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Hybrid security: challenges and opportunities for security sector reform

10 July, 2023



Hybrid security has always been more the norm than the exception, particularly in fragile and conflict-affected contexts in which the state tends to play a more limited role in providing security as a public good. These contexts are also increasingly the focus of SSG/R programmes. 

Hybrid security features in all major SSG/R frameworks, including those of the OECD, United Nations, African Union, European Union, and ECOWAS. However, while DCAF and others have often described the ‘top down and bottom up’ of hybrid dynamics including security privatization and the roles of armed non-state actors, this paper goes a step further by applying a new analysis to help policymakers and practitioners develop more nuanced and impactful approaches to SSG/R in hybrid security contexts, particularly those characterized by high levels of fragility and conflict. 

It offers: 
- Context-based insights for SSG/R from case studies carried out in Burkina Faso, Colombia, and the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC);  
- Concrete and broadly applicable recommendations for tailoring SSG/R approaches to a range of hybrid security contexts;  
- Frameworks to support context mapping and programme design; and  
- An articulation of key opportunities and risks for partners engaging in these spaces, as well as suggestions for doing no harm, as the stakes of getting it wrong are high. 

The case studies in Burkina Faso, Colombia, and the DRC offer insights into the complexities of localized hybrid security dynamics and highlight entry points for working with local communities in ways that build on and reinforce locally legitimate means of exercising control, regulation, oversight, and accountability. 

The approaches described in this study combine the novel analytical approach with DCAF’s long-standing expertise in security sector reform, including with hybrid actors such as private military and security companies and the private sector. They can and should be piloted, both by adjusting current programming where SSG/R processes are insufficiently grounded in an understanding of hybrid dynamics, and by designing new projects that are based on a better understanding of locally realistic and potentially effective pathways for change in hybrid security relationships.

Hybrid security is an opportunity to refocus security sector reform on people-centred security.


Abigail Robinson, Jean-Michel Rousseau