to be getting worse. In Kurdistan, over 90% say that corruption is getting worse. Corruption among senior politicians and civil servants is systematically undermining trust in the government and destroys the legitimacy of leaders.
Transparency International (TI) scored Iraq on rank 162 out of 180 in 2019. This was a rise of six ranks compared to 2018 and Iraq is now on the same level as Cambodia and Chad. Further, Iraq was ranked by TI as the fourth most corrupt country in the Middle East, only better off than Syria, Yemen and Libya. For comparison, the three countries better than Iraq was Iran (146), Lebanon (137) and Egypt (106).
However, until now, political corruption has been primarily treated as an individual crime. Little recognition is given to corruption as primarily driven forward by the structure of the political system and the role that Iraq’s political parties play in it.
Public Financial Management
A recent survey from NDI reveals that the lack of financial stability is one of the main concerns among the population, and this sparks frustration and conflict. Enhancing public financial management is crucial for building the efficiency and effectiveness of state services and the situation in Iraq is no exception. Additionally, it is crucial to ensure accountability in the management of public resources. Weak public financial management increases the risk of mismanagement of resources and opportunities. In Iraq, formal channels by which public finance and procurement processes are managed hides the processes through which resources are raised and spent. Such parallel processes are unclear and difficult to change, especially as they tend to shift power from the state to other actors. This keeps a vicious cycle of a weak, unreliable and opaque public financial management system.
Human Rights Violations
Human rights violations are common in Iraq. Security forces are accused of detaining suspects without court order, arrest warrant, or any other justification of arrest. Authorities are accused of violating the process for detainees to see a judge within 24 hours, to have access to a lawyer throughout interrogations or to have families notified of their detention. Detainees have witnessed torture in prisons, in some cases leading to death. Courts sentence individuals convicted of terrorism-related offences to death, frequently after questionable trials that reportedly rely on torture-tainted evidence.
Iraqi families with perceived ISIS affiliation because of their family name, tribal affiliation, or area of origin, have been denied security clearances required to obtain identity documentation or other civil documentation. This has impacted their freedom of movement, right to education, right to work, and right to apply for welfare benefits and obtain birth and death certificates. Although numerous ethnic and religious minority groups are living in Iraq, the government does not guarantee equal treatment and access to public services.
Over recent decades, the rights of Iraqi women have been significantly weakened, and their parity with men has suffered setbacks in a number of areas. However, demands for increased gender equality are increasing. While the legal position of women was relatively strong compared with other countries in the region and Iraqi women have traditionally taken part in society through education, labour and politics, this reality has now receded. The influence of women started to decline in the 1980s with Saddam Hussein. Women empowerment’s main constraints are largely economic, social, and cultural, driven by sectarian, ethnic and family-related boundaries. Harassment, domestic and sexual violence are constantly reported, and women have few legal frameworks that could be used to protect their rights. Iraq’s criminal code includes criminalizing physical assault but lacks any explicit mention of domestic violence, and even when sexual assault can be criminalized, it does not apply in a marriage. Donors need to not only focus on women, but also to steer gender programming to male roles and unpack traditional gender roles through for example public awareness campaigns.
Weak territorial integrity
Iraq has historically been a battleground in regional power struggles, and this is continuously reflected in its domestic political dynamics with a multiplicity of armed groups with ties to neighbouring states. While many areas of Iraq continue to be relatively secure, pockets of violence exist where armed groups continue to be active. PMU armed groups are operating and fighting in parallel with national security forces, and the myriad of security actors are undercutting state monopoly of violence and state legitimacy. This further leads to incoherent national defence and weak territorial control and integrity.
In addition, Iraqi provinces have a large margin for self-control and a legal right to create autonomous regions. One example of such a region is Kurdistan with its own judiciary, parliament and security forces, located in northern Iraq. In addition, Shia-dominated south has been demanding the right for an autonomous southern region, even though this is facing resistance from other opposing groups. With increased regional tendencies for autonomous rule along sectarian, ethnic and nationalistic lines, the State’s backbone risks further weakness and disintegration, increasing insecurity and lack of access to public services including justice by the population.
Tackling those sensitive challenges in a country like Iraq requires the presence and vested interest of regional, internal and local powers. This today is the biggest challenge Iraq is facing for its State-building and reform processes.
 Popular Mobilization Units (also known as Hash’d al Shaabi) are an umbrella organization consisting of more than 50 different militias with ties to the government, performing along the lines of national security forces.
Gender Mainstreaming Case Example of ISSAT’s mid-term evaluation of Swedish Police Project in Liberia
In 2018, the Swedish National Police (SNP) requested ISSAT to conduct a mid-term evaluation for its Police Cooperation project in Liberia. The project was implemented by the SNP between 2016 and 2019. The purpose of the project was to achieve improved quality of crime investigations including on Sexual and Gender Based Violence (SGBV), basic crime investigation, basic crime scene investigation and cooperation between the Liberian National Police (LNP) and the Prosecution Service in three police station areas.
The components of the project focused on addressing important challenges and needs as formulated by the LNP and prosecutors such as:
- Training in basic crime investigations, basic crime scene investigations and investigations of SGBV crimes.
- Guidelines to optimise the quality control of any crime investigation case forwarded to the Prosecution Service.
- Basic forensic equipment.
- Improved premises and facilities for one stop centres and comfort rooms for SGBV victims.
- Improved cooperation between police and prosecutors.
- Public awareness raising.
ISSAT’s evaluation was one exercise in a series of engagements with the Swedish National Police. It built on previous lessons learned studies on police reform in Liberia and national policy documents. The evaluation included a 7-day mission to Liberia and visits to local police zones for direct observations at police station level. The mission also included semi-structured interviews with beneficiaries as well as SNP normally based in Stockholm.
The evaluation was carried out based on OECD-DAC criteria (relevance, efficiency, effectiveness, impact and sustainability) which is aligned with ISSAT’s methodological approach for evaluations. Guided by the terms of reference, ISSAT closely liaised with the project’s gender expert to understand and better integrate in the evaluation’s approach the main components of effective police investigations into sexual based crime and victim protection.
LESSON 1: Gender equality approaches need to be an explicit part of the evaluation methodology
Throughout the data gathering phase, ISSAT ensured consistent inquiry into the project’s gender sensitive approaches and strategies. Under each of the evaluation criteria, ISSAT looked at gender relevant issues and dimensions. The results of ISSAT’s evaluation found that SNP systematically promoted gender equality, and allocated resources for combatting sexual and gender-based violence crimes. This reflected Swedish commitment to this gender equality and combatting SGBV, through project strategies that promoted awareness-raising among local counterparts.
LESSON 2: Gender equality subject-matter expertise is essential for articulating project impact
The Swedish National Police included a gender expert as part of the project’s team. The gender expert on SGBV was not based in Liberia but deployed up to four times a year. Having a gender expert as part of the project further strengthened the quality of the project’s deliverables, as well as the communications capability for the project to create traction and ownership of its priorities amongst stakeholders. It increased focus on SGBV reporting, achievements and outcomes for Swedish National Police, as well as enabled greater synergies between the different work streams.
LESSON 3: Build on what works at the local context
ISSAT’s evaluation demonstrated that the Swedish support project achieved positive results from its capacity building engagements on SGBV because it built on existing training material already used by the Liberian National Police and the UN Mission in Liberia. This method ensured that the project’s contribution was consistent with current skills and techniques used by LNP. The added value of the SNP was therefore to bring in practical implementation techniques addressing victims of SGBV. This made the trainings and practical elements relevant and grounded in a Liberian context rather than in a Swedish model, contributing directly to the success of the project.
LESSON 4: Comfort rooms are an effective protection measure if used appropriately
Another key output of the Swedish support project was the usage of comfort rooms where victims can report SGBV crimes. Comfort rooms require minimal maintenance costs if used in a consistent manner. ISSAT’s evaluation showed that it is important to establish guidelines and objectives for their usage to prevent improper, or unintended usage of the dedicated facilities. Moreover, comfort rooms need to be included in national regulations, operational documents and strategies in order to enable continuous monitoring and review of their usage by SGBV victims.
LESSON 5: Donor coordination on cross-cutting issues is crucial
ISSAT’s evaluation demonstrated that engagement in coordination activities ensures critical information gathering on primary needs when it comes to SGBV crime investigations and forensic evidence gathering. Active and close collaboration between donors and national stakeholders in the form of task forces or coordination groups strengthens the effectiveness and impact of donor efforts and programming. It also provides a platform to explore whether the project is on the right track and opens new channels to troubleshoot if and when the project faces resistance, blockages or challenges.
LESSON 6: Avoid revictimization during evaluation of SGBV programming
To safeguard and protect the victims of SGBV crimes, there is a need for rules and procedures to be put in place in the methodology in order to prevent “revictimization” of victims. Questions and discussions on the person’s prior traumatic experience and re-examination of details and actions that explain the incident and the police’s response could put the SGBV survivor at risk, as well as expose their family or community members to unintended consequences. Evaluation teams conducting impact or effectiveness reviews of a SGBV programs need to design their approach avoiding revictimizing the victims.
Lesson 7: Use awareness-raising campaigns as an outreach tool and not only for visibility
When awareness campaigns are used as a strategy for the project to achieve its objectives, it is important that these are used as outreach channels to raise awareness on SGBV rather than merely be project visibility tools. Such campaigns also enable continuous monitoring on SGBV issues and serve as powerful advocacy tools for national counterparts to their maintain focus on those crimes and combatting them. Projects that integrate empirical evidence of outcomes in their awareness campaigns tend to achieve higher levels of conviction and credibility, particularly on a complex and culturally charged subject area such as SGBV.
Background and Introduction
Benin's development relies heavily on its ability to attract foreign investments and on tourism. In a West African region troubled by violent events, the country's security is therefore an essential condition to its future wealth. Benin's security and defence forces have been facing the traditional threats posed by serious and organised crime, road blockages and illegal exploitation of the sea for many years. The extension of terrorism from the Sahel into Benin is an emerging risk for the stability of the country. It became a reality on May 1st , 2019, with the assassination of a guide in the Pendjari Park and the kidnapping of French tourists near the border with Burkina Faso.
National security was already a key issue during the 2016 elections campaign. As new Head of State, Patrice Talon quickly expressed his vision for the transformation of the security sector in the Government Action Programme (GAP) 2016-2021 and the National Development Plan (NDP) 2018-2025. The documents set out the ambition to rationalise the public administration and the government’s architecture. The GAP lists eighteen sectoral projects aiming at strengthening public security and national defence, including, risk prevention, civil protection, integrated management of border areas and internal security.
The creation of a single internal security force under the supervision of the Ministry of the Interior and Public Security through merging the police and gendarmerie, was included as a potential measure to improve the security sector’s management. The operationalisation of this commitment came on the 1st of January 2018, when the creation of the "Republican Police" was announced. This major initiative, transforming Benin's security sector, only has one recent precedent, being the reform of Belgium's police initiated on the 1st of January 2001. Benin’s security apparatus is being redefined, as a result of the disappearance of those two very old structures, which contributed through their culture and traditions to its architecture and governance. The new structure now brings together some 10,000 police officers and is intended to be a hybrid of two organisations with different practices and understandings of internal security.
In reality, regional instability and emerging security threats require Benin’s political authorities to implement an effective system for anticipation and response. The creation of the Republican Police is only the first step, and a new National Security Strategy is now expected in the first half of 2020. While the police-gendarmerie merger could define the reform’s outlook, it constitutes a major challenge for the country with foreseeable advantages and disadvantages on the structural and functional levels.
Fundamentally transforming the organisation of a security institution requires national security policies and strategies that identify priority objectives and the capabilities required to achieve them. Throughout 2017, the committee set up to prepare for the merger of the National Police and the National Gendarmerie has worked without a national security sector strategy or a national security policy. With no political or strategic guidance at its disposal, the committee based its work solely on the will of the Head of State.
Ideally, national authorities generally set the framework for security sector reform (SSR) through a security policy document and a transformation plan that reconciles aspirations and means. Experience shows that it is important that these key documents integrate internal security, defence and justice and are the product of a truly comprehensive and inclusive dialogue, resulting in a widely shared vision. The Head of State’ political will, while crucial to reform, is not sufficient on its own to set priorities and bridge the gap between divergent views on the technical aspects of a difficult transformation. The lack of long-term planning has also led to fears of an unpredictable process and a foreseeable difficulty for the State to meet costs not previously assessed.
The first structural challenge concerned the human resources and economies of scale that needed to be achieved as units and functions were streamlined into a single organisation, avoiding duplication. As a result of two hierarchical structures merging into a single structure, many officers found themselves without command responsibilities. The merger affected the employment of nearly three hundred officers. Some were placed at the disposal of the General Directorate of the Republican Police while others remained without operational assignments. To improve the situation of these officers and in order to avoid an excessive number of idle officers, a temporary solution was found by deploying several of them to peacekeeping operations under the umbrella of multilateral organisations.
On the positive side, the merger has improved security coverage by rationalising the distribution of security forces throughout the country. The density of the security network in Benin was insufficient by international standards, particularly in the border areas and in the north of the country where the risk of religious radicalisation is greater. Localities that used to have both a police station and gendarmerie barracks are now under the jurisdiction of a single police station, thus avoiding conflicts between bodies, ambiguity of responsibilities and wasted resources. The financial savings generated as a result of the merger have made it possible to set up units in localities where there was no police presence. In spite of the police-population ratio remaining unchanged, the security service has come closer to the population with nearly 85% of the territory being covered, compared to 55% before the merger.
The aim of the merger is to have an integrated internal security force, with a hybrid functioning system, retaining some aspects particular to the gendarmerie, such as military police whilst operating both in cities and isolated rural areas. A complete functional harmonisation will be a long-term process due to the deep divergences between the two institutions. For example, the gendarmerie was organised with officers, non-commissioned officers and soldiers, whereas the national police had a four-corps structure of peacekeepers, peace officers, inspectors and commissioners. The gendarmes were subject to availability requirements as per the military regime, while the police benefited from a human resources management system, closer to the rest of the civil service administrations. The Chain of Command among the gendarmes was inspired by the military system, which uses a staff-type structure consisting of functional offices (B1 to B9), whereas the command structure of the national police was a mixture of administrative and paramilitary aspects with technical directorates, central directorates, etc. As a result, many challenges arose when the staff of the two former institutions were transferred and reclassified into the new corps and ranks. A key opportunity and enabler for the merger was the previous internal police reform process which adopted a two-corps organisation (non-commissioned officers and officers), which facilitated the transfer and reclassification for the merger.
On the operational level, gendarmes and police officers do not have the same approach for conducting their work. For example, the use of warning shots for law enforcement was not authorised for police officers, whereas gendarmes were allowed to revert to this measure. In May 2019, violent clashes in Cotonou pitted demonstrators against the republican police and the army, who were accused of firing live ammunition. This incident illustrates operational difficulties for the police that remain to be addressed.
Whilst the police has performed its duties in urban areas, the gendarmerie has been perceived as an institution representing the State in the countryside. In addition, public space, public order and safety are concepts with different meanings and interpretations in rural and urban areas. For example, the function of local intelligence gathering occupies an important place in the police function and is highly organised, whereas the gendarmerie engages in terrain surveillance and practices mobility of units for operational defence of the territory.
Beyond these initial differences, a major challenge is to bring together very different institutional cultures and individual perceptions of their role in Beninese society. The personnel of the two institutions did not have the same codes, nor the same social representations of the service they render to the population. The gendarmerie emphasized its republican character as the protector of State institutions, while the police demanded greater proximity to the population, to whom it provided a public service of security and protection of citizens' rights.
The medium and long-term success of the merger process requires the establishment of a rigorous monitoring and evaluation system. The creation of a single internal security organisation should in theory strengthen its effectiveness by allowing pooling means and resources and covering more localities. It is nevertheless crucial to be able to monitor the merger and its long-term effects. Clear benchmarks for performance have yet to be established. Without a roadmap it is unlikely that there will be any tracking to evaluate the effectiveness of the new institution.
After the launch of the eighteen security sector reform projects included in the GAP, the decision was taken in 2019 to draft a National Security Strategy (NSS), integrating the vision of the Armed Forces General Staff and the General Directorate of the Republican Police. This initiative will have to consider key cross-cutting themes, such as the prevention of violent extremism, democratic control of the security sector, gender equality and human rights. If those topics are not mainstreamed in a sensible and sustainable manner, the risk will be that they will be subject to divergent interpretations and left to the discretion of officials at various levels.
The political vigour with which behavioural changes have been imposed on police personnel, particularly in terms of reducing harassment and petty corruption, has led to a perceived improvement in the security situation for the population on the country's main routes and in major cities. The question now arises as to the extension, viability and sustainability of the reform process, which depends largely on the State's ability to finance it and on the combined support of Benin's citizens and police officers.
Security reform processes must be backed by social and economic development programmes. The National Security Strategy currently being drawn up should fill the gaps by bringing clarity and coherence to the entire SSR process.
ISSAT Case Study Examples
ISSAT’s main role is to provide operational support to reinforce the international community's security and justice reform capacity. Through our case studies, we present our donors and community of practice with contextualized examples of reform processes that could be useful in their areas of priority. This case study is based on the observations and reflections of one of ISSAT SSR expert following a deployment in the country. The case study also aims to work as a conversation starter, and we welcome comments and contributions from our readers.
Burkina Faso has been increasingly exposed to the threats and attacks of violent armed groups, targeting symbols, institutions and representatives of the state, including the defence and security forces, local leaders and political figures.
With a history of several coup d’états, the country has entered a cycle of more frequent terrorist attacks since 2014. The northern parts of the country, bordering Mali and Niger, are particularly at risk as a result of conflict spill-over. In December 2018, a state of emergency was declared in several regions, granting extraordinary powers to the security forces and restricting freedom of movement and assembly in the country. The State of Emergency was renewed twice in January 2020 and June 2021.
This short knowledge product aims to address emerging concerns for human security in a country of high interest to ISSAT Members. It builds on DCAF’s operational programming, open-source documents, as well as the learning ISSAT captures from its Governing board Members engagement in the country. and maps out the top challenges and actors impacting the hybrid security landscape in the country. This note also aims to be a conversation starter and ISSAT welcomes comments and contributions from its members and Community of Practice.
Burkina Faso is one of the world’s poorest countries with more than half of its population living on 1.90 USD per day. It is a traditionally rural country and agriculture is its main source of income. Farming and forestry employ 80% of the population. Despite recent economic growth, poverty levels remain largely stagnant. This is partly driven by population growth rates, combined with recent climate shocks, affecting crops and food security . Urban areas are particularly affected, with an unemployment rate of 50%. Poverty, combined with an overstretched state apparatus, leads to significant gaps in access to state security and justice services and creates a breeding ground for social tensions and violence. This gives credibility and space for non-state armed group to operate, in particular in areas where the community expresses perceptions of exclusion, especially amongst the youth, namely in relation to corruption and unequal distribution of resources and wealth. This could be compounded by unharmonized access to public services between the capital and regions.
Community Level Tensions
The broader security landscape in the Sahel region needs to be taken into consideration when examining the worsened security situation in Burkina Faso. Following the conflict in northern Mali, the armed groups have contributed to the rise of intercommunal violence in central Mali, but also in Niger and Burkina Faso.
While their areas of operation were at first concentrated in the administrative provinces of Soum and Oudalan, in the northern Sahel Region bordering Mali and Niger, the attacks have now spread into other administrative regions notably the Est, Boucle du Mouhoun and Northern Regions and are also threatening the capital, Ouagadougou, and the border areas with Benin and Ivory Coast.
These armed groups have been mostly targeting civilians and state security forces and committing serious human rights violations, leading to massive population displacement and intercommunal tensions. The heightened security risks across the region could lead towards further militarisation within Burkina Faso. As armed groups recruit and arm (male) civilians, the State is trying to compensate for its shortcomings by also widening the access to weapons for reasons of national civil defence. As a result, regional human security is undermining prospects for peace and development in Burkina Faso and the Sahel region.
Indiscriminate attacks against civilians in Burkina Faso have led to the displacement of more than a million people as of December 2019. Compared to 50,000 in January 2019, this is a number, experts expect to continue increase.
Internally displaced persons (IDPs) face several critical human security challenges such as food insecurity and limited access to the land resources and markets. Access to basic services such as health, education, water, sanitation and justice is also a major concern. Their presence weighs on the resources of host communities and puts an extra burden on an already stretched out national resources and public services infrastructure, leading to increasing tensions among the communities and risk of intercommunal violence. These tensions were exacerbated by the Covid-19 pandemic, which has globally affected the most vulnerable hardest.
Population displacements also impact the security of the territory, and the ability of the security forces to track members of the armed groups, while there are growing concerns that IDPs and those living in refugee camps are vulnerable to recruitment by violent extremist groups.
Over-Stretched State Security Institutions
Burkina Faso’s security forces are considered inadequately equipped and lack sufficient operational capacity to perform their duties in line with the country and population’s needs. They have sometimes been accused of disproportionate use of violence, extrajudicial killings and human rights violations, including towards civilians. Concerns were also raised regarding the composition of the army and auxiliary forces under its control and the risk of the current events affecting the coherence and resiliency of this institution. Furthermore, corruption, lack of accountability and weak legitimacy undermines the legitimacy of the security forces. National security personnel may also be members of non-state forces such as the Koglweogo, which is one of the largest non-state security actors in Burkina Faso. Koglweogo groups gradually became important players in Burkina Faso’s security and political landscape, questioning State authority and legitimacy.
Despite the recent creation of a new special forces body, the path is still long and challenging before their role and impact become clear. The previous elite unit, the Presidential Guard, was dissolved in 2015, leaving an institutional and human resources gap as it had represented around 10% of the total military body and a large margin of the defence budget, training and equipment.
The international community, including the EU, UN, US, and the Joint G5 force for Sahel are supporting armed forces’ capacity development, including skills and equipment provision. However, lack of sufficient attention to management and accountability aspects in a country where those are perceived to be corrupt, politicised and abusive of their powers, makes this a risky endeavour.
Lack of Access to State Security Services
A 2018 donor-led assessment conducted through ISSAT’s support in Burkina Faso showed that security forces were absent in 36% of the regions. The ratio of security personnel of 1/758 is well below the international standard of 1/400. With a total strength of 5,219 gendarmes, the gendarmerie ratio is 1/2,685. The country has 350 administrative regions in total, 156 of which do not have any internal security force unit established. 24% of the administrative regions have at least one police station and one gendarmerie unit and 31% have one gendarmerie unit or a police station.
The inconsistent coverage of all the territory has led to unequal distribution of State services across the entire population, in particular in rural areas. At the core of this institutional challenge are multiple drivers, including inefficient use of human resources, unclear institutional mandates, blurred lines of management and weak national coordination. Burkina Faso still lacks clear plans to organise and restructure the territorial distribution of its security forces.
The National Police is placed under the authority of the Ministry of Security and organized around the General Directorate of the National Police. It is responsible for public security and consists of civil servants. The National Gendarmerie is technically under the authority of the Ministry of Defence but reports to the Ministry of Security, with weapons and equipment still managed by the Ministry of Defence. It is a military force with similar ranking system to the army. The police and gendarmerie perform their activities across the country. While the law provides that a decree shall specify the respective areas of territorial jurisdiction, both police and the gendarmerie often end up working in the same locations at the expense of certain regions. The traditional role of the police to operate in urban areas and the gendarmerie in the countryside, has been blurred during the last years, leading to a shift of the National Police outside urban areas and the ‘urbanization’ of Gendarmerie units.
Weak Oversight and Accountability over a Hybrid Security Landscape
Initially locally formed to respond to rising insecurity in the northern regions, non-state armed groups such as the Koglweogo, Dozos and Rugas have evolved to key players in the security and political landscape in Burkina Faso. These groups have established semi-formal relations with the security forces with whom they collaborate. In 2018, the government launched several initiatives to strengthen the dialogue with the Koglweogo and adopted a decree formally allowing them to participate in the fight against insecurity alongside the State forces. The option to transform these groups into a community police mechanism was also scoped.
Adding to the hybridity of Burkina Faso’s security landscape, in 2020, the government adopted a decree creating the status of ‘Defence Volunteers’, according to which, these contribute, by force of arms, if necessary, to the defence and protection of persons and property in their area of residence. The volunteers undergo a swift military training, are armed and placed under local leadership structures. These have been loosely placed between state security institutions and non-state armed groups. They have as a result been victims of attaches by non-state armed groups and unable to seek shelter in military camps.
The Koglweogo and other non-state armed groups have been able to implement their own rules and pass sentences. They have already been accused of committing human rights violations and their activities are often inconsistent with the respect of basic rule of law principles such as the presumption of innocence. Despite their perceived effectiveness in dealing with insecurity at the local level, the legalisation of such groups questions the ability and credibility of the State to oversee armed groups’ practices. The community’s frustration with armed groups’ human rights abuses could further expose the State’s incapacity to oversee them and hold them accountable in the framework of Rule of Law.
The trafficking and diversion of weapons and ammunition are fuelling the conflict in the Sahel and continue to threaten community safety across the region, in particular in Burkina Faso, Mali, and Niger. Burkina Faso is located along some of the most important weapons trafficking routes in West Africa. To prevent the deterioration of the situation, the Burkinabe government suspended the sale of firearms to the civilian population at the end of February 2019. However, after only a few months, the measure was lifted in June. In early 2020, the government took a reverse approach by creating the Defence Volunteer status, therefore giving civilians access to weapons and legalising their use of force to supplement the security forces.
However, arming civilians could negatively contribute to a complex security landscape and fuel conflict. Burkina Faso’s intercommunal tensions soared due to the multiplication of armed groups as the perceived association of Fulani communities with Islamists groups generated resentment and mistrust among the rest of the population. Therefore, arming civilians in a tensed security context where government control is limited could likely foster the proliferation of weapons and heighten probability of intercommunal conflict.
Burkina Faso has a long history of coup d’états. In the current security situation, the international community could be concerned that non-state armed groups could seriously impair the election process. Due to increased violence and terrorist attacks, entire villages have been displaced from regions in the north and east. As a result, electoral constituencies have undergone significant change in inhabitants, reflecting an emerging imbalance between number of candidates and sizes of constituencies. The electoral law and the possibility for displaced voters to vote outside their constituencies is also under scrutiny.
Armed groups have also been playing a key role in the political space in Burkina Faso. As a prominent actor with an increasingly important role, armed groups have been using their influence in shaping the future of Burkinabé elections and politics.
SSR Process Facing Significant Challenges
The worsened security situation in the country, increased violence, high number of IDPs and lack of access to State services across the whole country are some of the main challenges facing the security sector reform process in Burkina Faso.
In October 2017, a National Security Forum held in Ouagadougou with over 600 participants from ministries, agencies and civil society kicked-off the Security Sector Reform process led by the National Defence and Security Council (CSDN). The country set itself on a reformative agenda to elaborate on a new national security policy and strategy, develop an anti-corruption strategy, increase governance of the security sector and develop a strategy to combat violent extremism, among other commitments. DCAF has been supporting this process through contributing to the drafting of a national security policy and a national security strategy.
One of the key priorities currently in Burkina Faso is preventing violent extremism and a national strategy to prevent radicalisation and violent extremism was adopted in May 2021. Whilst the pressing need in Burkina Faso is the stabilisation of the country and building the resilience of its community in view of the millions of IDPs and overwhelmed public sector, longer-term reforms need to remain important for the donor community in this country. The synchronisation between crises response and investment in SSR for sustainable conflict prevention and peacebuilding is the biggest challenge facing reform across the Sahel region.
Gender Mainstreaming Case Example: Training Curriculum Development – SSR Contribution to Preventing and Countering Violent Extremism (P/CVE)
In 2018, Denmark, France, the Netherlands, Norway and Switzerland mandated ISSAT to develop a course on the “Contribution of SSR to Preventing and Countering Violent Extremism” (SSR-VE). The objective of the mandate was to create a 5-day course that included a strong component on the prevention of violent extremism (VE) and that covered dimensions related to human security, governance and engagement of local communities. The courses were later piloted in Bamako, Mali and in the Hague, Netherlands.
From the onset, ISSAT adopted a gender-sensitive approach to course development and delivery, given the significant link this thematic area has with community security and its relevance to the safety and livelihoods of men, women, boys and girls
Entry points for Gender Equality
Gender references in the course’s founding documents
The course’s terms of reference set explicit gender equality commitments for the course. The course design paper emphasised that “ Gender related considerations will be mainstreamed throughout the Programme. It focused on presenting evidence-based experiences reflecting the critical importance of gender sensitive analysis in addressing the unique needs of local communities, the challenges of injustice and marginalisation on different segments of society”.
Anchoring gender equality considerations in the course’s vision and founding documents not only provided a common understanding of the importance of gender equality and SSR but also ensured that this aspect was mainstreamed throughout the course material. It also enabled the course facilitators to be more committed to the need for greater focus on gender equality within their individual sessions.
Gender parity among course team and participants
ISSAT invested considerable efforts in aiming for equal representation within the training team. The curriculum development team, as well as the facilitation teams had equal representation between men and women.
The main challenge remained in ensuring gender parity amongst training participants, an area where ISSAT has the lowest margin for impact. In spite of its active follow-up to include women participants, at the first pilot session in Bamako, only 3 women (14%) attended the course, as a direct result of low numbers of female applicants. The second pilot session in the Hague, women’s participation rate was higher, at 47%.
A comparative analysis of both training sessions highlights the importance of gender parity for more representative, relevant and diversified discussions of security and justice reform related issues. It also fosters a stronger engagement by participants with regards to the course topics.
Determining the level of gender equality awareness among participants
ISSAT determined the level gender equality awareness among training participants through participant applications analysis and pre-course questionnaires. Accordingly, ISSAT adapted course content to the participants needs. This step is of key importance in anchoring the training material in the trainees’ needs and in ensuring that the debate around gender equality matures from the introduction to basic themes and issues, towards more complex understanding of gender roles and implications on security and justice institutions’ effectives, accountability and legitimacy.
The SSR-VE course content development efforts sought to raise awareness on the importance of developing gender-sensitive SSR programmes that are based on gendered analysis of community security aspects and strive towards gender equality in access to services, as well as, in service delivery. It aimed to change the current focus of the SSR community which is predominantly on dealing with the recruitment of men and boys in extremist groups, and rebalance it towards the often-overlooked recruitment of women and girls and on the roles that they play in the community and in security institutions.
The two pilot courses also included a session on “confidence-building between citizens and uniformed forces” which included a focus on gender equality and human-rights based approaches. This session introduced a role-play session to illustrate that women, men, girls and boys have different experiences of (in)security and included exercises to discuss the roles of different groups in preventing violent extremism. In addition, the good practices of inclusivity and representativeness were extensively discussed in SSR thematic sessions on governance, criminal justice and policing. The key message conveyed in the framework of the SSR and governance session, was on the key role gender equality plays in strengthening the effectiveness, accountability, transparency and inclusiveness of security and justice institutions. During the criminal justice chain reform session, facilitators addressed the issue of access to justice and the exclusion of specific groups due to their cultural, gender, age or socio-economic backgrounds. The session on community engagement focused on the conditions for the community violence reduction (CVR), discussing how to empower men, women, boys and girls and promote social cohesion.
In the delivery of its two pilot courses, ISSAT recognises the importance of developing gender mainstreaming strategies that are culturally sensitive. Understanding the context in which the training was delivered was of primary importance to the facilitators. The course’s delivery approach was designed taking into consideration deep-rooted beliefs and gender sensitive values among participants. Course facilitators ensured that gender equality issues were addressed in a relevant manner to the local and regional contexts. For example, LGBTQ relevant issues were more easily addressed during the second pilot training in the Hague.
- Set clear gender equality related outcomes, objectives and deliverables in the course’s founding documents. It helps secure team-wide commitment since the onset and ensure focus on this key policy priority throughout the design and delivery of the course.
- Allocate sufficient time to explain and deconstruct the notions of gender, gender mainstreaming and gender equality. Often, participants have preconceived conceptions of what is meant by gender. Having an open discussion on what gender is, at the beginning of the course can help build a common understanding among participants and consequently enable a richer and more productive exchange during the sessions.
- Seek equal gender parity among training participants through proactively disseminating course applications among potentially relevant female participants. This can be particularly challenging, due to the low representation percentages of women in many security and justice institutions. The impact of diversity amongst training participants is very high on the level and quality of the discussions, as well as, on the strength of the message the course communicates on the organisation’s commitment to gender equality.
- When gender parity is not achieved, facilitators should adopt alternative strategies to compensate for this gap. Such strategies could include the use of additional female facilitators or guest speakers, the establishment of ground rules that enable all participants to intervene without fear or intimidation, or the promotion of an open discussion among course participants on positive or negative gender-related experiences in their professional and/or personal lives.
- Establishing evidence or experience-based insights and examples prior to the course are key to the course’s success. Facilitators need to increasingly refer to existing research and evidence on gender dynamics and masculinities as related to the course’s topic. Cultural specificities related to gendered and social constructs within the geographical context of the course’s venue also need to be taken into consideration in order to maximise the training’s impact and to avoid cultural gaffes.
Case study published in January 2020.