One of the questions that appears in our weekly reports is, “How is your definition of peacebuilding changing?” It's hard to answer, because I didn't have a definition of peacebuilding to start -- how would I know if it was changing or not? I began asking people during the course of my research in South Africa and have had various responses from practitioners in the field of peacebuilding and development; I’d be interested to know what my colleagues and other practitioners have found similar or different.


Peacebuilding v. Conflict Resolution

When I explain to people the research that we are conducting this summer, I find myself using the term “conflict resolution” when I get quizzical looks about sport and “peacebuilding”. But conflict resolution and peacebuilding aren’t the same, and though I’m not sure I could define peacebuilding in definitive terms, I have a few suspicions:

1.       Peacebuilding is long-term.

2.       Peacebuilding is broad-based, holistic.

3.       Peacebuilding is sustainable.

4.       Peacebuilding is grassroots.

5.       Peacebuilding is collaborative.

6.       Violence, instability and insecurity are the enemies of peace.


In a context

There are different impediments to peace in different contexts, but I imagine peaceful communities have many things in common. In other words, successful peacebuilding might look similar in different places. In the South African context, as I have mentioned briefly before, there are many factors that lead to violence and instability. However, even these differ from community to community. Drug abuse, socioeconomic disparity, poverty, segregation – these lead to crime, violence and psychologically destructive outcomes. I recently met with a life-long practitioner of peacebuilding at the University of Cape Town Centre for Conflict Resolution, and she confirmed what I already suspected – the real drivers of conflict in much of South Africa are material, socio-economic, and psychological. To paraphrase her thought – when people are hungry, have no access to water, or proper sanitation, when kids grow up on streets where fighting is the norm and gunshots and gang fights break the silence of the night, what hope is there to break the cycle of violence?


What unites the organizations that I have visited in South Africa is a common vision of what a more peaceful society would look like. Kids would finish school because they felt invested and saw more opportunity with an education than without. Men and women would interact on terms of mutual respect and equality. Having knowledge of safe-sex practices would actually have an influence on people’s behavior. The psychological damage of growing up in unsafe conditions would not push kids to do or sell drugs. And economic opportunities after primary school would exist such that kids could escape the poverty and insecurity that defined their childhoods. As my friend at the Centre for Conflict Resolution bluntly said, we are not there yet. But South Africa is a society in transformation, and “its time will come”.


At what level?

Peacebuilding can occur at different levels of society: between individuals, within families, communities or neighborhoods, cities, provinces, nations and even between nations. Practitioners of peacebuilding of course cannot be expected to tackle all of these levels at all times, but certainly we must be aware that peace at one level cannot be sustained without peace at another. Karl Voysey at Soccer4Hope reminded me of this fact when he explained that you must target the micro, meso or macro levels of society. Mediation between individuals and negotiations between heads of state are manifestations along the spectrum of peacebuilding. Should one take primacy over another? Is there a level that is most important as a target of peacebuilding initiatives?


Is integration necessary?

After reading this article in the New York Times over the weekend, I was reminded of how important integration is for the psychological health of a community. This harkens back to Kenneth and Mamie Clark’s doll test, which was recently revisited by a young woman in the US. South Africa remains highly segregated, and not only along racial lines – religion, language and of course economics play important roles in determining the patchwork pattern of South African society. This is largely the byproduct of the apartheid pass laws, but even now communities remain insular. There are very integrated and cosmopolitan communities, but they are few and far between. (District 6 was a famous example of one of these communities in Cape Town, but it was destroyed and its residents removed forcibly in the 1970s as part of apartheid restructuring.)


Yet despite a relatively cosmopolitan history and newfound equality under the law, when I ask South Africans about integration I get mixed reactions. Some say community peace should come first – in the metaphor of the family, communities must get their own affairs in order before they can be expected to deal with outsiders. Some say that race in and of itself is not a bad thing, and that “colorblindness” will not lead to lasting peace. Racism – and the process of defining people by stereotypes and excluding them on basis of color – is what drives wedges between social groups.


Some organizations see the inherent value in integration. One young man I met with has started a rugby outreach program to a few schools in the townships outside of Cape Town. He envisions exchanges between talented white suburban kids and talented black township kids who speak the common language of sport. Another organization, Hoops4Hope in Gugulethu, also sees integration as an invaluable part of their work. In fact it was in their original mandate to bring white, black, coloured, Muslim, Christian, and foreign kids together once a year for a huge tournament.


Peace is multidimensional

                In conclusion – poverty by itself will not inevitably lead to violence. Segregation, unemployment, lack of opportunities and poor service delivery –these things are factors, but not determinants. Taken together, however, they make lasting peace difficult to achieve. Breaking the cycle of insecurity is vital to building sustainable, peaceful communities and peaceful nations. I am continually inspired by those working towards this challenging but worthy goal!


As always, comments are much appreciated. Many thanks to Georgetown University’s Conflict Resolution program and Generations For Peace for their continued support.

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Comment by Mike Abkin on July 7, 2011 at 1:22pm

Right, Amanda. Daily, hourly, minute-by-minute. A constant workout of being present and authentic with oneself and with others -- the "right relationships with oneself, other persons..." part of the Earth Charter's definition of peace.

For Sarah and others from Africa, you might want to think about attending the Fifth Summit of the Global Alliance for Ministries and Department of Peace taking place in Cape Town, South Africa, this October 2-6. Peacebuilders will gather from all over Africa and around the world to share and learn from one another about peacebuilding challenges and successes, civil society and government infrastructures for peace (not just government ministries!), peace education, and more. The theme of the Summit is "Ubuntu in Action", and there is also a pre-Summit training on "Storytelling for Peacebuilding" September 30-October 1 (a training that I myself am really looking forward to). For more info and to register, see

Comment by Amanda Munroe on July 7, 2011 at 12:17pm

Thanks for the clarity yo've shared on this, Sarah. Thanks also for the links! I've never seen "the doll test" before.

I found one quote from the NYT article especially interesting -- that people stay isolated from one another becuase they are afraid of losing their "language and identity". I think one aspect of integratino (along the lines of "Positive Peace" that so many have listed here, and often cited in psychological analysis of conflict and identity issues) is the ability to feel confident and sure in your own identity while at the same time being able to live side-by-side with others. Easier said than done, of course. That's the daily work that sport and peacebuilding is about, right?

Comment by Fr. Bartolome Sagadal on July 5, 2011 at 10:41am
Good ideas... However for me, "Peace is not only the absence of war, it is total well-being. It is Human-Ecological Sustainable (HESUS) Development. It has a. multi-dimensions: ie. RESPECT (Religo-spiritual, Ecologicaal, Social, Political, Economic, Cultural and Technological. b. Integral, holistic and total. This means that all the dimensions are inter-connected and inter-related. If you have these dimensions holistic intervention, you have PEACE! Hence, PEACE is the offshoot, of justice, unity and love....
Comment by Vinay Jain on July 5, 2011 at 9:53am

I support your following inferences:

- Successful peacebuilding might look similar in different places.

- Peacebuilding is collaborative. It is favored by Nature. Hence, this is simplest approach to integration, and our best hope.

Thank you for sharing your research. Look forward to seeing tangible answers.

Comment by Jose Tenga on July 5, 2011 at 5:04am


Peacebuilding is difficult to define because peace is difficult to define. Some say it is the absence of war; the presence of ‘peaceful hostilities’, the presence of an abundance that provides everyone an opportunity to achieve their potential, etc. It can be all of the above, but one thing is clear: Peacebuilding is not a destination. We can never say that ‘we have finished building the peace, now, we can leave and let them live in pieces’! Peacebuilding is a continuum that requires constant attention to the thread that keeps society bound together in a carefully choreographed dance of understanding, delivery and development.


Nowhere else is this evident than in Sudan, on the eve of secession of the south from the north, after more than two decades of war. At once, it is a moment filled with excitement, expectation and inquiry; then uncertainty, insecurity and tons of questions. Some have even declared the south as a ‘failed state’ at birth (witness the neighborhood into which it is born and you decide).  While it is not still born, it definitely is struggling for leadership and life. The presence of at least half a dozen civil insurgencies, almost all of then started by previous senior warriors of the SPLA sends a disturbing signal of disagreement, dissent and difficulty of developing understanding (all of which are antithesis for peacebuilding) at a time when none is needed. The North may be looking on in amusement but its own struggles may be just as formidable: certain loss of income, weak and struggling economy with no ‘Plan B’ at a time when Darfur and Abyei are still unresolved and South Kordofan is at war.

In such environments, what hope for peacebuilding?  Or do we take the easy way out: give up and pull out!

Comment by Samuel Maruta on July 5, 2011 at 4:54am
Thanks for the post. In grappling with this term, I usually split the concept into everyday and post-conflict peace-building, both in my mind and when explaining it to the communities that we work with. The former (so I usually say) happens everyday and every moment of life to ensure the maintenance of what Abkin refers to as the ‘wholeness that is peace’. The latter happens after ‘a rocking of the wholeness boat’, that negative something (again with reference to Abkin) which disturbs the peace. However in both cases I always sum up the process or work of achieving that wholeness as doing something, whether by omission or by commission, that makes the other person or entity comfortable enough to relate with me or who/whatever is at the centre of the ‘action’. As you can see it’s a difficult concept, but that is how I usually console myself.

Thanks too to Tarpai for sympathising with us in Zimbabwe. We hope that the ‘conflict’ will be resolved soon enough. So far we have been fortunate that that conflict is played more at the level of national politics, and not so much at the community level. Our communities in and of themselves are not as predisposed to large-scale violence as is the case in some countries in the region. Unfortunately, of course, these national level players try very hard to ‘export’ these conflicts to the communities, usually taking advantage of the poverty and hunger that have come about partly as a result of these conflicts. It is my hope that these conflicts will come to an end before they have succeeded in destroying the little that remains of the ‘wholeness’ in our communities.

It is this wholeness that comes naturally to most of our communities that we in the peace-building fraternity in Zimbabwe build on to counter the machinations of the conflict entrepreneurs among us.
Comment by Muhammad Tanveer Akhtar on July 5, 2011 at 4:37am
Very Good Poverty is the state of minds... our atitude could lead us to peace and prosperity
Comment by Ximena Hernandez Jaimes on July 4, 2011 at 11:11pm
Omitir la" ONU" me referí a las entidades estatales., escribí la nota en español y no se hizo la traducción correcta..
Comment by Ximena Hernandez Jaimes on July 4, 2011 at 11:06pm
Interesante su articulo, me inclino por estos dos  terminos ; "cosolidacion de la paz de base amplia e integral y a la vez  sostenible", pienso que estos dos deben coexistir para lograrse una verdadera consolidacion, el poco conocimiento que tengo sobre la problematica de sudafrica me infiere para poder referir a mi país "Colombia" quien a lo largo de seis decadas ha sufrido la inclemencia de los grupos al margen de la ley "Guerrillas", narcotrafico, paramilitares que han permeado en un 80% las instituciones del estado dejando como resultado  alrededor de mas de 3 millones de victimas y desplazados y una enorme responsabilidad del estado por cumplir una reparación integral que aun no comienza. Espero poder compartir mi tesis de maestría en DDHH, que adelanto en Argentina. Ha tocado usted el talon de aquiles que ha destrozado nuestros pueblos por generaciones y desde ese plano todo gesto que conlleve avanzar en una consolidación de paz global para las futuras generaciones no sera en vano!!!
Comment by William TARPAI on July 4, 2011 at 2:11pm

Keep up the good work.   South Africa clearly can play an important role towards building a lasting and meaning peace on the African continent.   It is an incredible resilient society, but clearly living in a tough neighborhood.  Bringing a lasting peace to Zimbabwe has been elusive.  Refugees from there are living in every neighboring state, placing incredible burdens on the nations providing them 'temporary shelter'.


Having personally spent more than 3 years in Mozambique from 92-95, my wife and I had incredible opportunities to get to know people and their cultures in South Africa as well as Zimbabwe, Nambia, Botswana, and Swaziland during that period.   Poverty was all too evident in every country, and the ability of people at the grassroots was decidedly limited.  The world needs to work in a coordinated manner with all of the southern African states to bring a successful conclusion to the Zimbabwean drama in the coming years.  


Being in South Africa on election day for its first multi-cultural referendum is a day I shall not forget during my life.  People walking long distances to voice their preference, and cast their ballot freely was quite humbling for me.   I hope I live to see the day when free and fair elections can take place in Zimbabwe!


Great progress has been made since those early days, but people know that democracy with a vibrant economy takes continual work to achieve.  Lots to be done to prevent conflict and build sustainable peace in the region.   RSA leadership, with the ability to provide good examples of a state at peace and in harmony will define its own peacebuilding progress.



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