At this point I am a bit confused about the objective, or rather focus of the study. The more I get to know about the SSR process here the more confused I get. What is problematic is that although the process was launched in 2008 there has been very little progress after 2009. The external evaluation from October 2009 is quite good and gives a good insight of the state of play. Since then very little has happened so it is still valid. The process has been blocked during the last 20 months due to the elections and surrounding problems. This means that for me to get any added value doing interviews I need to slightly change focus.
The initial idea was to look at how the SSR process has affected the state’s capacity to protect the population but as the process has not had that much effect at this early stage that idea has to be dropped. At this point the donors, mainly BINUCA (the UN integrated peace building office in CAR) which is the main international actor here with regards to SSR, are trying to re-launch the process together with their national counterparts. As the short-term objectives to a large extent have been reached it is now time to continue with the mid-term. Unfortunately it is only one sub-sector, democratic oversight, that has a strategy for the mid-term 2011-2013 and this is yet not approved on the political level. This is a really interesting period to be here as the actors involved are preparing to continue the process. Nevertheless I need to make it clear to myself what the focus of the study should be now.I am thinking perhaps to compare levels of violence in the different provinces but not sure yet.
One aspect that is quite interesting is that this is, as far as I know, the first time the SSR concept as a whole is used as a basis for a reform meaning that the approach is holistic and that several sectors are involved including not only the police and armed forces but also finance, judiciary as well as cross cutting issues like democratic control and corruption. It seems however like CAR might not be ready for these types of reforms. Several people I have been talking to who has lived here for many years are quite pessimistic about the prospects for the reforms. Firstly it is impossible to do everything at once and considering the fact that CAR is a country where the most basic services are not functioning, such as health care and primary education, it might be difficult to start in that end. Secondly, local ownership is complicated when the locals lack capacity, expertise and knowledge. Even high ranking people within the administration often lack education and write French poorly.
The question is what local ownership actually means in this context. When civil society is this weak, the state has no control over more than half of the country and largely fails to provide the population with basic services one can wonder which locals should own the process? Some people I have talked to compare the CAR to an enterprise that has gone bankrupt and mean that the only way to get back on track would be to put the country under international UN administration for an initial period. This clearly goes against all ideas of local ownership. The SSR process in Bosnia-Herzegovina is an example of and externally controlled and implemented process and it is clear that this is not unproblematic although the context is very different from that here. Without being either pro or against I believe that there is some truth in this observation in the sense that the state and civil society have extremely low capacity. On the other hand it might be so that when the donors actually have a partnership with the national counterparts, rather than controlling the process themselves, this means that the reforms will take time which not always suits the time frame and expectations of the international community.
Hence it might be interesting to use the CAR as an example where the holistic SSR approach has been turned into a practical reality and try to understand what difficulties arise when doing so in a fragile post-war state. Egnell and Halldén emphasise the importance of taking into account the state-society relations when designing and implementing SSR. In countries where the state does not function in the Weberian sense, where there is no common polity on elite level and civil society is weak SSR is extremely difficult to implement and if that is to be done the reforms have to not only be adapted to the realities on the ground but also to not be too overambitious as that increases the risk of failure. It might be a good idea to turn the focus of the study to these issues as CAR is an example of a country with extremely low levels of all three factors.
The objective of the study would then be to understand the difficulties to use a holistic approach and also to put light on the role of the donors and what added value their presence actually has. The CAR is also interesting from the perspective of coordination among donors as it is to a large extent France’s “playground”, still after more than 50 years of independence. The French are obviously influential here and although they only to a limited extent have been involved in the SSR process as such they do engage in SSR activities and have been doing so for a long time. The fact that the intelligence services still are left out of the SSR process although it is one of the sub-sectors can to a large extent be explained by the French resistance. I am yet to meet with French officials and hopefully I’ll get to meet someone on Thursday. It will be interesting to see what they have to say about the subject.
Apart from thinking about different ways to continue with the work here I have been eating lots of good food. On Sunday I had an excellent dish of capitaine (fish) soaked in lemon sauce at a quite good restaurant that serves French style food. The day before on the other hand I had lunch with one of my contacts, he likes local places and brought me to a “someone’s backyard type of restaurant” where we had chicken and rice with Maggie sauce. Such a cliché but the food was really good and the big mama was sitting outside making it in the open air. Love it.
The CARian (!) experience is exhausting, fantastic and sort of surreal. I guess TIA is an expression you can’t use too often, This Is Africa. It is. And hard core, I could have gone to Kenya or Ghana, something that would be have been easier to digest but here I am and although it is hard sometimes I love it. I do.