South Africa’s former president, Nelson Mandela, once described peace as “more than just the absence of war” but the prosperity of the peoples on the continent. More than fifteen years since that speech at the Africa Peace Award, the stability of the continent remains fragile still the 13th edition of the annual Global Peace Index (GPI) report reveals.
Peace is fundamental to the growth and development of a society. Aside from the economic cost of violence, human potential tend to flourish in communities with attitudes, structures and institutions that strengthen peace, what the GPI report refers to as “positive peace.”
“High levels of positive peace are associated with many desirable socio-economic outcomes,” the report explains. Some of those outcomes highlighted by the report include “making it easier for businesses to sell, entrepreneurs and scientists to innovate, individuals to produce, and governments to regulate effectively.”
The GPI index (PDF) produced by the Institute for Economics and Peace (IEP), a non-profit think tank, gauges the level of negative peace (absence of violence or fear of violence) in 163 independent states in the world. The organisation observed the correlation of positive peace with negative peace – which means countries that rank high in the GPI index also tend to enjoy a high level of positive peace too.
The index assesses countries across three domains: ongoing domestic and international conflict, safety and security in society, and the degree of militarisation.
African countries have not shown much improvement in the past few years, and this year was not notably different.
Deterioration in peace
In sub-Saharan Africa, 27 of the region’s 44 countries worsened in peacefulness.
The most notable deterioration was in the likelihood of violent demonstrations, an indicator under the Societal Safety and Security domain. Followed by the impact of terrorism. Burkina Faso, Zimbabwe, Togo, Sierra Leone and Namibia experienced some of the worst declines under those factors. Civil unrest and state of emergencies have also particularly heightened in Cameroon, Mali, Burkina Faso and Zimbabwe.
Nigeria, the continent’s most populous country has significantly suffered from the adverse change in climate, sits alongside the Democratic Republic of the Congo, Central African Republic, Somalia, and South Sudan in the top five least peaceful countries in the region.
Libya, South Sudan, the Democratic Republic of the Congo and Sudan also have a huge population in areas affected by the destructive effects of climate. The report noted that harsh climatic conditions like droughts and the drying up of the Lake Chad Basin (it has lost 90 per cent of its surface area in the past 40 years) have increased the likelihood of violent conflict and insecurity in these countries.
South Africa fell closer to the bottom as one of the least peaceful countries in the world; it especially did poorly in the Societal Safety and Security domain, which evaluates a country based on the level of perceived criminality, level of violent crime, the likelihood of violent demonstrations among other factors.
The cumulative effect of this deterioration has resulted in a significant increase in experiences of sadness and worry in sub-Saharan Africa. “Sub-Saharan Africa had the greatest increase in stress, increasing 18 percentage points from 2008 to 2018,” states the GPI report.
Improvement in peace
Aggregately, Rwanda, The Gambia, Djibouti, Eswatini and Somalia registered the most significant improvement across the sub-Saharan region.
The region outperformed the global average in the area of militarisation, with an average decrease in the military expenditure to GDP and weapons imports.
There was optimism when six armed groups in Central African Republic signed a peace agreement earlier this year to put an end to more than six years of armed conflict in the country, but lasting stability is not guaranteed since similar agreements have also broken down in 2014, 2015 and 2017.
The Gambia, under the new leadership of President Adama Barrow, have seen a significant abatement in occurrences of ethnic violence like was witnessed in the past.
Egypt recorded one of the biggest improvements in the world. The country has steadily stabilised since the Arab Spring in 2011. Political stability improved last year with a largely non-violent election when president Abdel Fatah el-Sisi secured a second four-year term in May 2018.
Confidence in institutions also rose, “with perceptions of corruption falling the most of any region in the last 10 years.” The trend is said to be driving Tanzania, Zimbabwe, Cameroon, Senegal, Mozambique and Niger. In Tanzania, especially, there was a significant increase in confidence in election honesty.
“Peace is the essential prerequisite for the survival of humanity in the 21st century,” the GPI report says. A lot rests on leadership to shape the attitudes and create the structures and systems required for peaceful co-existence in the society.