African Security Sector Network


The African Security Sector Network (ASSN) recently signed a Memorandum of Grant Conditions with the International Development and Research Centre (IDRC) for the execution of a research project extending over a three year period. The project is titled Hybrid Security Governance in Africa and will cover six African countries: Cote d’Ivoire, Liberia, Nigeria, Sierra Leone, Somaliland and South Africa. The total grant award for the project is seven hundred thousand Canadian dollars (CAD$700,000) over a three year period.


The grant application submitted by the ASSN to IDRC in support of the project was premised on the realization that Security Sector Reform (SSR) processes are more often than not focused on structural and formal institutional arrangements of the state. SSR focuses largely upon tangible policy goals such as better budgetary management of security spending, training and professionalization, police and courts reforms, mechanisms of parliamentary accountability, or the provision of alternative livelihoods for ex-combatants. They have scarcely begun to touch upon the deep politics of reform or to draw in any systematic way upon the critical literatures on the state, hybrid political orders [HPOs] and security. References to the ‘informal’ security and justice sector have become a standard fixture in the global SSR and ‘state-building’ toolkit, but this has remained largely at the level of rhetoric, with little real understanding of how this sector actually functions, of the complex character of the intersections between formal and informal institutions, or the implications (importantly) for reform efforts that aim to build Weberian ideal-type institutions. Yet, in reality, the Security Sector in Africa is an intricate fusion of both formal and customary/traditional actors and institutions.

The term ‘hybridity’ is employed in this context to denote the complex amalgam of statutory and non-statutory actors and institutions typically at play in the African security sector, though in this project the main thrust of the concept is to illuminate the character and functioning of security systems in countries emerging from conflict, where customary, clan and non-formal institutions tend to be widely implicated in delivery of security, and where there is a particular need to understand the nature of these intersections of formality and informality if state – and peacebuilding initiatives are to achieve any traction and sustainability.

The principal objective of the research is to rethink prevailing conceptions of ‘security governance’ in Africa, which are by and large built around the notion of a ‘state’ characterized by (and functioning in line with) legal rational norms and institutions. It is this conception which in turn informs current SSR exercises on the continent. This project argues that such notions of ‘governance’ are deceptively simple as well as misleading in the African context, where –as is already well recognized in the sociological literature–many political and social transactions occur in contexts defined as much by informal as by formal norms and systems, and where a wide array of informal institutions operate alongside or within nominally formal political structures. The project hopes to offer–based on grounded research – a radically different (but also much more comprehensive and realistic) perspective on African security governance.

Its central thesis is that, in the African context, security sectors are often constituted and driven by multilevel structures and networks that span the conventional state / non-state divide; states and informal networks should thus be seen not as functionally distinct or mutually exclusive, but rather as embedded in dynamic and shifting relations of cooperation and competition, depending on the context. The research will explore and identify those informal networks, actors and processes which, alongside legally established structures, influence decision-making as well as policy implementation in the security sector.

Specifically, the project is set to achieve five distinct and yet interrelated objectives.

The first is to identify and analyse the networks and processes that span the divide between ‘formality’ and ‘informality’, and, as a result, provide a better and more realistic understanding of decision-making processes and power distribution in the African security sector.

The second is to clarify the role of non-state / non-formal / customary security institutions (community security organs, militias, vigilante groups, etc), and the interactions and interface between these and the formal security institutions of the state. Hybrid security orders are characterized by the existence of multiple non-state providers of security, as the state shares ‘authority, legitimacy, and capacity’ with other actors, networks and institutions that transcend the formal/informal divide. Such a phenomenon requires analysts to gain empirically grounded knowledge. It also has undoubted policy implications: if the typical African security sector is in reality hybrid (and hence far removed from the ideal-typic conceptual understandings underlying current SSR and SSG initiatives), this would have significant implications for the way we understand and approach reform and governance of the security sector.

A third purpose is to better understand the ‘real economy’ of security provisioning in hybrid systems, and the patterns of inclusion and exclusion associated with such systems (in particular the role of gender and sexual orientation, where the notion of ‘double jeopardy’ may well apply). At a broader level, investigators will use the lens of social inclusion to begin to distinguish those HPOs that provide for workable public authority from HPOs that merely reinforce ‘elite bargains’, ‘coalitions’ or ‘pacts’, or only seek the capacity to contain violence and to secure the property, economic interests, and opportunities of pact members (recognizing at the same time that many HPOs may be inclusive in certain respects but also remain ‘limited access orders’ in many other respects).

Fourthly, the project seeks to investigate whether the concept of ‘hybridity’ cannot be more than an analytical tool (to explain functions and dysfunctions in African security systems) and become a guide to action. We will try to establish if ‘hybridity’ in its broadest sense can furnish a strategy for building effective security systems, and the extent to which these ‘crossover’ networks (or the values motivating them) can be mobilized (or not) as checks and balances to inform and reinforce African
security governance.

Finally, the project will strive to contribute to strengthening the (notoriously weak) research and evidence base of SSR, and addressing the many ‘research gaps’ in the discipline, at the same time building the research capacity of civil society groups and research institutions involved in the project, and thereby their ability to engage issues of security sector reform and governance in their respective countries.

Case Studies/Project Countries

Field research will be conducted in the following six African countries: Cote d’Ivoire, Liberia, Nigeria, Sierra Leone, Somaliland and South Africa. However, while some of these are case studies that seek to explore the dialectics of hybridity in national security sectors, others are thematic in nature, and seek to analyse particular facets (and impacts) of hybridity in those contexts (informal policing in Nigeria, gender and policing in Liberia and Sierra Leone, and sexual rights and citizenship in South Africa).The first (methodological) workshop of the project, held last June in Accra, Ghana, created a platform for the designated researchers to develop approaches to research appropriate to the diverse contexts of the six project countries.