Political Engagement

Security Sector Reform (SSR) is in essence political, as it deals with power relations between state and non-state actors and their authority to use force and oversight of societal values such as freedom and human rights. Strong political engagement for security and justice sector reform is therefore crucial to success, and means for greater ownership of the reform process. 

It is important for donors to prioritise the need to establish and maintaining political engagement for sustainable and longlasting reform process. Three key challenges are often encountered; 1) Translating strong political will into clear strategies to initiate reform programmes; 2) Managing varying levels of political will to engage in SSR processes; and 3) Reviving, incentivising or redirecting political interest and engagement, when the focus of political will[1] might be elsewhere.

The following lessons can help mitigate or address these challenges.

Lesson 1 Develop and Maintain Political Dialogue

Lesson 2 – Trust and Collaboration with Local Partners

Lesson 3 – Official Agreements help Create and Reinforce Political Engagement

Key Resources

Further tips on improving political engagement can be found in the ISSAT Blogpost ’10 Tips for Increasing Political Engagement for SSR’.

Lesson 1 – Develop and Maintain Political Dialogue 

High quality political dialogue helps establish and maintain the needed momentum for reform programmes. Interaction on political issues, rather than on equipment and/or technical aspects of programmes, are necessary to get a sense of the direction and political will in ordet to gradually increase political engagement.


Implementation of the Paris Declaration in Mozambique

The implementation of the Paris Declaration in Mozambique has been ongoing for almost a decade. A framework of mutual donor and government accountability was designed for direct budget support and annual monitoring. Both donors and the host-government recognised that the progress achieved resulted from continuous quality of the political dialogue. Lessons learned from the political dialogue showed the need to include effective policy development, both at sector and thematic level, as well as to put more attention on devising governance indicators to assess implementation of governance measures.

International Commission against Impunity in Guatemala (Comisión Internacional contra la Impunidad en Guatemala, CICIG) 

The International Commission against Impunity in Guatemala (CICIG) initially faced a difficult political landscape. Improvements in the key relationship between the CICIG and the Guatemala Office of the Public Prosecutor Office were based not only on capacity building and technical assistance, but also political and public support for the leadership of the Office of the Public Prosecutor. This lead to succesfull collaboration on programmes. 

Lesson 2 – Build Trust for Collaboration among Local Partners

Trust and collaboration with local partners help create willingness to engage in SSR processes. Trust fosters an enabling environment while encouraging political engagement in support of various parts of the SSR programme. It can be consolidated by a third party trusted by both sides. Transparency and access to information further facilitates the development of trust with local partners during the implementation of programs and projects.


Police and Judicial Reform in Mozambique

Donors and the Mozambique government were eager to involve UNDP in the police reform programme. From the donors perspective it was important to reduce risk, to pool resources, and to choose an agency that would meet their financial and Monitoring and Evaluation reporting standards.  From the Government’s side it was important that the agency was easily accessible interlocutor throughout implementation and would mobilise skilled experts and programme managers able to operate in respect of its sovereignty.

Lalá, A., and Francisco, L. (2008). The Difficulties of Donor Coordination: Police and Judicial Reform in Mozambique. In Managing Insecurity: Field Experiences of Security Sector Reform (pp.77-94), eds. G. Peake, E. Scheye and A. Hills, Routledge, Abingdon / New York.

Zimbabwe Peace and Security Programme (ZPSP)

Building trust in the difficult context of the ZPSP programme was possible through a combination of factors. However, three main factors proved its success; the specialised mediation skills of the leadership of the programme; the quality of the materials and ;the continuous efforts to building a relationship between the ZPSP and the goverement, as well as the non-state security stakeholders.

Netherlands support of the SSD programme in Burundi

Involving Burundian interlocutors from the inception of the Dutch SSD programme in Burundi helped build trust early on. Early short-term objectives such as training and material developed confidence and experience, which in turn built trust for increasingly strategic objectives in later phases (OECD:34,50). There was a close daily relationship between the Dutch Embassy and the Programme Manager, who was an independent international professional who had developed an equal relation with both the Dutch and Burundian stakeholders. As such, the Programme Manager was focused on achieving the joint programme objectives rather than the donor’s political agenda (OECD:47).

Lesson 3 – Official Agreements help Create and Reinforce Political Engagement

Official agreements help create and reinforce political engagement and partnership during SSR processes. Such agreements are important to define the scope of the programmes, functions of partner institutions, organisations and local stakeholders. Further they reinforce political engagements, even outside the scope defined in the agreements. 


Netherlands support of the SSD programme in Burundi

Burundi and the Netherlands have cooperated on security sector development (SSD) issues since 2004. This cooperation was formalised through a Memorandum of Understanding (MoU), signed in 2009 to support SSD activities for period of eight years (2009-2017). The political agreement sets the tone for dialogue between the governments of Burundi and the Netherlands. It helps maintain the political discussions to enable the implementation of the SSD programme.

Rule of Law Advisory Mission on Moldova (NORLAM)

The Memorandum of Understanding (MoU) formalising cooperation between Norway and Moldova in 2007, originally only foresaw the provision of experts for a period of two to three years. Although the MoU has not been modified since, based on the intent of the original MoU, NORLAM started supporting institutions that were not specified originally, and has been active for more years than originally planned. 


[1] There is often a claim that there is no political will for reform: however, there is usually always political will – it is a matter of where it is focused, and how to incentivise it to focus on reform.