Sustainable peace for sustainable development - A global challenge that calls for collective action.

By Jean de Dieu Kayiranga

November 2, 2023

SDG 16

The world commemorated the 41st International Day of Peace on 21st September 2023 under a powerful theme: "Actions for Peace: Our Ambition for the #GlobalGoals.”  It highlights the urgent need for collective action to foster peace, harmony, and inclusive and sustainable development. Today, as conflict escalates in regional hotpots, the world finds itself at a critical juncture. Conflict exacerbates every other challenge facing humanity, from climate change to deepening inequalities to a mounting cost-of-living crisis.  

Clearly, the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) can only be realized with peace.


Rwanda’s history is a testimony to this reality. 

Known as the Country of a thousand hills, Rwanda is an example of how the absence of peace is a path to extreme poverty, while its presence is a path to development and a promising future.

Rwanda celebrated the International Day of Peace under the banner: “Strengthening unity and resilience for sustainable peace and development.’’ The theme recalls the country’s journey from the dark days of the Genocide against the Tutsi in 1994 to today, with Rwanda serving as a model of sustainable development through its persistent pursuit of unity and resilience.


In 1994, the country experienced one of the worst tragedies of human history, which claimed the lives of more than a million people. More than two million went into exile while thousands were internally displaced. The country was on the brink of collapse, with a traumatized and impoverished population. However, more than two decades of sacrifice, of resilience and governance reforms followed. From the mayhem of genocide, when the nation was down on its knees, with wide open physical and psychological wounds, the country raised up with an incredible speed. 


This progress is reflected in its economic growth, which registered an average of 7.2% a year [BW1] over the decade to 2019. At the same time, the poverty rate declined [BW2] from 75.2% in 2000 to 52% in 2016, and life expectancy increased from 49 years in 2000 to 69.6 years in 2022[BW3] . Rwanda now ranks among the top nine African countries with the highest life expectancy.


This turnaround was a result of the country’s efforts to foster peace, unity, reconciliation, and transformative governance. Today, not only is Rwanda peaceful and developing, but it is also among the top contributors of UN peacekeeping personnel, contributing to global and regional peace-building efforts.


The Role of Peace in the SDGs

The Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs), agreed to by all 193 member states of the United Nations, are designed to promote sustainable development worldwide. While 17 goals address economic, social, and environmental goals, Goal 16 is perhaps the most important - it calls for peace and strong institutions. 


Former UN Secretary-General, Mr. Kofi Annan, famously said that there is no peace without development and no development without peace. It is a truth borne out every day. Sustainable peace cannot prevail where conflict, poverty, discrimination, and injustice are prevalent. 


The United Nations’ 2023 Human Development Report reveals that countries that enjoy peace and stability are among the best performers in terms of the Human Development Index (HDI), a summary measure of human development that takes into account: a long and healthy life, being knowledgeable and having a decent standard of living. In Africa, eight out of ten least performing countries are from conflicts-stricken regions such as the Sahel and the Great Lakes Regions, and countries including Chad, South Sudan, and Central Africa Republic. On the other hand, African countries with relative peace and stability, including South Africa, Mauritius, and Botswana have among the best HDI scores in Africa.


Without peace and stability, progress becomes elusive. Wars and conflicts disrupt economies, displace communities, and exacerbate poverty and inequality. To truly make progress toward peace and the Global Goals, we must take meaningful actions at every level of society, to build a world not only free of conflicts and wars but also a world where justice, equality, and human rights are upheld, a world where poverty, hunger, deprivation, inequality, and injustice are relics of the past. Achieving the SDGs requires unwavering commitment and collaboration from all relevant institutions and all individuals in all countries. 


Achieving peace

The United Nations’ 2023 Sustainable Development Report warned that while lack of progress is universal, it is the world’s poorest and most vulnerable who are experiencing the worst effects of unprecedented global challenges. As conflicts rage, as millions of people are pushed into abject poverty and despair, the world must take responsibility to silence the guns, and to help address the underlying causes of conflicts, including poverty, poor governance, and environmental degradation. 


Governments and individuals have important roles to play in advancing peace. Individuals can be responsible consumers, reducing their carbon footprints, and advocating for positive change in their communities. Even the smallest actions can have a multiplying effect that contributes to peace and sustainability. Governments have an important role to play, elaborating, and enforcing policies and strategies that contribute to a culture of peace, inclusive development, and the respect of human rights. In global development, priority must be given to countries hit by recurrent conflicts and those with highest levels of poverty. Development partners, United Nations agencies and international organizations must lead on this and honor the commitment leaders made when they adopted the SDGs. 


There is a universal longing for a world free from conflict, violence, and suffering. A universal longing for dignity, peace, and development. Every person, government and organization has a role to play: the power to choose unity over division, dialogue over conflict, and sustainability over short-sightedness.