Academic journal article Africa Security Briefs

Lessons from Burundi's Security Sector Reform Process

Academic journal article Africa Security Briefs

Lessons from Burundi's Security Sector Reform Process

Article excerpt


* Progress made by Burundi's Security Sector Development (SSD) program in advancing democratic security sector governance is noteworthy given that there have been relatively few successful security sector reform cases from which to draw.

* Political will for security sector reform was expanded over time by supporting tangible priorities of the Burundian security sector that established the trust enabling broader engagement on governance issues.

* The relative success of the SSD program-and particularly its governance pillar-depended heavily on its ability to address politically sensitive issues.

* SSD's 8-year timeframe provided the time to adapt the program to evolving circumstances, facilitate increasing Burundian ownership of the reform process, and realize the incremental gains from which substantive change was possible.

Burundi's 12-year civil war cost approximately 300,000 lives, devastated the nation's physical and institutional infrastructure, and tore at the social fabric of this ethnically divided population. Efforts to heal these wounds thus started from a polarized political environment and high levels of distrust. Compounding these challenges, Burundi would have to overcome a long legacy of military domination of politics. The Amsha Peace and Reconciliation Agreement, which inaugurated the transition process in 2000, called for significant reform of the security sector, including the integration of rebel factions into the armed forces. A power sharing agreement in 2004 coupled with the decision by the predominantly Hutu rebel group, Front de Libération Nationale, to transform itself into a political party in 2008, ushered in a period of relative stability and peace in Burundi. The armed forces have subsequently made important strides in becoming ethnically integrated and professional.

Nonetheless, serious challenges remain. The political rules of the game in Burundi are still not fully agreed upon. The political elite remains divided. The ruling party has yet to fully embrace democratic norms and continues to use the police for political ends.1 Moreover, for many Burundians, a large rift persists between the security sector and society at large. In parts of the country, the public harbors a strong resentment of the security sector, especially the police, whom many perceive as agents of repression.2 At times, Burundians' lack of confidence in the security sector has resulted in a willingness to resort to vigilantism or "mob justice." Perpetrators of such violence have justified the need to take the law into their own hands on the basis of police corruption, incompetence, and favoritism.3 In order to consolidate peace and security for its citizens, Burundi would need to embark on an ambitious security sector reform (SSR) program.

The Burundi'Netherlands Security Sector Development (SSD) program aimed for such transformative change when it was launched in 2009 with its explicit support for the development of more democratic and accountable governance of the security sector. The program had little in the way of successful models to draw on, however. Most previous SSR efforts had focused on training and equipping security forces and given little sustained attention to strengthening governance of the sector. The SSD program, therefore, had to break new ground in integrating democratic governance objectives into the existing SSR paradigm.


The SSR concept was developed in the 1990s to inject a governance component into traditional security assistance. It was based on two closely linked relationships. First, it recognized that a safe and secure environment engenders successful economic and political development. Second, a safe and secure environment requires sound governance of the security and justice sectors. Countries where governance of the security and justice sectors has been suboptimal have tended to experience higher rates of impunity by security and justice sector actors. …

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