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From December 13-15, 2022, President Biden will host leaders from across the African continent in Washington, D.C. for the U.S.-Africa Leaders Summit. This summit demonstrates the United States’ enduring commitment to Africa and furthers our collaboration on shared global priorities and urgent challenges. As issues like climate change, rising authoritarianism, gender inequity, violent extremism, and harmful influences from strategic competitors threaten the fabric of peace, democracy, and human security throughout the African continent, the role of security sector governance (SSG) has become more important than ever.

Recognized in the U.S. Strategy Toward Sub-Saharan Africa released in August 2022, and reinforced in the Biden-Harris Administration’s National Security Strategy  in October 2022, state stability and security are inextricably linked to the performance of democracy and governance. A security sector that is civilian-led, transparent, accountable to its citizens, inclusive, and respects human rights, is critical to setting the conditions for stability, countering corruption, and preventing violence. Promoting good practices in security sector governance also advances U.S. national security and shared interests. As the Administration highlights in its Sub-Saharan Africa Strategy, “effective, legitimate, and accountable militaries and other security forces are essential to support open, democratic, and resilient societies and to counter destabilizing threats, including in Africa.”

The U.S. Department of State’s Bureau of Political-Military Affairs (PM) directly contributes to advancing these SSG priorities with African partners through the advisory assistance provided by the Global Defense Reform Program (GDRP) and Security Force Professionalization (SFP) program. GDRP and SFP strategic-level advisory support provides the U.S. government an effective way to assist partners with improving governance and capacity of their security sector institutions. By supporting partners to transform and strengthen their systems, processes, policies, and structures in accordance with good SSG principles—such as transparency, efficiency, and accountability—GDRP and SFP advisors enable partners to deliver reliable security to their populations.

SFP Senior Advisor, Theirry Kaiser, meets with the Head of Côte d’Ivoire’s Military Tribunal and General Prosecutor, Admiral Ange Kessi. [Photo Credit: State Department photo]
Improving Civilian Security through Justice and Accountability

U.S. Embassy and subject matter experts met with the Malagasy government to discuss efforts to professionalize security forces, mitigate civilian harm, and promote military justice. [Photo Credit: State Department photo]

As militaries across Africa become more actively engaged in defending against violent extremism, non-state armed groups, and criminal actors, the risk of casualties and harm to civilians and their livelihoods has markedly increased. Civilian harm and suffering not only has deleterious consequences for the communities and individuals affected, but also on military effectiveness and overall state security. This harm can be mitigated, however, by improving the institutional capacity of security sectors to be more considered and strategic in the way security forces are managed and employed. In Sub-Saharan Africa, the United States is, through PM-managed SFP advisory assistance, currently partnering with Côte d’Ivoire, the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC), Madagascar, and Nigeria to address these challenges. SFP advisors focus on assisting partners to mitigate casualties and harm to civilians during military operations by enhancing policies and processes for accountability and transparency. This includes strengthening military justice, institutionalizing systems for tracking and reporting incidents of civilian harm within the armed forces, and promoting operational law.

In Côte d’Ivoire and Madagascar, SFP advisors support partners to advance accountability by assisting military tribunals and Ministries of Defense to review and update their uniformed military code of justice. This is intended to promote respect for human rights law and protection of civilians. In both countries, SFP advisors are supporting these partner-initiated and -led efforts to transform their military justice codes and processes, while assisting with identifying solutions to standardize implementation of the code. In Côte d’Ivoire, the SFP advisor is also supporting the Ivoirian military tribunal to find creative solutions, such as connecting and coordinating with civil society and across government institutions, to improve its ability to receive claims of military misconduct or civilian harm from the local population.

Upcoming SFP advisory engagements in the DRC and Nigeria aim to enhance accountability by assisting with the development of a corps of Command Legal Advisors. In both countries, advisors would support transformation of the organizational structure, training, and capacity of military lawyers to expand their role beyond military tribunals, and into operational law. The goal is to prevent or mitigate harm to civilians by increasing the capacity of military lawyers to actively advise commanders during the planning, coordination, and execution of military operations and ensure that decisions are informed by international law and best practices for civilian harm mitigation.

Promoting good governance by building partners’ institutional capacity to mitigate and account for harm to civilians protects both civilians and state security and defense institutions. These engagements in Africa will support military accountability and, in doing so, lead to improved relations, legitimacy, and trust with their local populations.

Improving Maritime Security in Madagascar

In addition to improving military justice and civilian security, the United States provides GDRP advisory assistance to Madagascar to develop its navy and enhance maritime security. As an island nation with a large coastline to patrol, Madagascar has prioritized development of its navy as part of a broader security sector transformation process. With U.S. GDRP advisory assistance, Madagascar’s Ministry of National Defense (MoND) developed its first Navy Strategy which aligns to higher level maritime strategies. The Navy Strategy outlines how the Navy can grow its force and transform its command structures to better protect the nation’s exclusive economic zone and stimulate its Blue Economy. The U.S. government, through GDRP advisory support, is also assisting the Navy to develop its human resources to optimize its personnel and operationalize its Strategy. Enhancing the effectiveness of Madagascar’s Navy by institutionalizing strategies and plans at the national level supports the nation’s ability to provide better protection to its population while countering threats, such as illegal, unreported, and unregulated fishing and illicit activities in the Lower Indian Ocean region.

Whether it is strengthening maritime security, military justice, women, peace, and security, or transforming procurement processes, PM’s institutional capacity building approach enables partners to develop the resiliency needed to address a range of ever-evolving threats and security challenges. By partnering with security institutions at the strategic level and working collaboratively through expert advisors, the United States is assisting its partners in Africa to find tailored solutions that will endure over time.

Want to learn more? For more information on security sector governance advisory assistance programs, please reach out to the PM/GPI Security Forces Capacity Building (SFCB) Division at

About the Authors: Alexandra LaRosa and Benson Bratt serve in the Bureau of Political-Military Affairs’ Office of Global Programs and Initiatives (PM/GPI) and oversee PM/GPI-managed GDRP and SFP advisory assistance in Africa.

U.S. Department of State

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