OP-ED: The Security Sector Reform Process and What it means for The Gambia

EYEAFRICA TV: Banjul: The Gambia: The form and structure of the Office of National Security is tailored to suit The Gambia security environment, considering the current security threats and economic realities and will improve The Gambia capacity to identify and prioritize threats to national security as well as support strategic policy development.
The work of the Office of National Security is cross cutting across Ministries, Security Institutions and Agency levels. Headed by the National Security Adviser, it is responsible for reporting to the National Security Council.
It also plays the coordination role of the SSR process, coordinating specific reform activities relating to the individual institutions, reform activities to enable civilian management and oversight, addressing post-authoritarian legacies to enhance reforms and reform imperatives to address cross-cutting perennial challenges. All of these form an integral part of the broader process of strengthening the rule of law and consolidating peace in The Gambia.
It must be recognized that the security sector reform process is bringing together a number of players, who would be implementing SSR projects. These players are at varying capacities and there is need for consistent and effective communications, which will also enhance accountability and performance.
In addition, involving the different actors in building the project plans and schedules is a fundamental way to ensure local ownership and national buy-in. In many cases, getting this right involves a delicate balance between releasing too much information and releasing too little. As a prerequisite, such involvement and participation can only be facilitated and ensured with good and effective communication. Communication, when it is done well, will not only benefit the ‘recipients’.
It will also benefit the ‘senders’. It will bring all stakeholders into the fold in a way that advances work towards the SSR goals. This aspect of communication, which is often overlooked will maximize on the gains made so far in the SSR process in The Gambia.
Bearing this in mind, the spate of unfortunate incidents involving security sector actors in the past year, which were intricately linked to failure of the Security Sector Reform process in The Gambia in some quarters is a conjecture that amongst other things portray a clear lack of understanding and misconception about security sector reform. Whilst it can take a few hours to demolish a large structure such as a storey building, it may take weeks, if not months, to actually put up that structure. Parsing failures, the context and extent of SSR processes may vary from one situation to another, yet the objective of any reform process remains the same, which is to increase both the effectiveness of the security sector and the level of accountability of the actors involved in it. This inherently takes time, considering our recent history of coming out of a brutal dictatorship.
Whether triggered by a crisis or undertaken as part of continuing efforts to ensure ongoing restructuring of the security sector, Security Sector Reform deal with issues related to the performance of security mechanisms, their compliance with ethical norms of individual and collective behaviour and their responsiveness to democratic oversight. Thus, the reform process of The Gambia is designed in a holistic, integrated manner, but implemented through sectoral projects and action plans, which may be regarded as implementation mechanisms specific to each area of intervention (e.g. defense reform, police reform, customs reform, etc.).
Far from being a justification for the wrongs of the past the year the objective here is to inform the conversation and guide towards a broader appreciation of the SSR process of The Gambia, not as a palliative measure to satisfy a communal need, just as any other  project intervention, but anchoring SSR in state reform and adopting an all-inclusive approach to the security sector with an emphasis on governance issues. This is not limited to decision-making centres, rather it is a process that requires active buy-in from all national stakeholders, at several levels.
An initial guarantee of the appropriateness of the SSR approach taken onboard by The Gambia is local ownership, which is the primary requirement for any national SSR process. For this reason, to ensure local ownership of the SSR process, a sense of mutual involvement and joint responsibility must be shared by stakeholders at four levels:

  • Citizens and communities, namely the various segments of the population (men, women, girls and boys) who are the primary beneficiaries of security and justice objectives;
  • The State, which is responsible for national stability and responding to the security and justice needs of each individual, in accordance with the principle of responsibility enshrined in Articles 4 and 41 of the ECOWAS Conflict Prevention Framework;
  • Security and justice institutions, which are the instruments through which the state takes concrete action to improve security and justice for the population;
  • Staff of these institutions, namely the women and men who represent and act on behalf of security and justice institutions.

In order for local ownership to yield meaningful results, it is important for all four categories of actors to reach a shared understanding of the security needs of the people and the state, the capacity of security institutions to respond to these needs and the objectives to be achieved through SSR.
This inclusive system will help to foster a common sense of responsibility and a collaborative momentum among all national stakeholders, generating concerted, home- grown solutions that are tailored to address the particular problems and needs identified as a pre-requisite to guide SSR programming.
Since coming on board as Communication Strategist for SSR, two distinct yet complementary dimensions of SSR programming (i.e. “soft” and “hard” elements of reform) have been increasingly made visible to the public through active dissemination of information.
These “soft” areas of reform referring to intangible or governance related reform programs include capacity building and awareness raising among others. Gauging by the responses from the general public, including security institutions’ personnel, especially during our recent nationwide sensitization tour on SSR, from the 16-20 December, 2019, sponsored by DCAF with funding from the European Union, sustainable responses to challenges such as the prerequisite for “hard” elements of reform, which are physical or related material resources, including  equipment and infrastructure has been entreated especially in the provinces. This bodes well for national ownership as it signals greater understanding of the process.
Yet as opposed to  “hard” investments, whose lifespan is usually limited, focusing on the “soft” aspects of reform generates longer-term impact on human and material needs, in particular through modernising the human resources management system, rationalising the procurement and asset management procedures, improving internal communication and mainstreaming gender.
Therefore, combining soft and hard areas of reform to ensure an appropriate degree of complementarity and balance is a giant step towards increased professionalism of our security sector actors. This will ensure that questions of governance and service delivery, which lie at the heart of SSR, are always front and centre to help us achieve the expected strategic results.
As we look forward to more acheivements in 2020, we will continue to encourage stakeholder engagement, map existing information demand and information-use environment, and promote participative communication for empowerment of the public in order to maximise our own benefits too.
In sum, the kernel of the SSR process is a question along the lines of: ‘Looking back over the last year, what needs to be done better?’. On this premise we look forward to greater impact this year to progress on the SSR process in The Gambia.

Written by Rohey Samba, Communication Strategist for SSR Office of National Security

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