Security Sector Reform needs inclusive politics and jobs for the poor

Security sector reform has gained prominence in recent years as the international community seeks solutions to seemingly intractable conflicts. However, in order to achieve sustainable peace, security sector reform needs to be grounded in inclusive government and growth strategies that deliver jobs to the poor.

Yusuf Bangura
19 March 2012

Although development practitioners have embraced the notion of a security-development nexus, the development dimension in peacebuilding and post-war programming has been treated casually. It consists largely of ad hoc, poorly remunerated work schemes and micro credit that cover only a fraction of the population. Inclusive government has been reduced to quick fix power-sharing deals between warring factions without effective citizen participation, while the preference for standing armies – albeit better trained and incentivized than previous conflict-prone armies – makes it difficult to end the culture of militarism in post-conflict societies.

Security sector reform addresses two interconnected issues: disarmament, demobilization and reintegration (DDR) of ex-combatants into society; and right-sizing and professionalization of the military and police. Most wars today end with DDR programmes – by 2006, 51 countries had such programmes. However, results have been more positive in disarmament and demobilization than in reintegration. There is often a funding gap, and bias against reintegration. One estimate for programmes unfolding across 20 countries with a total of 1,129,000 ex-combatants suggests that disarming, demobilizing and reintegrating one ex-combatant cost an average of US$ 1,686 in 2007.

A large part of DDR money is spent on short-term assistance, usually lasting a year. Ex-combatants often return to economies with few employment opportunities; some sell tool kits given through reintegration programmes to offset pressing problems; the vast majority join the ranks of under-employed youth in the informal economy. Some are recruited into the security wings of political parties and may provoke violence during elections. In Sierra Leone, for instance, ex-combatants guard politicians and party offices, and often use violence during political rallies to demonstrate their relevance in the security field.

Professionalization of the military is also beset with problems. In contexts where political parties draw their support from specific ethnic groups or regions, ethno-regional calculations may influence recruitment into the military, creating doubts about impartiality among groups that feel under-represented in the institution. In low income democracies where governments enjoy huge parliamentary majorities and parties lack strong ties with social movements, depoliticization of the military can be challenging.

More fundamentally, since the military is the only legitimate group to carry weapons in defence of what is clearly a public good (national security), there are bound to be principal-agent problems. The military may demand rents – higher than average salaries, better perks, etc. – that may distort public finances; it may take over the state and fuse the roles of principal and agent; and it may be used by one of the principals – government – to repress the other principal – the public. These outcomes have informed civil-military relations in many poor countries. In much of Africa, soldiers enjoy superior provisioning to average citizens; militaries have staged more than 80 coups since 1960; and governments have repeatedly used the military to control popular dissent.

Professionalization of the military under conditions of widespread poverty and weak civic institutions may not be a magic bullet for sustainable peace; indeed, it may empower professional armies to extract resources from the state. In Cambodia, the army was partly appeased in the peace settlement of 1991 by giving it concessions in the timber industry. Loggers paid between US$ 35 and US$ 90 per cubic metre of logs felled. This did not prevent the effective army leader and second prime minister in the coalition government, Hun Sen, from staging a coup and getting rid of the democratically elected first prime minister in 1997. In Nigeria, retired and serving military officers are heavily involved in the oil economy as middle men; serve on boards of banks, parastatals and transnational companies; and play leading roles in arms procurement, which takes up a large part of the government budget.

Participation, inclusion and development

Security sector reform that will lead to sustainable peace will require the democratization of military security, involving the participation of citizens engaged in productive work. Under this alternate scheme, citizens need not carry arms at all times, but they will be required to participate in programmes on security education, methods of arms use and creative strategies of collective and self-defence. Switzerland’s citizen-based military system, which combines work and military service, offers useful lessons. It is citizen involvement in national security, not professionalization per se, that will check the chronic tendency of the military to threaten security and demand rents in poor countries. Furthermore, a citizen-based army may help to heal ethnic divisions, break rigidities in the political system, and serve as a basis for shared citizenship and nation-building.

A democratic security system cannot be built without inclusive government. Research suggests that the distribution of government jobs in countries with polarized ethnic structures often tend to be highly unequal, with ethnic groups associated with governing parties taking the lion’s share of posts. This is often a source of tension that can threaten public peace. Until very recently, the response of the international community has been to impose power-sharing deals on contending parties. This happened, for instance, in Sierra Leone in 1999, and Zimbabwe and Kenya in 2008. Governments and opposition parties very quickly learned how to game the system by provoking violence when electoral outcomes are unfavourable, hoping to get a share of power through negotiations brokered by the international community. The UN-sanctioned military removal of Côte d’Ivoire’s former president, Laurent Gbagbo, who refused to leave office after losing elections in 2010, suggests weariness by the international community for power sharing deals.

Except in a few cases, such as in Bosnia, Iraq and Burundi, there have been limited efforts to craft long-term reforms for inclusive government in post-conflict societies. The constitutions of most countries are still based on winner-takes-all rules. It is critical to note that not all rules that promote inclusive outcomes are conducive to development. One of the limitations of power sharing arrangements that are devoid of institutionalized opposition is that elections may lose their bite by sanctioning poor performance. This is especially the case in poor countries where civic groups are weak, citizen engagement of public policy is difficult to sustain, and elections offer the only viable opportunity to hold leaders to account. Governments tend to address popular concerns when electoral outcomes are uncertain. Indeed, it has been shown that new democracies tend to be associated with large political budget cycles as governments respond to voter pressures to satisfy basic needs during election periods. One study finds that the fiscal deficits of 44 African countries where competitive elections have been held increased by 1.2 percent of GDP during election years. This is not to suggest that all such expenditures are developmental; it is simply to highlight the tendency for governments to respond to popular demands under conditions of electoral competitiveness.

If the principle of organized opposition is to be retained in post-conflict societies, the challenge for governance reforms is to make all key political parties multiethnic. The political science literature is replete with rules that can be crafted to achieve such a goal. Politicians who wish to represent their parties in presidential elections can be subjected to primaries of the US type; threshold rules of vote shares across regions can be established for declaring winners of presidential elections; and the alternative or preference vote that ranks candidates and distributes the votes of losers to top candidates to achieve a majoritarian outcome can be adopted. These rules, which in essence represent pacts between elites, may encourage moderation, force candidates to appeal to voters outside of their ethnic homelands, and lead to the formation of inclusive governments. They can be backed up by a policy of power alternation among key ethno-regional clusters while still retaining the principle of organized opposition.

However, elite pacts are not enough for sustainable peace. A democratic security sector regime also needs an economy that grows and delivers jobs, so that the poor can have a stake in the social contract. One of the tragedies of international development policy in recent years is its failure to induce economic transformations that can generate jobs with decent incomes for individuals who eke a living in the informal sector. Despite the comprehensive nature of the World Bank’s World Development Report of 2011, Conflict, Security and Development, it approached the employment challenge in post-conflict societies with less conviction for durable solutions, claiming that “...there is no consensus on the exact set of policies that can generate employment”.

When employment policy is addressed in development policy, it tends to be detached from broader processes of structural change and restricted largely to ad hoc interventions, such as skills training, public works and micro finance that are poorly funded. Sierra Leone’s youth employment programme, which is funded by the World Bank, German Technical Cooperation and the UN, costs US$ 46 million. It is expected to provide 106,000 jobs over a period of two years. This represents only 10 percent of the unemployed/underemployed youth population. The World Bank’s youth employment programme for Côte d’Ivoire, which has a larger population than Sierra Leone’s, is US$ 50 million.

Concerns for macroeconomic stabilization often take precedence over development strategies that deliver jobs to the poor. This stabilization approach has affected aid expenditure policy. A report by the IMF’s Independent Evaluation Office of aid to Africa in 2007 found that countries with IMF programmes spent on average only 15 percent of aid receipts if their inflation rates were higher than 5 percent. Post-conflict countries tend to use aid to accumulate foreign reserves. They also engage in small-scale rehabilitation and resettlement programmes rather than support agricultural and industrial transformations that have a potential to improve employment opportunities on a massive scale.

There is no guarantee that current security sector reforms can lead to sustainable peace. The security sector needs to be democratized, governments made inclusive, and development that delivers jobs to the poor given priority in public policy. The good news is that the current global economic crisis has called into question the conventional stabilization framework for managing economies. Many poor countries, including those affected by war, are beginning to demand policy space to stimulate their economies through extensive investments in infrastructure and adoption of agricultural and industrial policies that will generate positive changes in the real economy. High growth rates and improvements in revenues from minerals and taxation in recent years may serve to consolidate this trend. International development agencies would do well to support these initiatives, as it will require joined up planning to make security sector reform work.

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