Monday, 8 August 2011

How did I get here?

Today there are exactly three weeks left before I leave for Bangui. The plane takes off just after 5 pm on the 29th of August. After a few stops in Amsterdam, Nairobi and Douala I arrive in Bangui, the Central African Republic (CAR) just after noon the next day the 30th of August. It feels surreal that the departure date is approaching so fast. I remember when I started to plan this field study. It is almost a year ago now. Isn’t it amazing how fast time goes by and how little we know about what is yet to come?   

Many people have asked me (just after they realise that the Central African Republic is a country and that it has been known under that name for more than 50 years) why I decided to go there to do the study. I guess that the reasons for why I want to do a field study on security sector reform (SSR) and why I chose the CAR as my case needs an explanation. 

Throughout my studies on undergraduate level in Crisis Management and International Cooperation at the Swedish National Defence College (SNDC) in Stockholm I often felt that many scholars focused on how to improve interventions from the point of view of the intervener e.g. coordination between civilian and military actors, between different organisations etc and not so much on what effects those interventions have on the population in the society affected. In particular I was interested in whose security we were talking about during our courses and who has a right to define what security is. Even though it is both interesting and important to understand the policies and politics of the interveners I believe we miss something if we fail to take into account how the interventions are perceived and what effects they actually have on the society concerned. 

During the course on the European Union (EU) and its security and defence policy at SNDC we seldom criticised the norms and policies of the EU. Rather the course was based on the assumption that what the EU tried to do was something good. I was happy to see that not everywhere studies of the European Security and Defence Policy (ESDP) now renamed the Common Security and Defence Policy (CSDP)   were permeated with this naivety. During a semester at the Université Libre de Bruxelles (ULB) I had the opportunity to study the EU and its policies in a more critical way. In Brussels my interest in foreign, and particular EU interventions grew and even more so as I worked at the department for foreign and security policy at the Permanent Representation of Sweden to the European Union during the Swedish Presidency of the EU during the second half of 2009.

I spent the spring 2010 in Geneva doing an internship at the Geneva Centre for Democratic Control of the Armed Forces (DCAF) which is an organisation that contributes to enhancing security sector governance (SSG) through security sector reform (SSR). There I worked with the Deputy Director/Director of DCAF Brussels and continued to focus on the security and defence policy of the EU with a particular focus on EU support to SSR. 

During the internship I learnt more about SSR and my interest in foreign supported reforms in post-war societies increased. SSR is a particularly interesting type of foreign intervention since it often is understood as a tool for democratisation, peacebuilding and conflict resolution all at once thus encapsulating the liberal/democratic peace paradigm in many ways. For some basic information on SSR and SSR in peacebuilding see DCAF Backgrounder on Security Sector Governance and Reform and  DCAF Backgrounder on Security Sector reform in Post-Conflict Peacebuilding.

The question of definitions of security and whose security we are talking about become pertinent in any foreign supported SSR. Nowadays the individual and not the state is the referent object of security but the subject (i.e. who is providing security) still is the state in most cases (see Sara Hellmüller's working paper) despite the state's lack of capacity and/or will to provide security to its people. SSR is often state centric which in many ways contradicts development principles of a people-centred approach in post-conflict and fragile state contexts. Bruce Baker has written extensively on the subject of policing in African states where the providers of security often are other actors than the state. In an article Baker presents an alternative approach to the current state centric SSR which according to the author "rests upon two fallacies: that the post-conflict and fragile state is capable of delivering justice and security; and that it is the main actor in security and justice".  Baker points to some important problems in donors' support to SSR in fragile states that are closely connected to the questions of whose security and who are to define and provide security.  

In August 2010 when I started the two year Masters Program in Peace and Conflict Research at the Department of Peace and Conflict Research  at Uppsala University the thought of doing a field study started to grow in my mind. Although I had some practical experience from Brussels and Geneva I felt that I lacked a practical understanding of the “other” side. I had mainly worked with defence and security issues from the donor's/intervener’s point of view. As I was accepted to the masters program in Uppsala I saw that as an opportunity to switch focus from the interveners to the intervened upon (to use Gelot's and Söderbaum's terminology). 

As a part of the first course in the program, Causes of War, we had to write a paper on the causes of an armed conflict in one or two cases using different theoretical explanations. I had no clue which conflict to write about but I thought I’d go for something different as often we (in the West) tend to focus on some conflicts and forget about others. Since I speak French I decided to pick a conflict in a Francophone country which basically meant a country in Africa. First I was thinking of Chad but soon my attention was directed towards its neighbouring country the Central African Republic. I knew nothing about the country but that made me even more curious and interested. This was my first contact with this for me rather unknown country. 

It turned out that the Central African Republic is one of the poorest and least developed countries in the world. The country has experienced armed conflict, military coups and rebellions for most of the years since it gained independence from France in 1960. The state institutions do not reach outside the capital Bangui and the government fails to provide the population with any services whatsoever be it health care, education or security. The International Crisis Group (ICG) has described the CAR as a phantom state.
A few weeks later I sent an email to my former supervisor at DCAF and asked if he had any idea on where it would be interesting to do a field study on SSR. He suggested the CAR. I asked one of my former colleagues at DCAF the same question, strangely she also answered that the CAR would be an interesting case. So then I knew where to go, I thought it was a clear sign that both of them suggested CAR while I also randomly had picked the conflict there for the final paper in the Causes of War course. Now I only needed to get familiar with the SSR process in the CAR, write a project plan, find contacts in the country and secure funding. This was in the beginning of November 2010. 

In February 2011 I received a Minor Field Study Scholarship from the Swedish Development Agency (SIDA) and two months later it was announced that I was one of the lucky holders of the Nordic Africa Institute Travel Scholarship. So as summer approached I knew that for me autumn wouldn’t come before early November this year. I booked the ticket and started to plan the trip more in detail. Now I have the visa, I am vaccinated against all kinds of tropical diseases and I have bought myself clothes suitable for humid tropical climate. Three weeks to go. Three weeks to work on my research design and to prepare the work in the field. 

During the weeks before I leave I'll try to answer questions like: Why is the SSR process in the CAR interesting from an academic perspective? What is it a case of? What scientific method best serves the purpose of this study? What is the purpose of this study? I hope that I'll be able to come up with some tentative answers blogging about the preparations. Hopefully this can serve as a point of departure once I am out in the field.


  1. Interesting website. Keep blogging!

  2. Thanks! I'll try to write 1-2 times a week if the internet connection permits.