2.1. Policy, Plural Security Provision, and Urban Contexts

Chair: Dr. Achim Wennmann

Panellists: Ms Megan Price; Ms Wangui Kimari; Dr Peter Albrecht, Mr Michael Warren

Rapporteur: Ms Laura Zermin, Graduate Institute's Centre on Conflict, Development and Peacebuilding

The panel discussed and presented findings from a consortium project that examined plural security provision in the cities of Beirut, Nairobi and Tunis – cities that are exhibiting varying degrees of security and its provision as well as unequal levels of human development, distinct historical trajectories of state formation and diverse patterns of social cleavage. The project’s aim was to gain empirical and policy insights into the topic of plural security provision, in order to provide knowledge so that improved security outcomes in the studied contexts can be achieved.

The researchers adapted a citizen-led optic in their work, looking at the security providers from the perspective of the security seekers rather than the providers directly. In this, the project was led by two premises:

  1. Security is neither directly nor exclusively delivered by official actors, but by a spectrum of actors.
  2. A group’s orientation to either public or private interests can shift.

The city of Nairobi

In the city of Nairobi, specifically two types of violence cycles were identified:

The first type, regularized violence, happens on a day-to-day basis. The characteristics of this violence include that it is structural, often includes extra-judicial killings and is closely tied to the struggle for resource distribution such as land grabbing. Furthermore, it is partially publicly accepted and the public sometimes condones it – mainly due to people’s general distrust of the police. 

The second type of spectacular peaks of violence occurs during particular events such as elections. A prominent example for such an event is the Kenya election 2007/2008. This type of violence is often furthered by problems related to ethnicity. We need to remain cautious when applying the concept of “ethnicity”, as it oversimplifies the socio-economic contributors that lead to violence, such as for example social class. However, through the research it became apparent that almost all people identify with an ethnic group and report that it is an important factor in mobilizing people in the area – so it should also be included in the research.

The city of Beirut

In Beirut, there is a vast private security sector. Neighbourhood committees play an important role. Political parties sometimes act as intermediaries, sometimes as active security providers. Their actions are largely focused on de-escalation of conflicts that arise.

The social cohesion of family and friends underpins security provision in Beirut. The access to security is relational, through a concept named “wasta”. Translated, the word means “influence”, but it refers both to the act of mediation between two parties and the person who carries out the mediation on your behalf. Furthermore, the oversight and accountability of citizens with regards to security issues is very limited: there is no citizen control over the security provision and concerns cannot be voiced.

In the last two years, many Syrian refugees have been absorbed by the city. First, the Syrians were welcomed, now they are more and more seen with suspicion and even hostility. There is a widespread belief that Syrians commit more violence and take away jobs from the Lebanese. For Syrians, having papers is key in order to be able to feel safe. However, Syrian refugees do not make direct claims on security. They feel discriminated, and resort to either avoidance of being involved in conflicts or to in-group problem solving. This creates a security gap and there are many unreported crimes with Syrians as the main group affected.

In Beirut, security is hence a political privilege: it is not distributed objectively or fairly and newcomers are subjected to acute exclusion. Most probably, the high risk security gap will eventually be filled by a coercive Syrian actor.


The following policy implications could be formulated:

  1. Security assistance must address the social determinants of security: it involves the strengthening of the social contract.
  2. All support must address the panorama of security providers and more attention should be paid to where they might constitute partners for the extension of security. If this is not done, the exclusion of certain parts of the population may be the result.
  3. Broad citizen oversight and accountability of all providers should be asserted: this is the idea that we can explore and innovate with those who are not under the wing of formal security provision.

Above all, we must not lose sight of the main goal: equitable and accountable security provision.