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Canada in Africa: integrating SSR into peace and stabilization strategies

The Government of Canada recently unveiled its approach for supporting peace operations in Africa under the name Peace and Stabilization Operations Program (PSOPs)

There is plenty that is good about this initiative.

First, it has the potential to carry forward the excellent work that was carried out by the Stabilization and Reconstruction Task Force (START), a similar programme that was initiated by a Liberal Government in 2005 and subsequently maintained by successive Conservative Governments.

Second, PSOPs is a whole-of-government initiative. This recognizes the fact that any serious efforts to contribute to peace and security in Africa – or anywhere else for that matter – will need inputs from a range of ministries: the Department of National Defence for the military component, to be sure, but also Public Safety and Emergency Preparedness for the policing elements that any credible effort to deal with security issues in Africa requires, and International Development and La Francophonie to develop the programmes that need to be put in place to help ensure that the development deficits that have led to the security dilemmas in the first place are addressed. And then, of course, Global Affairs Canada (GAC) is responsible for coordinating PSOPs and for ensuring that Canadian efforts are consistent with the government’s policy in Africa overall – and with its peace and security strategy more broadly.

Third, PSOPs has $450 million at its disposal for the next three years. This is not really an unprecedented amount, as the Trudeau government has claimed (and which becomes apparent if you do the math to calculate what is covered by the new package in comparison with its predecessor). That said, it is a considerable package that has the potential to have a real impact if effectively put to use.

Conflict & Peacekeeping in Africa: The need to address security sector reform

At the same time, we are told that PSOPs will focus on early warning, conflict prevention, dialogue, mediation and peacebuilding, as well as the empowerment of women and the involvement of youth in its development dimension. This may be great stuff for the eight o’ clock news but anyone who has been associated with peace support operations in Africa will tell you that deploying to Africa is as tough as it gets. Across the continent, there are militias and rebel groups that are armed to the teeth and not shy about pulling the trigger. The government needs to be up front with the Canadian public on the challenges that deployments to Africa entail.

A related concern is that the list of policy areas that the Global Affairs statement says it will concentrate on fails to mention explicitly security sector reform (SSR) or security sector governance (SSG) – though there are concrete examples in the list of potential activities and projects that can be categorized under these categories of SSR/SSG activities, including for example, police reform in Ukraine, security assistance in Afghanistan, and stabilization in Iraq and Mali.

In the four African countries – Mali, the Central African Republic (CAR), South Sudan and the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) – that are being discussed as possible destinations for the additional 600 soldiers and 100 policemen that are now to be made available for Canadian peace support operations in Africa, the dysfunctionality of the national security sector is the paramount issue. As such, a clear focus on security sector reform would be a welcome addition to reflect the needs of these fragile and conflict-affected countries.

The situation in many African countries is hair raising. The security forces are undertrained and underequipped. They tend to be absent outside the national capital and unrepresentative of their countries’ complex tribal, ethnic and religious mosaics. There is little or no effective oversight of the actions of the security actors and as a result, they tend not to be accountable to anyone but the government, itself incapable more often than not of bringing to bear the requisite skills to manage the security actors effectively. This gives rise to a situation where the security agencies are incapable of protecting national borders, let alone the population residing within them. In all the countries presently being contemplated by Ottawa as a possible destination for the enhanced Canadian presence in Africa, this is a first-order challenge.

Another issues revolves around the question as to what a mid-sized nation like Canada can do without being effectively integrated into a multi-country initiative that has both brain and legs. It is hard enough to bring government departments intelligently together in the Canadian context. Imagine just how challenging this can be in the African field. Admittedly, this is an issue that it may be too complicated to address in a briefing note of one page or so. But not to address it, would be a recipe for if not failure, then ineffectiveness, of the Canadian role in Africa. Canada needs to work for the establishment of effective coalitions of like-minded countries to take on the challenges of fragile and conflict-affected countries.

These are all matters that can be addressed as government thinking on Africa evolves. Another issue is whether we can expect from Ottawa a statement outlining Canadian policy towards Africa more broadly. This would be a fitting complement to its PSOPs initiative and could help the Canadian public understand the overall context for the current government’s renewed engagement towards a continent that for all its travails is slowly but surely joining the mainstream of international development.

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