Building peace in an ever-fractious world

September 21, 2021

The players of the football team of Blangoua (Cameroon) and Mani (Chad) during the cross-border football match, facilitated by the Peacebuilding Fund of UNDP and UNICEF.

UNDP Chad/Aurélia Rusek

Like many people, I was deeply affected by the Taliban takeover of Kabul, the latest chapter in the Afghanistan crisis.

The shocking media images in the last few weeks show that in a way, the world has failed the people of Afghanistan and we have failed to see ourselves as one human family.

However I was also heartened by the surge of love and kindness from all around the world. Many people have risen to help the victims of this conflict escape to safety. As usual when systems and processes fail us, we tap into our own resources, and friendships. 

And in Afghanistan, I was amazed by the so-called 'vulnerable', who were left behind physically and metaphorically, but who took a stand by protesting in the street. This especially included women, who demonstrated their resilience by acting as peacebuilders and protagonists of change. It is acts of bravery such as this that proclaim that world peace is not only possible but inevitable despite the setbacks. 

But Afghanistan is not the only country in the world where peace fails to thrive. There are more than 40 ongoing wars and conflicts. From Lake Chad Basin to Myanmar, millions of people face the trauma of conflict, and our collective failure to protect peace is leading to ever more inequality, suffering, fragmentation, and disorder.

Today, the International Day of Peace is observed around the world. The UN devotes this day to strengthening the ideals of peace and observing 24 hours of non-violence and cease-fire. This year it is hoped that the “sustained humanitarian pause” to local conflicts enable people caught in conflict areas to access COVID-19 vaccines and other lifesaving treatments.

We celebrate this day in the midst of both a global pandemic and the climate crisis. If we have learned anything from these two emergencies, it is that we cannot deny the depth and breadth of the interconnectedness of our ever-shrinking world.

To move closer to peace we need to see it as far more than simply the absence or elimination of war, or the prevention of violence and terrorism (although these are important goals).

For a more peaceful world for all people, countries and governments must understand that:

  • Humans have a need for a positive identity for both a connection to each other and for autonomy;
  • Peacebuilding needs to be inclusive;
  • Peace stems from an inner state that is supported by values. What hurts the victim most is not the cruelty of the oppressor but the silence of the bystander; and
  • The rise of globally-based social movements is demonstrates global social capital, a healing balm to the world’s challenges.

Inclusive and sustainable development, and conflict prevention and peacebuilding are two sides of the same coin. We therefore need development solutions to prevent conflict and extremism, and to promote peace and security. This could include strengthening social and economic inclusion; support opening of civic space; expanding and enhancing gender equality; promoting peaceful narratives and behaviour; ensuring fair, high-quality service delivery; cultivating mental well-being as an essential component of peace; and bolstering human rights institutions and human rights awareness among security sector; and supporting early-warning systems.

UNDP is a global leader in all of these areas. For every dollar invested in conflict prevention, the cost of conflict is reduced by over USD$16 in the long run. Investing in prevention protects a state against a loss of two to eight percent of GDP per year. This makes conflict prevention a development intervention in and of itself.

The UN Secretary-General’s report, “Our Common Agenda”, stresses the need for a global framework that transcends borders.

Together, we the people of the world, can address rising global inequality, discrimination and violence against women, tension and division caused by religious conflicts, a growing culture of hate, the scourge of prejudice and racism, and a lack of universal education. 

If we do not change our direction, we are likely to end up facing even greater catastrophe. So the future of peace depends on reformatting our central beliefs. Who are the peacebuilders and who are the protagonists of change?

As the historian Howard Zinn said: “…it only takes a little bit of thought to realize that if wars came out of human nature, out of some spontaneous urge to kill, then why is it that governments have to go to such tremendous lengths to mobilize populations to go to war?”

We have it in our capacity to promote peace. We need to adopt a worldview that characterizes humanity as a collective and organic whole, and that explores the role that activists, peace campaigners and structures play in removing obstacles to peace.

This International Day of Peace, as we heal from the COVID-19 pandemic, let’s remember that we are all called to establish peace. We must think creatively about how to build resilience, and transform our world into one that is more just, equitable, inclusive, sustainable, and healthy.