Peace benefits everyone, and needs stronger institutions to protect and nurture it by continuously addressing all root causes and drivers of tensions
On 22 March 2022, Malawi’s Parliament chalked a milestone by passing the Peace and Unity Bill. Albeit debate on the necessity of the bill, Parliament passed the bill that relates to an essential feature of democracy and sustainable development: peace.
The bill provides for establishment of a legislative framework for promoting peace and unity in Malawi in a coordinated, collaborative and structured manner in order to achieve political prosperity and sustainable socio-economic development.
The bill is a culmination of extensive stakeholder consultations dating back to 2013 that also birthed the National Peace Policy adopted by the government in August 2017.
Is the Peace and Unity Bill necessary? This is the burning question that has been hovering around for months since the draft of the bill was released.
Malawi has been a peaceful and stable country for many decades. But experience teaches us that the human family can never rest on its laurels when it comes to safeguarding peace and stability, and making them more permanent features of a democratic society.
Since 1964, Malawi has relied on non-violent and traditional means of resolving disputes, managing conflicts and maintaining peace. The country’s enviable record of holding at least five mainly peaceful general elections, and three peaceful transfers of power between opposing political parties makes Malawi a shining example in the region and globally.
For Malawi to keep up with this good tradition, Malawi’s mechanisms for resolving differences and conflicts need to be stronger, more inclusive and deeply entrenched for the country to continue enjoying long-term stability and lasting peace. This is why the United Nations welcomes Malawi Parliament’s passing of the Peace and Unity Bill that builds on the National Peace Policy adopted four years ago.
As alluded to in the policy, some peace issues require close attention by a Peace and Unity Commission that the bill proposes to establish. These include strengthening legal and policy frameworks for dialogue, addressing political patronage, patrimonialism, political tensions, advancing respect for cultural and religious diversity, ensuring equal access to development and opportunities, including for women and youth, and many more.
Conflict prevention is increasingly getting recognized as a rational and cost-effective strategy for countries that face risks of violence. The efforts to enact a law on peace and unity, therefore, give Malawi leverage to build national capacities for conflict prevention where homegrown solutions are dominant discourses in peacebuilding.
Efforts to create national institutions like the Peace and Unity Commission also demonstrate Malawi’s commitment to international and regional agreements which underline the need for coordination in peacebuilding and the establishment of national institutions for the prevention, management, and resolution of conflicts such as the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development which encourages strengthening of national institutions at all levels to prevent violence and promote peace under SDG16.
As it has been demonstrated in countries such as Ghana, a Malawi Peace and Unity Commission would offer a platform for consultation and cooperation among main stakeholders to promote reconciliation, tolerance, trust and confidence-building, mediation, and dialogue.
Ghana’s National Peace Council has been responsive to a wide range of challenges and has mediated or facilitated dialogues on diverse issues. The proposed Malawi Peace and Unity Commission promises to be a fundamental structure that would foster collaborative partnerships for peacebuilding and conflict transformation across the government, civil society, and different actors to sustain peace in Malawi.
Sustaining a resilient and peaceful Malawi requires having in place a functional structure that builds constructive social relationships and institutions to resolve conflicts through dialogue. Such a mechanism enables a deeper understanding of how and where tensions may arise and creates room for effective response before tensions erupt into violent conflicts.
Peace benefits everyone, and needs stronger institutions to protect and nurture it by continuously addressing all root causes and drivers of tensions and conflicts.
Written by Mr. Shigeki Komatsubara
The author is the UN Resident Coordinator (ad interim) and UNDP Resident Representative in Malawi.