The 16th and penultimate sustainable development goal aims to “Promote peaceful and inclusive societies for sustainable development, provide access to justice for all and build effective, accountable and inclusive institutions at all levels”. Alongside goal 17, which highlights the importance of working together, this makes all the other sustainable development goals possible. If the basis on which people can access clean water or healthcare or education or a job or any of the other goals is unfair, corrupt and exclusive, then the targets are unachievable. And if this basis is deliberately unfair, corrupt or exclusive, then eventually the lid will blow off the pressure that builds and violent conflict will result.

As the Bible and as SDG16 itself describe, positive peace – not only the absence of violence – is inseparable from justice, accountability and inclusion. Peace in the Bible is the place where justice meets righteousness, faithfulness, mercy and love. In other words, peace is only possible when there is long-term investment rooted in integrity and equity. Institutions cannot behave like people, but they are made up of people, and if their relationship with the people they serve were characterized by fairness and integrity, then the pressure of inequality and exclusion that fuels violence would fizzle out. More empirically, the key factors for positive peace all relate to areas over which institutions exercise significant control: a well-functioning government; acceptance of the rights of others; high levels of human capital; low levels of corruption; the free flow of information; a sound business environment; good relations with neighbours, and; equitable distribution of resources.

The Twa (also known as Batwa, or “Twa people”) are originally hunter-gatherers indigenous to the Great Lakes region of eastern central Africa and now a small minority across Uganda, DRC, Rwanda and Burundi. Excluded from the state structures of these countries which emerged and settled around them and took their land, livelihoods and dignity, the Twa suffer from the highest levels of poverty and discrimination and the lowest levels of public services in countries where poverty is already rife and service provision weak. Discrimination fuels and is fuelled by a reputation for petty crime, and others will not mix with them. Whatever the levels of direct violence around them, and in Burundi especially this is considerable, they have known neither peace nor social acceptance nor institutional inclusion. But a little change goes a long way. Given some support by Cord to diversify their income and to develop peace committees with their Hutu and Tutsi neighbours, the Twa have built up some financial and social capital and come to be seen as part of the community in a way never before possible, to the extent that they can now eat and drink together. The next steps in this journey are that state structures reinforce this new community inclusion by improving access to services for the Twa people, that the Twa’s rights are protected along with those of their neighbours, and that their example, rather than being dismissed, can be replicated in repairing Hutu-Tutsi relationships. This twin approach has helped the Twa and their neighbours to make a giant step towards freedom, fullness of life, well-being and peace to their community.

There are many reasons why SDG16 is so important. Violent conflict costs the world well over 13% of its total GDP, more than 6 times the total economy of all 55 countries in Africa. 84% of all major political upheavals happen in countries with low levels of peace, and the rise in “anocracies” is a significant part of this. The impact of disasters with natural causes is 13 times worse in these countries in terms of loss of life. And SDG16 mirrors the Biblical perspective: that peace is only possible when relationships are restored, when rights and freedoms are upheld fairly, when everyone has the opportunity to thrive with dignity and free from fear.

Mark Simmons, CEO, September 2017