Ibrahim Bangura, September, 2016
The launch of a security sector reform (SSR) process in 1997 was a key element of a broader push for sustainable peace and security in Sierra Leone, a country with a chequered history characterized by bad governance, corruption and a violent civil war since 1991. The country presented a peculiar case for SSR as its military had joined forces in 1997 with the rebel Revolutionary United Front (RUF) against the democratically elected government of Ahmad Tejan Kabbah.
Given the political context within the country and the perceived threat posed by conventional state security actors, a state-centric approach to SSR was endorsed with the principal goal of reorienting the security apparatus and stabilizing the country. Given that key SSR stakeholders had yet to fully appreciate the concept’s holistic orientation and governance focus at the time of its launch, the SSR process initially had a fairly narrow focus that missed opportunities to engage influential actors like non-state security and justice providers.
Between 1997 and 2002, with no clear policy or strategy in place, SSR took an ad-hoc approach dictated by fluid events and perceptions on the ground. The process was more reactive than constructive during this foundational period. However, with the declaration of the end of the conflict in 2002, a more structured and selective approach was employed, which saw several Ministries, Departments and Agencies benefit from reforms. Despite such encouraging signs, SSR has faced immense challenges since its inception, including limited political will, mistrust of political elites, poor coordination among local and international actors, and inadequate investment by the government of Sierra Leone. The process has remained heavily donor driven, with the British government being by far the greatest contributor to the process. It is worth noting that while this paper is focused on the record of conventional approaches to SSR in Sierra Leone, it does shine a spotlight on some early efforts to develop innovative second generation SSR initiatives.