Burundi – Dutch Security Sector Development (SSD) Programme : Building Local Trust in a Difficult Environment


The Arusha Agreement signed in 2000 marks the beginning of SSR in Burundi. The agreement established human security and political neutrality as the guiding principles of the national security forces. Peace and ceasefire agreements between the government and CNDD-FDD (Conseil National pour la Défense de la Démocratie-Forces pour la Défense de la Démocratie - 2003), and later with FNL (the Hutu Rebel Group - 2008; 2009), were formulated in reference to the Arusha Agreement. These ceasefire agreements aimed to encompass the reforms regarding the reintegration and demobilisation of former combatants, as well as the need to balance the representation of different factions within the security sector.

In support of the direction put forward by the Arusha Agreement and the following ceasefire agreements the UN led several missions in the country from 2004 until 2015, carrying out institutional reforms and building integrated national defence and internal security forces. The peacekeeping forces were gradually scaled down. The United Nations Electoral Observation Mission was established in the beginning of 2015 and operated one year in the country. UN is currently represented in the country through the Office of the Special Advisor to the Secretary General.

Despite this agenda, and the institutional efforts led by the UN and donor countries, Burundi suffered from weak institutions and continued political violence which escalated in April 2015 with the protests against the unconstitutional bid of president Nkurunziza for a third term and were supressed by security forces. The clashes between the security forces and armed opposition groups have continued well into 2016 with the population facing major security challenges and civilians driven out of the country in large numbers.[1] However important insights into the political nature of SSR can be gathered from the Burundian case.

Entry points

The Netherlands was among the several international donors supporting SSR in Burundi. Among other things, the SSD Program implemented by the Dutch MFA aimed to institutionalise the security forces and stretched over a total of eight years in four 2-year phases. The Memorandum of Understanding (MoU) signed by both the donor and the host country at the beginning explains the long term pillar structure in detail.

This long term structure divided in phases, as opposed to a single term fixed structure, enabled the Dutch together with the Burundian to identify intermediate objectives in parallel to the main goals. By investing in informal and formal networks and appropriate staffing, the Dutch were able to empower the local decision makers and engage them in a discussion on the future of SSR in their country. The Dutch programme also attempted to support security and justice issues with projects which identified and continuously adjusted the programme’s focus. This resulted in the mission being able to respond to political developments in the host country rapidly, as they occurred. Local leadership was increasingly empowered as the latter phases of the programme were launched.

The Dutch-Burundian programme set expectations for early deliverables which should foster trust and support joint design in the later phases of the programme. The Dutch-Burundian programme also allowed for flexible funding for unexpected windows of opportunity by making generic funds available at the outset of the project. 

Lessons identified

The SSD Programme in Burundi was able to build local trust and enhance political engagement from early stages.  

Key security and justice issues were continuously assessed and their political scope for positive change was realised.

  • Political engagement was carried out on a daily basis and efforts were spent to act quickly in response to political developments. This was implemented by several projects developed at the beginning of the programme. The baseline assessment of the Burundian and military and police forces, for example, conveyed new issues and insights on the programme. Another project created an open space for discussing SSG issues with both governmental and non-governmental stakeholders which turned into a working group in the later phases of the project.  
  • The staff concentrated on building high level support as well as building informal networks with the decision makers in the justice and security area in Burundi.

Intermediate objectives and milestones were identified for longer-term direction.

  • With the distinct structure of the programme divided into four phases, short term deliverables were facilitated. The trainings and material developed at the earlier phases of the program helped generate trust among the local interlocutors, providing them with an initial focus and familiarity with the programme, which contributed to achieving longer term strategic objectives like the discussion of more sensitive security challenges. It also helped local capacity building and empowerment as the local stakeholders contributed and had an impact on the short term deliverables.

Domestic political support was built from early on.

  • One of the first projects was a baseline assessment of the Burundian military and police forces, and another was designed to create an open space for discussing security sector governance issues with a broad range of governmental and non-governmental stakeholders. As a result of these two projects, new issues and insights were brought into discussions which could shape the programme in the years to come. The open space with stakeholders gradually evolved into a working group that slowly built the confidence needed to discuss sensitive issues and secured local trust.

Official agreements helped create and reinforce political engagement.

  • The programme was governed by an eight-year Memorandum of Understanding which provided a stable indication of long term Dutch support, and also highlighted the importance of local participation as an important enabler for programme success. The significance attached to local stakeholders in the governing document further helped building trust and ensuring political engagement from the host country.


The Burundian Ministry of Defence asked advice from the Dutch on the strategic defence review close to the end of the second two-year period. This would not have been possible if the SSD Program was not successful in establishing local trust and getting the politics right. Although similar level of trust building was not witnessed in the police pillar of the programme as no such high level advising was requested in the latter sector, it is significant that various local decision makers in the defence sector did not refrain from this engagement with the Netherlands. Given the tense Burundian environment and its evolution, the good practice achieved by the Dutch MFA Programme is further proof on how local trust can be built in fragile and sceptical political contexts by being politically proactive.

Several in depth case studies on the Dutch SSD Program have been conducted by the OECD on the programming success, offering a comparison of several international SSR support missions (including by ISSAT) : Capacity and accountability in the military: some examples from the SSD-program, Burundi.

Selected Resources

[1] https://theglobalobservatory.org/2016/05/burundi-crisis-nkurunziza-rwanda/.

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