22 October 2012

Africa: Hybrid Security Governance in Sub-Saharan Africa - a New Research Agenda


There is a dire need today to take a critical stance on the relationships between the various systems, actors and beneficiaries involved in the security sector on the African continent. The recently published IDS Bulletin 43.4 'Hybrid Security Orders in Sub-Saharan Africa' explores this issue further.

Security governance is based on a complex amalgam of statutory and non-statutory actors and institutions which form the security sector. However Security Sector Reforms (SSR) processes usually focus on structural and formal institutional arrangements of the state.

Too often, security reform processes supported by external donors tend to be driven by an administrative view of the state which emphasises its legal-institutional structure whilst glossing over its political and social character. Consequently, international actors recommend applying technocratic practices geared at building security capabilities meant to deliver western-style security and policing.

Can the concept of 'hybridity' improve our understanding of African security governance?

A number of scholars are using the concept of 'hybridity' to analyse and improve understanding of political orders in the Global South. The concept seeks to identify the interactions between formal and informal institutions, and understand the networks and processes that work alongside legally established structures.

The intention is to explore the significance of different components that influence decision-making and policy implementation in complex security arenas to better understand the varying but mostly poor success rate of SSR processes to date. The Bulletin features country case studies which show that Sierra Leone is at a more progressed stage, whereas Mali, Central African Republic and Democratic Republic of Congo are showing poor progress in SSR .

It is essential to recognise that in Sub-Saharan Africa much political activity takes place according to informal norms and systems. A wide variety of informal institutions operate alongside or within formal political institutions, and are at play in the public policy arena. Decision-making processes are not exclusively nested in formal institutions.

Indeed both formal and informal institutions are seen as functional by the politico-administrative elites and are mobilised in order to legitimise their power and authority, particularly in the security sector.

Interactions between formal and informal security institutions

Studies of security reform processes have shown that informal processes are well established in many state security structures. Leadership as well as management in the security sector is structured around particularistic, personalised networks, which are embedded in formal institutions and legislation but often derive from strong customs and local traditions. There is a dire need to localise, identify and analyse such networks to provide a better understanding of power distribution in the African security sector.

'Hybridity': A Guide for Action?

The key question (as proposed in the IDS Bulletin 43.4) is whether or not the concept of 'hybridity' can be more than an analytical one and become a guide for action for policy makers. Does it offer a strategy for building effective security systems? As we learn more about hybrid security orders, we may find some networks that offer valuable checks and balances and whose mobilisation could contribute to a more effective, legitimate, democratic African security order.

You can access the Introduction (pdf) of the Bulletin online for free.

- Niagalé Bagayoko-Penone is a former Research Fellow of the Governance team at the Institute of Development Studies (IDS).

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