African states meeting in Lesotho and Ghana have agreed to act urgently to ensure that the continent has a network of local systems in place to resolve political disputes, as well as prevent electoral and other kinds of violence.
At a meeting organized by the African Union and the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP) that wrapped up yesterday, Members States of the Southern African Development Community (SADC) endorsed a declaration that pledges to "establish national infrastructures for peace within three years" across Southern Africa. This follows a similar consultation held recently in Accra, Ghana, in which all 15 nations that belong to the Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS) endorsed a similar agreement.
UNDP supported efforts to train African governments and communities in formal and informal dispute resolution has helped stem conflict in a number of countries in the past, including preventing violence during recent elections in Kenya, the recent transfer of political power in Lesotho and in establishing the National Peace Council in Ghana.
Ghana's efforts to advance their own infrastructure for peace (including through the National Peace Council) were held up by delegates during recent talks as an example for other nations to follow.
"It is never easy to manage the tensions that come from close elections, as we have seen in many countries. Ghana is not perfect: no country is. But despite it all, the political parties, the media, civil society, the Police Service, Youth Groups, women groups, the National Peace Council, traditional leaders such as the Asantehene [tribal kings] - take together, Ghana's Peace Infrastructure - played their parts to great and evident success," said Ghana's Minister of Foreign Affairs, Ms. Hanna Tetteh at the Accra conference earlier this month. "They have set the stage for peace to be consolidated in years to come, accompanied without doubt by continued human development."
UNDP says that the lack of a systematic approach to conflict prevention means new armed conflicts often come as a surprise to governments and the international community. This lack of preparation stretches resources and hampers post-conflict reconstruction, often leaving the root causes of violence unaddressed.
However, informal conflict prevention and peacebuilding activities are a way to complement local law and order during high levels of stress, such as during elections.
They can include such measures as peace committees that mediate disputes and warn communities and authorities of impending violence, and ways to identify and resolve the underlying causes of long-term violence, such as access to land, grazing or other resources, ethnic and tribal disputes, and political differences. In this way, local efforts to foster peace can be seen as a first response before security forces step in.
"The drivers of conflict in the 21st century require new approaches that bring together organs of the state, civil society and the private sector to address challenges of peace and development," said Jordan Ryan, Director of UNDP's Bureau for Crisis Prevention and Recovery at the Maseru consultation. "The solutions to these challenges do not lie solely in a government's hands. They require standing national capacities for dialogue, conflict resolution, and mediation."