What is peacebuilding?

Peacebuilding is about dealing with the reasons why people fight in the first place and supporting societies to manage their differences and conflicts without resorting to violence.

It aims to prevent the outbreak, escalation, continuation and recurrence of violence, so can take place before, during and after conflicts.

It is a long-term and collaborative process, as it involves changes in attitudes, behaviours and norms.

What contributes to peace?

To understand peacebuilding, we need to appreciate the factors that contribute to peace, the absence of which can potentially lead to conflict. Peace is when:

  • everyone lives in safety, without fear or threat of violence, and no form of violence is tolerated in law or in practice
  • everyone is equal before the law, the systems for justice are trusted, and fair and effective laws protect people’s rights
  • everyone is able to participate in shaping political decisions and the government is accountable to the people
  • everyone has fair and equal access to the basic needs for their wellbeing – such as food, clean water, shelter, education, healthcare and a decent living environment
  • everyone has an equal opportunity to work and make a living, regardless of gender, ethnicity or any other aspect of identity

Peacebuilding approaches often refer to ‘positive’ and ‘negative’ peace. This is used to denote a transition from violence to peace, which can be seen in two phases: improved stability and ‘positive peace’.

Stability means the absence of violence, when people can get on with their lives after the fighting stops. This return to normality is welcome. But stability frequently masks the reality that grievances or other causes of conflict have not been addressed and may erupt again.

Because of this, this period has been dubbed ‘negative peace’, which helps explain why a third or more of peace agreements break down.

The challenge is to use periods of stability to build longer-term, ‘positive’ peace. This means achieving improvements in governance, and in fair access to economic opportunities, justice, safety and other aspects of wellbeing, such as health, education and a decent environment in which to live.

These are the factors that, taken together, provide people with the resilience that allows them to deal with their differences and conflicts without violence.

What does peacebuilding involve?

Peacebuilding approaches and methods are varied and diverse, but they all ultimately work to ensure that people are safe from harm, have access to law and justice, are included in the political decisions that affect them, have access to better economic opportunities, and enjoy better livelihoods.

Some of the ways in which this can be achieved are through:

  • engaging in various forms of diplomacy
  • strengthening democracy and inclusive politics (e.g. electoral frameworks, active citizenship initiatives, etc.)
  • improving justice systems (e.g. anti-corruption initiatives, constitutional reforms, access to justice initiatives, truth commissions, etc.)
  • working to improve general security
  • working together with business and trade to create sustainable jobs or improve their employment practices
  • improving infrastructure and urban and rural planning
  • including peace education in curricula
  • creating free and inclusive media
  • improving healthcare
  • making development programmes in conflict areas more sensitive to conflict dynamics

Importantly, peacebuilding is done collaboratively, at local, national, regional and international levels. Individuals, communities, civil society organisations, governments, regional bodies and the private sector all play a role in building peace.

The term peacebuilding was brought to international attention in 1992, when former UN Secretary-General Boutros-Ghali announced his ‘An Agenda for Peace’.