Achieving peace through the lenses of trade

Monday September 23 2019


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Since 1981, the world has been observing the International day of peace. The day is dedicated to world peace, and specifically the temporary ceasefires and non-violence.

The theme of the first International Day of Peace was the “Right to peace of people.” The more I think about the theme of the first observance in 1981 and the theme for 2019; I am reminded that world peace has not yet arrived on our doorstep.

Is it because human nature is just drawn to conflicts, or because humanity will never co-operate or is it that we are trying to push others to change, yet we can’t change ourselves.

As a social Justice activist, always writing proposals for peacebuilding interventions, or convening meetings with other peace actors, trying to seek creative ways of ending wars and conflicts in our beautiful world, I am always pondering if its naïve to believe that war might one day become a thing of the past? Well, I can only hold on to a hope that my children and their children will live in a world that is keen and deliberate on building peace.

Recently, as I got thinking deeply about the concept of peace or the emergence of the term “peacebuilding”, I slipped into Immanuel Kant’s essay titled “Perpetual Peace”, which delved into the Economic Peace theory.

Kant argues that there are two basic ways in which economics may contribute to international peace. First, increasing international interdependence through trade and finance, raises the potential costs of war to a degree that makes warfare an irrational option of foreign policy.


A second possibility is the use of superior economic and military power to harm an actual or potential aggressor’s economy and make him stop preparing or waging war, e.g. by blockade or economic sanctions. My piece is emphasizing the first option.

This can try to explain why mammon has been a basis for many conflicts, from families to friendships, as well as countries. You may have heard that money is a common topic of contention among couples, which often even lead to divorce.

Have you heard friends who reach an irreconcilable edge, just because one failed to pay what they were owed? I am sure, you have also seen many stories on the internal scene, where countries pick fights with their neighbors, contesting ownership of a piece of land or water body that is believed to be lucrative.

It is equally not a foreign concept that colonizers only tore Africa apart or drove her people into civil wars, just to extract the continent’s natural resources. Which means matters of economics can be the main motivation of war and the vice versa can equally be true, if the world population continue to be dedicated to a possibility of achieving world peace.

Decades of conflicts

Scanning through the context of the Great Lakes region, one sees that the area has been marred in decades of conflicts – South Sudan Vs Sudan, Democratic Republic of Congo Vs Rwanda, Uganda Vs Rwanda, Democratic Republic of Congo Vs Uganda, Uganda Vs South Sudan, etc.

I therefore would like to argue that economic interdependence among the countries in the Great lakes can result in a more peaceful region. If, for example, Uganda has key trade interests in Rwanda or the DRC, Uganda will not plunge any of the countries to war, especially if the vice versa is also true, because they all have so much to lose.

According to the framework of the European Union, it was created in the wake of the Second World War in order to foster economic cooperation and to prevent further conflict between European countries.

The EU built on the value of securing peace among its member states, which was enshrined in the treaties that were geared towards removing trade barriers so that European exporters could gain fair conditions and access to other markets and engaging all key bodies when negotiating trade agreements or rules.

These are some of the things that some of our African countries and regional integration bodies ought to emulate. There is no point in signing treaties that are only on paper, or singing choruses of integration if members states ploy against each other or refuse to trade with each other.

More and more trade creates wealth for all citizens, and as individuals get more interested in maintaining and improving their wealth, they will turn against war because it can cut trade links and endanger their foundations.

The impact of any war, be it civil or international, is always devastating with prolonged physical and mental health consequences.

Therefore, with the region’s belligerent past that is full of fierce, diverse, and tangled economic and political interests, governments have a duty (of course in partnership with their citizens) to ensure cooperation with their neighbors to ensure sustainable peace for future generations to enjoy.

The writer is the Executive Director at Never Again Rwanda. The opinions in the article are of the author. @JosephRyarasa