Sustaining Peace in Africa – Regional Reflections

On the eve of commemorations marking 55 years since Hammarskjöld’s untimely death, the Foundation hosted a couple of seminars in Zambia on peacebuilding.


Dag Hammarskjöld died on a mission in the search for peace in the Congo. His goal was to engage not in aggression but dialogue – to meet, to listen, to learn, to respect and through such tactics pursue peace based on the UN Charter. Today his words and his action remain not only an inspiration, but a relevant example to follow.

“The best way to honour Hammarskjöld is to recognise his work and work in his spirit,” said Henrik Hammargren, Executive Director of the Dag Hammarskjöld Foundation when opening a seminar series on peacebuilding in Southern Africa.

The seminars in Zambia engaged regional and local actors in discussions on how to strengthen the international community’s support to sustaining peace in Southern Africa, particularly in view of the three 2015 UN reviews on peace and security.

The Southern African Perspective

Regional actors present pointed out that peacebuilding activities and projects in Southern Africa are implemented with a short term focus and are usually reactive, putting out fires as they flare up. Meanwhile the actors and groups perpetrating violence have long-term agendas and maintain systems and structures intended to ensure that wars will last for years. This needs to change.

“Peacebuilding has not been in effective in Southern Africa because it has focused on the short term. The UN reviews identify the need for an integrated approach, involvement of numerous stakeholders, and national ownership,” explained Amanda Lucey of the Institute for Security Studies. “Governance, leadership and transparency are critical issues that need to be addressed in Southern Africa for peace and security to endure.”

Boniface Cheembe, SACCORD

Boniface Cheembe of SACCORD noted that the legacy of the colonial period has left behind structures, policies, practices and attitudes that contribute to exclusion and create a climate in which elections are seen as a zero sum game.

“If you win an election, you win it all. If you lose it, you lose it all. The laws that are put in place are there simply to serve those who govern and to marginalise the others,” said Cheembe.

Rodney Kiwa of the African Union underscored that the majority of violent conflicts on the Africa continent are election related. There is as a result a need for legislative changes to ensure greater inclusion in political processes and to strengthen leadership in political parties. The international community must also have a longer-term engagement with national and local actors around elections, rather than leaving as soon as the winner is declared.

Deepen understanding of inclusivity

It is also necessary deepen the understanding of what inclusivity means for the region, and to identify and address policies of exclusion. More and new actors must be considered and brought more explicitly into peace processes, particularly youth.

“Young people are often seen as victims and actors that can be manipulated, but more than half of the population in DRC is under 25 years old. They need to not just be consulted but included in decision making,” said Laurent Kasindi from Search for Common Ground. “We need to make them aware of the UN reviews and decentralise the communication chain from New York to the field.”

The seminar series also underscored that peacebuilding requires actions and engagement at multiple levels simultaneously – national, regional, local, community – with broad participation and strong vertical relationships. It is also important to connect decision makers at the national level with every day experiences at the local level, and ensure information flows in both directions.

Implementing change and finding new opportunities

Others stressed there is a need for deeper rationalisation of those organisations that work on peace and security in the region, as well as the UN itself.

Priyal Sing, ACCORD

“These three reviews have shown that the UN is at a crossroads with its work on peace and security,” stated Priyal Sing from ACCORD. He went on to explain that beyond structural expansion the organisation needs to adjust its way of responding to conflict and the changing nature of conflict. “The changing nature of the international system itself demands it,” said Sing.

Perhaps one of the best opportunities to implement the recommendations of the reviews and broaden the concept and support for peacebuilding is through Agenda 2030 with its 17 Sustainable Development Goals. They provide an opportunity to incorporate peacebuilding into national development plans and ensure resources are allocated to activities and initiatives that are essential to build and sustain peace.

It can also ensure that peacebuilding activities are pursued even in places that have not experienced wide-spread violent conflict like Zambia. As Boniface Cheembe explained, “Conflict prevention is needed to promote peace and democracy in all countries, even Zambia. Prevention is always better than a cure.”