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Research Questions

  1. Is it possible — within current and likely future constraints — to build sustainable security capacity in African partner nations?
  2. If so, what practices best incorporate sustainability into capacity development?
  3. What challenges would the U.S. government face in implementing such practices?
  4. Given these challenges, how might the U.S. government — and DoD and AFRICOM in particular — modify its current practices to achieve improved sustainability?

In this report, RAND researchers analyze options to improve the sustainability of security sector assistance (SSA) in the U.S. Africa Command (AFRICOM) area of responsibility. They derive insights from the development community that might usefully be modified to meet the unique challenges of the security sectors of African partner nations. More specifically, they outline five development principles (and associated "good practices") that have particular relevance to building sustainable partner capacity: local ownership; a comprehensive approach; selectivity; harmonization; and long-term, iterative adaptation. The authors review the many challenges that the U.S. Department of Defense faces in applying these principles. Finally, the authors recommend changes to overall SSA structures and specific practices to enhance the sustainability of partner capacity gains.

Key Findings

Based on the experience of the development community, five principles have particular relevance to building sustainable partner capacity.

  • Local ownership. Lasting solutions cannot be imposed; they require the local government to take ownership of the program. Absent that, once U.S officials turn their attention elsewhere or depart, the program will wither.
  • A comprehensive approach. Such an approach to capacity-building takes into account the full range of factors that affect program success, including the roles, abilities, and incentives of partners, as well as the broader political and economic environment that shapes them.
  • Selectivity. Assistance providers should have the appropriate experience, cultural understanding, and skill sets to carefully select the right partners and effectively engage with them.
  • Harmonization. For efforts to be harmonized, all stakeholders must share information, ensuring complementary rather than conflicting or duplicative efforts; collaborate to streamline processes and capitalize on lessons learned from prior efforts; and use the right personnel and resources to implement a program.
  • Long-term, iterative adaptation. Enduring SSA requires preserving the flexibility to adapt programs and methods as engagements progress and mature.

SSA practitioners face distinct challenges in achieving sustainability when attempting to adopt development practices.

  • SSA planners and implementers face systemic barriers to adopting the five principles. These challenges are posed both by the U.S. government and by the partner nation. Some are imposed by processes, while others are imposed by the inherent difficulty that accompanies attempts to align a partner nation's goals with those of the United States.
  • Among the specific challenges that SSA practitioners face are the following: The partner nation's SSA goals may differ from those of the United States. Programs often focus on tactical capabilities and fail to provide critical enablers, such as appropriate personnel and materiel systems. SSA programs often lack creativity and tailoring to U.S. goals and partner-nation requirements; instead, proposals are sometimes created using a standard framework for each country or unit, regardless of characteristics, need, and fitness for the program. Furthermore, SSA personnel assignments are typically short, and many authorities are funded by appropriations that last just one year.


At the national level:

At the national level: Clarify U.S. government goals for SSA. Emphasize continuity. Provide additional resources for defense institution–building. Invest in the right people. Improve resources for monitoring and evaluation. Alter legislation and funding to facilitate iterative adaptation. Emphasize adaptability in approaches to partnerships.

At the Department of Defense level:

Set realistic expectations among decisionmakers. Dedicate funds for institution-building and sustainability. Prioritize sustainability in oversight roles. Invest in the right people. Continue to align interagency efforts. Develop two-track monitoring and evaluation processes. Focus on the interconnections among programs. Conduct political risk assessments and develop risk mitigation strategies.

At the AFRICOM level:

Invest in advisors. Organize in ways that prioritize sustainability. Resource repeated engagements. Improve collaboration with priority partners. Tailor SSA to the local context. Experiment with different approaches. Focus on interconnections among programs. Improve SSA training for headquarters staff and implementers. Improve knowledge management.

This research was sponsored by the director of AFRICOM's J1/8 Directorate and conducted within the International Security and Defense Policy Center of the RAND National Defense Research Institute, a federally funded research and development center sponsored by the Office of the Secretary of Defense, the Joint Staff, the Unified Combatant Commands, the Navy, the Marine Corps, the defense agencies, and the defense Intelligence Community.

This report is part of the RAND research report series. RAND reports present research findings and objective analysis that address the challenges facing the public and private sectors. All RAND reports undergo rigorous peer review to ensure high standards for research quality and objectivity.

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