Non-state security and justice in fragile states: Lessons from Sierra Leone

Briefing papers
April 2012

Investment in both security and justice in fragile states is focused overwhelmingly on reforming state systems. Donors increasingly acknowledge that people in fragile states often rely on security and justice provided by non-state actors, such as chiefs, religious leaders, militia or trade associations, but actual efforts to engage with these actors have been modest to date.

This Briefing Paper presents evidence from fieldwork in Sierra Leone that shows how this state bias in donor programming limits their ability to influence how most people really access security and justice services. It makes the case that donors need to not only engage with non-state providers more frequently, but also recognise that supporting these actors requires different operating procedures. The Briefing Paper sets out four rules of engagement to guide donors:

  1. Accept that non-state actors are risky ... but no more than many state partners.

  2. Be fit for purpose ... non-state support needs different skills and procedures.

  3. Understand context … and not just at country level.

  4. Only engage when it adds value ... functioning local solutions should be left alone.

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