The British government’s political, financial, logistical and security support to Sierra Leone has been critical in restoring peace. But will it lead to wider economic, political and social improvement? This article assesses security sector reform (SSR) in Sierra Leone. It suggests that the costs of SSR have been huge and, although successful, Sierra Leone is still near the bottom of the human development index and the peace remains fragile.
In 2000, the United Kingdom intervened militarily in Sierra Leone and restored the peace that United Nations’ peacekeepers had guaranteed since 1999. It retained an extensive role in the subsequent process of state reconstruction, with a particular focus on security sector reform (SSR). The reform effort was based on the premise that a professional and accountable security apparatus is a pre-condition for the stable development of state and society.
The reform effort has built capacity in police and military institutions, which were deeply politicised and debilitated. It has provided much needed confidence to people who no longer had faith in their own security institutions and it created a stable, secure environment in which SSR could take place. However, managing comprehensive reforms have proved to be a complex process. Furthermore, although UK ministries and academic institutions developed policy guidance, those engaging in reforms took their cues from the political environment they were operating in. Although the military and police are no longer politicised and incapacitated forces, the future of reform is an open question.
- It is not clear that the reform model – which, in part replicates British systems – is appropriate for Sierra Leone.
- There is a dislocation between policy advice on the conceptual level, and the manner in which it was actually attempted and implemented.
- There was little connection or coordination between the various reform elements. Although reformers improved the basic operational effectiveness of the Sierra Leone Police and the Republic of Sierra Leone Army Forces, the effort expended on this meant that not enough attention was given to longer-term issues of governance and oversight.
The UK government policy sees SSR as a foundational pre-requisite for the achievement of broader development goals, yet the evidence from Sierra Leone is that one does not necessarily lead to the other. It may be too early for an overall assessment of SSR, but a number of lessons have emerged from the experience to date. It is important to:
- design policy advice in a way that works on the ground in the specific context of Sierra Leone;
- make sure that the framing of policy and programming are closely connected;
- find a way of coordinating SSR programmes; and
- develop strategies to combine short-term reform work with long-term goals.