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About flour and cake: why governance and accountability matter in SSR


Governance and accountability were put center-stage at the recent SCIENTIA meeting on the EU and Security Sector Reform (SSR), with two civilian experts sharing their experiences on EU missions in Ukraine and Afghanistan.

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Flour and cake are like donor funding and security

Flour is not the cause of cake: similarly, donor funding and capacity development are not the cause of security. Security has to do with the strength of equitable and accessible institutions, and the relationship between the government and its citizens. This means accountability is at the heart of SSR, helping to enable institutions to become more powerful than the people who populate them.

Accountability does not begin and end with individual capacity: instead, political conditions have to be addressed. To address  this in SSR processes, the right expertise is crucial, in multidisciplinary teams capable of handling both the technical and political aspects. “We’re not asking a doctor to build a hospital…” – so can we ask a policeman to reform the security sector?

Lessons from research and practice

The two civilian experts and several researchers shared a number of lessons, highlighting the political nature of SSR:

  • Team composition is crucial. It is important to balance expertise and diversify team thinking, to prevent tunnel vision. As a team, it takes time to develop a shared SSR language.
  • Have the flexibility to respond to windows of opportunity: in order to position the mission and build credibility with local counterparts, and gain quick successes.
  • Have realistic ambitions, keeping in mind SSR is a long-term process. But this does not exclude quick wins, balance the “hunger for early success”, with the long-term goals.
  • Address different levels. In SSR missions, training is the easy part. The ministerial development process is more complicated, but should not be  ignored.
  • Engage in political dialogue, both in the country hosting the mission, as well as in home countries of mission experts. Home governments and national interests have a strong influence: “you cannot imagine the impact of these on the mission headquarters”.

Reflections on The Netherlands and the EU

What is the added value of the European Union in SSR missions? And what role can The Netherlands play in putting the focus on governance and accountability?

  • The EU has the most comprehensive package of tools at its disposal, of all western organizations.
  • The Netherlands can play a role in encouraging the shift in focus from outputs to outcomes, sharing own experiences with programming in for example Burundi, and inviting other countries to share as well.
  • To overcome the challenge of coordination between different missions, a solution may be for one country to second experts to all these missions, so that these can facilitate collaboration.