I am honoured to be with you to speak on sustaining peace. I will start with an overarching reflection on the concept in a global context, before coming to the specificities of the realities across Africa. I will conclude by drawing some forward-looking conclusions on how to sustain peace in Africa and beyond.
The Evolving Nature of threats to Peace and the Sustaining Peace Agenda
The end of the Cold War ushered an era of consensus on geopolitical issues that, throughout the 1990s, brought nations together in addressing key threats to peace and security around the world. This resulted in a decline in inter-state conflict. Since 1992, there were no more than two interstate conflicts in any given year, and several years experienced no such wars.
Yet, conflict has re-emerged with a vengeance, with the tripling of major conflicts and a doubling in civil casualties since 2010. In 2016 more countries were affected by conflict than at any time in last 30 years. But unlike during other periods in history, these violent conflicts are internal.
The nature of conflict has changed in other ways, too. Conflicts are more complex due to the increasing role of non-state, as well as external actors. Conflicts are more protracted and a greater share of conflicts have been recurrent, rather than new onsets. Conflicts are increasingly linked to global challenges, such as climate change, disasters linked to natural hazards, cyber security, and international illicit activities.
Many of these trends have been documented in the recent joint UN and World Bank publication “Pathways for Peace.”
A recognition has emerged, therefore, that the upsurge and changing nature of conflict calls for a more ambitious and integrated approach to conflict prevention. This is reflected in the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development, and in what became known as the “sustaining peace” resolutions.
Adopted by the UN Security Council and the UN General Assembly in April 2016, these resolutions recognize that: “security, development and human rights are closely interlinked and mutually reinforcing.” They go on to state that: “a comprehensive approach to sustaining peace, particularly through the prevention of conflict and addressing its root causes, strengthening the rule of law at the international and national levels, and promoting sustained and sustainable economic growth, poverty eradication, social development, sustainable development, national reconciliation and unity.”
The African context
These global trends have been playing out with particular intensity across Africa. In fact, in 2016, Africa accounted for 11 of the 20 of the world’s countries with the highest likelihood of conflict.
Although the intensity of violent conflict fell from 55 percent in 2002 to 24 percent in 2011, a growth of violent extremism in specific parts of the continent – while far from being the only determinant and implication of conflict - speaks to the changing nature of conflict. For instance, over 24,000 fatalities and 1.2 million displaced persons resulted from religiously inclined, extreme fundamentalism like the Al-Shabaab, Boko Haram, the Movement for Unity and Jihad, and the Ansar Dine between 2011 and 2015.
The fact that development and peace are inextricably linked is recognized not only in the global 2030 Agenda and sustaining peace resolutions, but also in Aspiration 4 of the African leaders’ Agenda 2063 focusing on “a peaceful and secure Africa.”
Excellencies, Ladies and Gentlemen,
While these agreements provide us with the political framing and set the direction, sustaining peace is both a goal and a process. The process is one through which a common vision guides the actions across all segments of society. This requires sharing tasks and responsibilities across governments, civil society, the private sector, and international actors.
And here I want to emphasize, in particular, the role of women.
Too often, African women have been seen as marginal to the processes of sustaining peace. Yet, as recognized by the UN Security Council resolution 1325, women have proved to be fundamental to social change that prevents conflicts through their capacity to bridge crises. Women have had powerful voices of moderation and even mediation. Enhancing representation of women at all decision-making levels, while at the same time using women as champions of peace, remains critical.
Mobilizing the youth for prevention is another critical part. This requires activities aimed at engaging young people at all levels, from preventing the outbreak, to avoiding the escalation or continuation, and, finally, the recurrence of conflicts. Youth is particularly relevant when it comes to efforts to address the root causes of conflict, and embracing national reconciliation – for which they ultimately have the highest stake.
Our experience in UNDP has shown that there is no single pathway to sustaining peace and resilience in the face of fragility, conflict, and violence in Africa. But one fact remains incontrovertible. There are indivisible links between ‘peaceful societies’ and ‘effective, accountable and inclusive institutions’. A stronger focus on prevention requires comprehensive investments towards sustaining peace in all development contexts.
Forward-looking reflections: Sustaining Peace in Africa
As a starting point to think about the future, it is critical to recognize that the traditional distinction between conflict and non-conflict settings no longer completely holds when we take sustaining peace as the overarching framework. Fragility, conflicts and violence can potentially affect any society, not just those already undergoing, or emerging from, crises. Sustaining peace is not only about ending conflicts and violence, but how to establish social, economic, and political structures that shape incentives for peace.
Thus, leaders should promote a seamless, integrated approach across all development settings that include investments in access to basic services like education, health and water; rule of law, justice, security, and human rights; inclusive, accountable and responsive socio-economic and political institutions; and conflict prevention mechanisms.
Excellencies, Distinguished Ladies and Gentlemen,
I will conclude with three forward-looking reflections.
First, conflict prevention has to move towards addressing root causes, addressing long-term development issues such as poverty, inequalities and exclusions – particularly in terms of access to power, resources and services. These were identified in the UN and World Bank report “Pathways for Peace” as contestation arenas that are particularly prone to the risk of conflict.
Historically, the largest portion of investment goes to investments that do not address the underlying causes and potential drivers of conflict. Addressing the development needs of the people in marginalized regions – often in remote and sparsely populated areas – may not seem to yield humanitarian or development gains, but can generate large payoffs in reducing the risk of conflict.
Second, for the role of the world leaders to yield maximum impact in building and sustaining peace in Africa, we must end fragmentation of efforts across the various international actors. Fragmentation and operating in silos by international actors undermine African governments’ efforts to respond early and effectively to crises and to build and sustain peace.
The ongoing reforms in the United Nations System are aimed at promoting greater coherence, synergies and accountability across the United Nations agencies in supporting member states. The development of the support plan to the United Nations Integrated Strategy for the Sahel is another example that fosters coherence.
Finally, focusing on systemic prevention is key for sustaining peace. Globalization is shaping systemic risks in Africa. As noted, conflict is linked to challenges ranging from climate change, to cyberwarfare, to transnational crimes. These are issues beyond the capacity of any individual country to address on its own. Global leadership and collective action are critical in addressing these systemic risks.
I thank you for your attention.