SSR, Statebuilding and Why the Two Go Together in Haiti

Statebuilding is an endogenous political process where a nation-state looks to strengthen its capacity to provide security and justice, to improve its management of political affairs, and to better promote social and economic development. To do this, a state needs to focus on developing the state institutions necessary for it to effectively govern and protect its territorial boundaries.

At its core, statebuilding is also about the relationship that a state has with its society. A state has to demonstrate its political and public authority, by way of its institutional and organizational capacity, in order to maintain its legitimacy within its own society as well as among international stakeholders. The state-societal relationship is characterized by:

  • How power is distributed between the rich and the poor as well as the political processes that connects society and state;
  • the ability and response rate of the state in being able to fulfill its main responsibilities and to deliver services to its people; and
  • overall societal expectations and perceptions of what the state should be doing, how it should engage with society and whether society can express its demands and actually be heard (OECD 2011).

The goal of statebuilding therefore is to translate these three components into policy action. Given that “statebuilding is not a linear process, [and] securing physical control over a territory [is] necessary to create the conditions for building state capacity to deliver public goods, and accountability and responsiveness to a broader range of citizens,” SSR is fundamentally a statebuilding process (OECD 2011). SSR, as it has been conducted to date, has overemphasized the technical aspect of developing or bolstering security sector organizations  “rather than on the politics of creating states” (Jackson 2001). The result that this has produced are entities resembling states but absent of the legitimacy and authority to function as a state or to even be respected as such by the majority of their populations.

Another major challenge of recent SSR mandates is that these endeavors have been externally led rather than championed an “innately political process that should be conceptualized as an outgrowth of the wider political transition” (Sedra 2010). This troublesome reality has thereby contributed to observed failures of SSR attempts in places like Somalia, Iraq, Timor-Leste and Sierre Leone among others (Jackson 2011). In order for a country like Haiti to uphold the rule of law, ensure a balance of power between various societal stakeholders (so as to curtain their ability to undermine the state), protect the rights of its citizens, to foster economic development and to raise revenue in order to better deliver public services, Haiti has to be at the forefront of its own SSR processes while maintaining short-term international support.

In order to reinforce Haiti’s statehood by way of an improved security sector, the Haitian National Police (HNP) should be decentralized into departmental units. There is no country that readily comes to mind where a police force is tasked with securing an entire nation as opposed to securing several distinct cities and/or states within that nation. Haiti also needs to utilize SSR as a tool by which to better engage civil society actors so that there is a framework for sustained public participation within the security sector. Opportunities for important representative groups and the public at large to dialogue regularly in a safe and open environment can facilitate the emergence of community-led solutions to violence prevention and reduction as opposed to the fear-based and heavy handed approach that the HNP often resorts to in complex situations.

Ultimately, the Haitian government has to look at SSR as one of many necessary policy tools that will enable it to take a comprehensive approach in tackling the socioeconomic and wellbeing concerns of its people. The perpetual and unacceptable abject poverty that Haiti continues to struggle with is by far the country’s biggest security threat. To move from persistent crisis to a stable path of sustained development, social and economic security has to be approach in tandem.

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