Wednesday, May 29, 2013

Africa: AU's SSR policy framework: moving the gender debate forward

Source: ISS

The AU's SSR policy framework: moving the gender debate forward

The African Union (AU) has finally heeded the call for the development of a security sector reform (SSR) policy framework after numerous appeals for an ‘African-grown’ strategy for guiding SSR processes on the continent. The AU Policy Framework on SSR, adopted during the 20th Ordinary Session of the Assembly in January 2013, contributes to the AU’s broader peace and security goals, giving impetus to its post-conflict reconstruction and development agenda. It marks another significant accomplishment for the AU towards further opening up and enlarging democratic spaces within Africa’s security sector.

The policy is especially opportune as more and more countries on the continent embark on SSR programmes, and as the demand increases for resource capacity and support from the AU. This demand is driven by the need to address the myriad challenges characterising the security sector and which continue to undermine its performance. Some of these challenges are weak institutional structures; lack of effective democratic control and governance; lack of effective and relevant training; gender inequity; and inadequate equipment, funding and resources.

As such, the AU’s SSR policy framework seeks to establish a security sector in Africa that is ‘effective, efficient and without prejudice to existing similar frameworks at national and regional levels’. This will require its members to ‘formulate or re-orient the policies, structures, and capacities of institutions and groups engaged in the security sector, in order to make them more effective, efficient, and responsive to democratic control, and to the security and justice needs of the people’. While this is a noble aim, the AU Commission (AUC) has to ensure that individual member states as well as regional economic communities (RECs) demonstrate measurable performances. Benchmarks and measurable indicators for desired SSR outcomes will therefore have to be developed, as will mechanisms for enforcing members’ accountability. Otherwise states may fail to prioritise this, as has been the case with so many other policy frameworks.

The policy identifies actors within the security sector as being primary security institutions (the armed forces, police, etc.); specialised security and intelligence security institutions; public oversight and management bodies (e.g. security advisory bodies, ministries and parliament); and justice and rule of law institutions, among others. Of particular interest is the fact that, unlike most traditional Western definitions, the AU’s SSR policy framework also includes non-traditional actors such as civil and emergency institutions (natural disaster management and resource protection units, etc.) and non-state security bodies such as traditional and customary authorities (chiefs, traditional courts, etc.) in its definitions. This is appropriate granted the context and unique security challenges facing the continent and the many approaches in addressing them. The success of SSR activities, however, will hinge on inclusivity, coherence and coordinated approaches by all relevant actors.

Granted, the policy framework does outline some of the proposed implementation mechanisms and instruments for the operationalisation of the policy. These are to be developed by the AUC and include technical guidance notes for all envisaged SSR scenarios, SSR orientation and training manuals for African situations, SSR assessments and review templates, and monitoring and evaluation templates. While these are commendable initiatives, the AU should go a step further and propose the development of National Action Plans (NAPs) for its members’ implementation of the SSR policy framework. This will ensure that member states assume responsibility for implementation, guard against mollycoddling and foster ownership and sustained success at the individual country level. In addition, NAPs will enhance the AUC’s monitoring efforts, allowing it to track progress or seek solutions to help countries encountering difficulties with implementing their SSR activities.

The AU’s SSR framework comes at a time when the debate on women, peace and security seems focussed on advocacy and related messaging about gender mainstreaming in the security sector. These efforts are informed by recognition of SSR and gendered perspectives as critical elements in conflict management and peace-building processes. However, despite these efforts and all the existing international, regional and national gender policy standards for women’s peace and security, these policies have yet to translate into meaningfully transformed gendered relations at all levels in Africa’s security sector.

Hindrances to achieving this transformation are echoed, for instance, in the 2012 annual report of the AUC chairperson on the implementation of the Solemn Declaration on Gender Equality in Africa, which comments on the limited commitment or capacity by individual African countries to integrate ‘gender perspectives into conflict prevention, management and resolution processes’. The AU’s SSR framework is therefore critical in reinvigorating the debate on and practice of gender mainstreaming, so as to bring about transformative change within the security sector. In this regard, member states should try to be more consistent in ensuring best practice in line with AU gender-mainstreaming requirements. In addition, civil society, including women’s organisations, should remain engaged in promoting and defending gender best practices in the security sector.

In terms of addressing threats to women’s safety, security and justice concerns, particularly in situations of armed conflict and in line with United Nations Security Council resolutions and similar international, regional and national legislation, the AU’s SSR policy demands that its members improve mechanisms for the prevention of sexual and gender-based violence. This has been a particularly vexing concern across the world. The G8 Declaration on Preventing Sexual Violence in Conflict in April 2013, which classifies rape and sexual violence as war crimes that are in contravention of the Geneva Conventions and calls for more efficient prosecution of perpetrators, is a step in the right direction in augmenting the AU’s efforts in this regard.

Best practice can be gleaned from countries that have undertaken SSR, such as Liberia and Sierra Leone. This is particularly useful in addressing the specific needs of women and girls formerly associated with ex-combatants, as noted in the policy. One of the major hindrances to sustainable SSR has also been the lack of local expertise and capacity in undertaking SSR. This is a critical hurdle the AU will have to overcome, and one way of doing so would be to facilitate the transfer of SSR best practices, especially where challenges persist. Such a transfer of knowledge to locals should be matched with incentives to ensure that they stay committed to SSR efforts and minimise the flight of acquired skills.

In order to maintain alignment with the broader continental framework, RECs will also need to expedite the formulation of regional SSR frameworks. This will not only ensure accountability by fellow member states but also provide further momentum for undertaking SSR within regions, thereby addressing collective regional threats such as human trafficking of women and girls across borders.

Even though a lot of work remains to be done in operationalising the AU’s SSR policy framework, the policy is a worthy initiative that requires political will and collaboration among member states to ensure implementation success.

Irene Ndungu, Consultant, Conflict Management and Peacebuilding Division, ISS Pretoria