In 2013, after Jihadist fighters affiliated with Al Qaeda in the Maghreb (AQIM) had overrun Northern Mali, Denmark’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs launched the five-year Danish Regional Sahel Peace and Stabilization Programme to support peace and stability in Mali, Niger and Burkina Faso.
Since gaining independence in the early 1960s, these three sub-saharan neighbors have each engaged in their own -- at times rocky paths -- towards democratization, facing challenges of extreme poverty, periods of autocratic rule, military mutinies and coups d’état. The landlocked Sahel countries share porous borders through which terrorists and human traffickers pass easily, despite increased national and regional containment efforts. All three countries remain vulnerable to internal and external destabilization due to rising violent extremism, corruption, weak democratic institutions, and a lack of oversight over the armed forces by civilian authorities and citizens.
The Danish program seeks to improve local mediation and conflict resolution skills, improve security, and to counter violent extremism and organized crime. Within this program, the Danish government has partnered with NDI to strengthen civilian control over the military. Through its ongoing efforts, NDI works to enhance oversight and monitoring of the security sector by civil society, the legislature and the executive branch.
Increasing Citizen Oversight of Security Sector
NDI has assisted a group of civil society organizations in the three countries in implementing projects focused on increasing citizen oversight of security sector actors. In Burkina Faso, NDI’s local partner, the Centre pour la Gouvernance Démocratique (Center for Democratic Governance, CGD), has conducted an advocacy campaign for the adoption of security sector reforms based on research findings on lack of trust between the population and security forces. This program helped to change the government’s perception of civil society. “Implementation of the Sahel project...facilitated the positioning of civil society actors as key partners in the domain of the security sector,” said CGD project lead Agnès Kaboré, noting the presence of security agents and military authorities at the program activities.
In Mali, NDI assisted the Alliance Malienne pour Refonder la Gouvernance en Afrique (Malian Alliance to Refound Governance in Africa, ARGA) to establish a resource center that houses a comprehensive physical and online collection of the laws, regulations and international agreements governing the security sector. The Coalition Nationale de la Société Civile pour la Paix et la Lutte contre la Prolifération des Armes Légères (National Civil Society Coalition for Peace and Fight against Small Arms Proliferation, CONASCIPAL), mobilized fellow Malian civil society members to form citizen watch committees to monitor the provision of security in five major population centers (Bamako, Gao, Kayes, Mopti, and Timbuktu). The groups will use their findings to advocate for greater citizen involvement in overseeing security sector reform and the implementation of the 2015 peace accord.
In Niger, the Réseau Nigérien pour la gestion non violente des conflits (Nigerien Network for the Non-Violent Management of Conflicts, GENOVICO) educated Nigeriens on the rights, responsibilities and roles of civilians in security sector oversight. The trainings had broad support within government and civil society, and were conducted in partnership with the Ministry of the Interior, Public Security, Decentralization and Religious and Customary Affairs, fellow civil society organizations and defense and security actors. This project sparked interest by civil society organizations and state entities alike in how civil society could contribute to an area once seen as reserved for state intervention.
“Through its support for dialogue and debate on security issues, the Sahel program has allowed for a change of perspective on security issues, which is now multidimensional and requires the mobilization of all components of society, citizens and civil society organizations, beyond the traditional actors of law and security services,” said a member of GENOVICO. “This change of perspective increasingly involves actors in favor of peace and security in Niger.”
Having improved awareness of how and why civil society should contribute to such oversight, GENOVICO organized dialogue sessions between program partners that promoted non-violent communication, collaboration and peaceful coexistence. GENOVICO also launched a national observatory on security governance, which serves as a resource center that aims to build the capacity of civil society and contribute to persistent improvement of security sector governance.
Legislative Branch Oversight
In the parliaments of all three countries, NDI has assisted members of the defense and security committees to identify critical needs and existing capacities to increase parliamentary engagement in security sector oversight. The Institute produced a guide to parliamentary oversight of the security sector and budgeting for the use of members of parliament who work on defense and security. Field visits to security installations have allowed parliamentarians to see firsthand the challenges confronting the sector.
Twelve members of parliament visited an army unit in Kaya, Burkina Faso, where they were briefed by representatives of the armed forces’ General Defense Staff on how the military is organized and operates, and the challenges currently facing the army. Members of parliament saw the conditions in which troops operate day-to-day and came to appreciate the difficulties facing the armed forces in fulfilling their mission, including equipment deficiencies and shortcomings in terms of human resources. As lawmakers, this understanding will enable them to make a more effective contribution to reforming the Burkinabe army to be more accountable to civilian control and better able to counter terrorism and protect citizens.
Members of parliament in Mali prepared field visits to security force operations in the Gao, Ménaka and Timbuktu regions with NDI assistance. MINUSMA provided logistical support for the visits. From these visits, the lawmakers reported having gained a new awareness that security forces operate without proper infrastructure and with insufficient equipment, lacking many of the essential weapons and technologies needed to surveil and track the activities of terrorist groups.
In Niger, an NDI-organized visit to military training academies allowed members of parliament to understand the funding, infrastructure and resource needs that these educational centers face. Following the mission, NDI worked with participants to draft an overview document with recommendations for MPs and the government for the betterment of conditions and opportunities offered to armed forces’ cadets.
Executive Branch Oversight
NDI also assists the respective executive branch ministries in charge of security in identifying needs and building new skills.
In Mali, NDI is currently supporting the Ministry of Security and Civil Protection to widely disseminate a compilation of legal instruments governing the security sector that was developed as part of the program.
In Niger, NDI has worked with the General Directorate of the National Police to update a police code of ethics and professional conduct, and to train and monitor the police force on its implementation.
NDI organized a regional forum in Ouagadougou, Burkina Faso, that brought together legislators, civil society leaders, and members of the relevant ministries with security governance experts and representatives of the African Union, the G5 Sahel -- a multinational organization made up of Sahel countries -- and the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime (UNODC) to exchange experiences and identify shared priorities. The forum hosted participants from Niger, Mali and Burkina Faso.
The Sahel region will continue to face serious internal and external threats to peace and stability, but improved civilian oversight over the armed forces can help to increase transparency and accountability, and to build confidence among citizens in their countries’ democratic systems, helping to strengthen the resilience of these nascent democracies.