Latest News, MEIG Highlights 2 juin 2023

Highlight 17/2023 – Institutionalizing peacebuilding

Basmala Mohammedahmed, 2 June 2023

Peacebuilding is a core part of the United Nations Charter. It has been addressed in several articles, such as article 1, article 2 and article 24. Even though peacebuilding is a critical issue in modern society, there are many possible definitions of peacebuilding and varying opinions about what it involves. The term itself first emerged over 30 years ago through the work of Johan Galtung, who called for the creation of peacebuilding structures to promote sustainable peace by addressing the “root causes” of violent conflict and supporting indigenous capacities for peace management and conflict resolution.

Moreover, there were various interpretations of peace depending on how to approach and handle each circumstance. The term « negative peace » is defined by the Institute for Economics and Peace (IEP) as « the absence of violence or fear of violence. » It is the most basic understanding of peace and often the primary goal of peacebuilding when violent conflicts have begun or a violent threat is imminent. The concept of positive peace involves a lack of violence, in addition to a more in-depth understanding of potential underlying threats that could disturb negative peace. Peacemakers engaged in positive peacekeeping must understand the economic and political infrastructure that could derail peace and work with local organizations to build a framework for maintaining peace over the long term. The term « justpeace » is a combination of the words « justice » and « peace. » The concept of justpeace builds upon positive peace, but also includes cultural elements within its framework. Peacemakers for justpeace must understand not only how to mitigate misunderstandings between political and economic groups, but also analyse potential cultural conflicts that may threaten the social well-being of a community.

There is a clear link between assistance in rebuilding state institutions and capacity, the rule of law, shattered economies and basic infrastructure and the strengthening of state sovereignty and its ability to take that preventive action prior to conflict and reactive intervention during conflict. Even though there are various definitions for institutionalizing peace building acts, in principle it is about enabling and empowering states, and societies in order to establish sustainable and legitimate peace. To achieve institutionalization of peace building, the international community uses a top-down approach to nation- building, with a major focus on reconstituting central government institutions. Yet it has a very critical shortcoming since the public institutions are supposed to reflect social values and rules that are agreed upon and accepted by the society and deprive them of the chance to create a framework that reflects their values and culture.

One of the classical challenges to the top down approach is the lack of strategic planning prior to intervention, particularly the failure to understand the local context in which it would be undertaken while pushing time-bound projects without a strategic framework and long-term commitment to the peace-building process.

All of these factors lead to transforming from institutionalizing peace-building from a means-to-an-end, where having the structural foundation for peace is the end goal in order to create a functional transparent system that could actively support and sustain peace.

Moreover, the misguided assumption of the international community is that a reconstitution of the state apparatus alone, along with democratization and market liberalization, will form the basis for long-term stability. This is reflected in some African countries where the same ruler stays in power for over two decades by winning what is an empty shell election. This misconception on how to create a basis for long-term stability has been proven wrong in several cases in Africa where once an authoritarian state collapses or is overthrown, there is no societal institutional underpinning or coherence left and therefore, the potential for re-emergence of violent conflict.

In conclusion, institutionalizing peace is crucial to sustain the peace; however, if it is understood incorrectly, it will result in weak states and institutions, periodic violence and civil society marred by unemployment, nationalism, and donor dependence (Richmond 2006: 303). For the international community, to avoid those catastrophic outcomes, the policy of approaching peacebuilding should be revisited by design towards using approaches that are more engaging, inclusive and have the actual ability to create socially accepted and capable legitimate governance that sets a solid foundation to sustain peace.

Basmala Mohammedahmed, Highlight 17/2023 – Institutionalizing peacebuilding, 2 June 2023, available at

The views expressed in the MEIG Highlights are personal to the authors and neither reflect the positions of the MEIG Programme nor those of the University of Geneva.


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