The concept of “peace” has traditionally been abstract in definition. Perhaps the most workable methodology of approaching the concept of peace is to define it in terms of harmony achieved by the absence of war or conflict. This definition applied to nation states would purport that those countries not involved in violent conflicts with neighbouring states or suffering internal wars have achieved a state of peace.

While there are many nuanced definitions of peace, two concepts are most often referenced in peace studies. These two types of peace are commonly referred to as “positive” and “negative” peace.

The concept of “negative peace” refers to the absence of violence or fear of violence and proves intuitively straightforward enough. However, the definition of “positive peace” proves to be more analytical by nature and makes use of a more statistical framework to derive what are the attitudes, institutions and structures that are associated with peace. The latter definition also seeks to create a better understanding of the empirical relationships between peace, social development and other development variables within a giving nation state.

The working definitions and understanding of both negative and positive peace can be understood as the producer and product of forms of trust and cohesion that are a prerequisite for well-functioning and prosperous societies around the world. Based on a 2012 study conducted by the Institute for Economics and Peace (IEP), countries with a higher positive peace curve also tend to have many other fundamentally positive social and economic outcomes.

As an example, IEP data indicate that those countries with high peace levels have higher per capita incomes, more equitable distribution of resources, better health and education outcomes, improved trust between citizens and greater social cohesion.

Therefore, by moving countries away from direct violence and towards positive peace, this demonstrates that it is also possible to reap a significant social and economic dividend as a primary by-product of creating peace.

Within an African context, based on a 2012 Global Peace Index (GPI) report, sub-Saharan Africa experienced an incremental rise in peacefulness and, for the first time since the GPI was launched in 2007, was not ranked the least peaceful region in the world.

Zimbabwe experienced the greatest improvement — a tense security situation eased amid a more stable political scene under the unity government and a gradual economic recovery from near collapse. Madagascar also experienced a more peaceful year as a recovery from the deep political crisis that followed the overthrow of the president, Marc Ravalomanana, in March 2009 gained momentum. Mauritius is the highest ranked nation in the region, supplanting Botswana, which topped the regional GPI table for the past four years.

Gabon experienced the third-largest rise in peacefulness, after a reduced likelihood of violent demonstrations, linked, in part, to the landslide win of the governing Parti Democratique Gabonais (PDG) in the December 2011 legislative elections and the strengthening of the position of the president, Ali Bongo Ondimba.

Among sub-Saharan nations, Malawi experienced the largest decline in peacefulness, largely as a result of a police crackdown on mass protests in July 2011 that left at least 18 people dead. Nigeria also underwent the second-largest deterioration in terms of peacefulness, with a sharp rise in the measure of internal conflict in response to the wave of deadly attacks in the north of the country by the radical Islamist group, Boko Haram.

A suicide bombing of UN headquarters in Abuja in August 2011 killed 23 people. At least 186 — and possibly more than 200 — people were killed in January 2012 in the northern city of Kano in a co-ordinated series of bomb and gun attacks. The violence in Nigeria’s second-largest city was the most deadly strike by the extremists since uprisings began in 2009 to topple democracy and impose Islamic rule in the multi-ethnic and religiously diverse nation. War-torn Somalia remained the lowest ranked country in the region.

North Africa was the only region to experience a decline in peacefulness, with a downturn largely reflecting upheaval and instability associated with the Arab Spring, which was sparked in Tunisia in December 2010. Huge, sustained public protests toppled the long-time president Zine el Abidine Ben Ali a month later and rippled across the entire region and beyond during 2011. Further significant declines in peacefulness were also detected in post-revolution Egypt, Libya and Tunisia.

Algeria and Morocco experienced the largest year-on-year improvement in peacefulness in the North African region, benefiting from warming relations with Libya’s National Transitional Council (NTC) after initial skepticism from both countries. Several political reforms have been announced by the president, Abdelaziz Bouteflika, including authorising 17 new political parties to hold constituent congresses. The country has so far largely avoided mass protest and social unrest. South Africa ranked 127th out the 158 nations ranked by the GPI.

Based on the overall results of the 2012 GPI study, results indicate that the world has incrementally become more peaceful over the last twelve months. Nations around the world continue to strive to improve external peace with the desire of seeking to project economic power more than military might.

For the first time since the commission of the GPI study, sub-Saharan Africa is not the least peaceful region in the world. This is a direct result of regional wars beginning to wane as the African Union strives to develop economic and political integration on our continent.


Lee-Roy Chetty

Lee-Roy Chetty

Lee-Roy Chetty holds a Master's degree in Media studies from the University of Cape Town and the University of Massachusetts, Amherst. A two-time recipient of the National Research Fund Scholarship, he...

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