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Opinion: State security machinery reform in the modern age

2021-07-29  Staff Reporter

Opinion: State security machinery reform in the modern age

State security machinery is the nerve centre of any society in a democratic setting. Peace and stability are only tenable when state security machinery is beyond reproach. 

Their role and existence are supreme to ensuring the safety and security of all people. 

In this context, state security machinery refers to all state security apparatus – be it the central intelligence agency, the police, the defence force and other law enforcement institutions. Thus, the need to reform state security machinery and align them with the current reality cannot be fully overemphasised. 

As if the events of 11 September 2001, the Arab spring, civil unrest in various African countries, and many other similar incidents have not taught governments a lesson, state security machinery is still orbiting in their comfort zone. 

Conspicuously, the past hostile incidents could not have provided a better opportunity for security apparatus to learn, reform, stay ever-prepared and ready – not only to quell but primarily to prevent any potential episodes of violence and destruction from taking place. 

If this happens, it places the state and its people at peril. External and domestic threats and violence combined with weakness presented by unprepared security agencies pose a danger to the state and its people; therefore, potential threats must be detected and dealt with before they materialised. 

Against this backdrop, reform is needed and should include conscientious security intelligence gathering, analysis, interpretation and application, as the primary focus of any state security machinery if peace and stability in the country are to be sustained. This can help state security machinery to be equipped, prepared and reorganised to timeously respond to potential threats.

It appears that citizens’ safety and security are no longer guaranteed, as anything can happen at any time without being detected, despite the sizeable amount of resources being committed to maintaining the state security machinery. It is no doubt that a lion’s share of the national budget of any country is apportioned to the security sector. Yet, citizens’ safety and security are potentially relegated to the periphery. Cross-border and domestic crimes rate is unimaginable high. 

Similarly, incidents of unrest, violence and civil uprising, to say the least, in several countries around the globe, occurred because of somnolent state security machinery. When unrest and violence take place, they cause extensive damage, not only to the economy but also to the physical and social setting and eventually the suffering of innocent people because the security forces can’t quell such antagonistic behaviours on time.

The recent incidents of violent and destructive nature in South Africa, which was eventually coined as ‘looting’, vindicate the arguments in this article. 

The violence could have been prevented and destruction minimised if state security machinery had the required capacity and strength to apply available intelligence to proactively inform their actions well in advance. The reactive approach is suicidal to the safety and security of citizens’ life and property in the modern age. Such an approach will neither save lives nor protect property from violent destruction. 

People with bad intentions seize opportunities presented by fragile, ineptitude, and ill-prepared state security machinery. As if the resources spent on state security machinery are not enough, reactive safety and security measures cost governments even dearly in terms of impromptu operations, arrest, and detention to stabilising a situation that could have been prevented in the first place. 

The recent incidences showed that there is an inevitable need for reform to strengthen the capacity and preparedness of the security sector if governments are to remain relevant to democratic principles and unhindered governance. It allows the government to exercise full authority and reclaim their correct positions in safeguarding not only lives and property but also ensuring that individual rights are preserved and guaranteed. 

Government should step up intelligence gathering, analysis, interpretation, and application to capacitate and strengthen law enforcement agencies to remain relevant to their course. Intensive training, developing, and creating decision-making capacity are fundamental to intelligence application to inform security sector prompt response. Equally, exposure, experience, relevant case studies, and learning from well-established safety and security institutions are essential components of security sector reform.

State security machinery should not be narrow-focused. The existence of peace and stability in a country should not disorientate state security machinery focus. The function of state security machinery is not only going to the office in the morning and wait for 17h00 to knock off. It goes beyond the routine activities of protecting the state and its people. It requires properly trained, yet well-informed men and women who can go beyond the call of duty to dealing with safety and security issues. Laxity in security intelligence handling costs governments millions of dollars in terms of restoring peace and stability in the society after violence and destruction. A practical example is the government of South Africa that is now forked out millions of rands to assist businesses and people who have been severely affected by the recent unrest, the money which could have been utilised for other social welfare programmes.

Arguably, the ineptness and inefficiency of state security machinery in executing their noble duty are not only a setback to the state but surely has direct and regrettable implications on the country’s socio-economic policies and eventually effective governance. In other words, it renders the country ungovernable and paints a picture of a failed state in existence. Therefore, the state must adopt a functional safety and security model that intensify proactive decision-making and the use of intelligence to promptly act when

Deploying joint security forces on the streets after the incident happened, counting arrests and recovery of, or confiscating stolen goods and illicit products do not translate into effective law enforcement but are mere indications of a reactive nature of the state security machinery with no anticipatory and innovative approach. When this reactive approach is utilised; harassment, manhandling of powerless individuals, and excessive use of force by security forces turn to be the norm because they feel that that is the only way to quell violence and unrest. Some provoking questions: Would massive corruptive practices, planned civil unrest, and violence go unnoticed by state security machinery? Who would want to live in such a country?


*Tuhafeni Helao (PhD) has 14 years of teaching experience in the criminal justice field at the university level.  

2021-07-29  Staff Reporter

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