Governance systems that contribute to stable peace are characterized by having inclusive means of operating, participatory systems that bring the governed into the process of decision making, systems for accountability that ensure transparent and equitable operations, and enough systemic capacity that they are able to provide physical security and public goods supporting human development. When all of these elements are present, they form a mutually reinforcing virtuous cycle that reduces the risk of violence.
Governance systems must ensure that all major groups within a polity perceive themselves as included in decisions and equally able to access resources and public goods. When systems are not inclusive, they contribute to group-based grievances that can lead to mobilization for violence.
Participatory governance supports peace. Governance systems should provide pathways for citizens to feel that their issues and identity is represented in the decision making structure in some way. When systems are not seen as participatory in some way, their legitimacy is challenged and collective decisions may not be followed. If participation turns into identity-based factionalization leading some groups to feel excluded, then this can contribute to instability.
Corrupt and unaccountable institutions can encourage autocratic behavior that contributes to violence. Systems for accountability that ensure that rules apply equally to all governed citizens contribute to peace. Ensuring transparency about governance decision making processes and distribution of resources is an important part of accountability.
A basic level of security and policing is necessary to prevent spoilers and aggressive actors from dominating through brute force. Governance systems that also provide effective human development – in the form of education, health care, and access to potential economic opportunities – are consistently more peaceful. When people lack opportunities and are unable to access essential public goods, they are more likely to engage in political violence.
These different elements of governance are closely interrelated and support each other. Where governance is weak or failing, improving only one element of the four identified above is not likely to succeed. A whole of society approach is needed in which multiple good governance and peacebuilding reforms are addressed simultaneously.
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