Free for all or freedom for all? Promoting SDG 16 needs German leadership


Stanley Henkeman, Executive Director of the Institute for Justice and Reconciliation (IJRR), South Africa

It seems like the world is in free fall as peace has remained elusive for most people. Even stable democracies are experiencing their fair share of political instability. It would not be out of place to question the notion of a “free world.” Predictability has become problematic as voters defy, once reliable, exit polls in their political choices. It is ironic that in its quest for more stability and positive peace our choices have the exact opposite effect.

Two of the more significant manifestations of people asserting their right, in their desire for peace, to close themselves off from the encroaching outside world: The one was the 2016 referendum outcome of the United Kingdom that saw citizens voting to leave the European Union. This was followed by the June 2017 general election which saw a catastrophic outcome for the ruling party. A second event was the election of Donald Trump as the president of the United States of America. These two countries are widely regarded as leaders of the world and instead of bringing peace these events turned out to create more internal and external problems for the UK and USA.

Goal 16 of the Sustainable Development Goals (SDG’s) 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.”

It can be argued that all the other SDGs are impacted by the presence or absence of peace and security. The fact that most countries of the world have been bogged down by so many internal and external crises, makes it difficult for them to focus on the attainment of the SDG’s. The countries that have traditionally taken up the mantle of taking the lead, such as the five permanent members of the United Nations Security Council, have all been side-tracked in one way or another. Even other continental leaders such as South Africa, Nigeria, Brazil and India, have lost the political will and moral right to champion the quest for a better and more inclusive global society.

The Institute for Justice and Reconciliation (IJR) is a non-profit that operates from Cape Town, South Africa that has been pursuing the building of fair, democratic and inclusive societies for the last seventeen years. With its strong focus on transitional justice issues in Africa the IJR found that the African continent is suffering from a leadership dearth resulting in large scale insecurity. It is always the citizens that bear the brunt of corrupt practices, lack of implementation and the lack of political will to create a better life for all.

In South Africa, known for its transition from a pariah state to an inclusive democracy, many things have changed but the country has somehow managed to become the most unequal country in the world. While inequality is mostly a throw-back from the past policies of exclusion of black people from the economy, the African National Congress government has not been very successful in reversing the trend. The introduction of social grants for the poorest of the poor has reduced poverty but it has not, and will not for a long time, address inequality. This assertion is confirmed by the 2016 South African Reconciliation Barometer data, which is a public perception survey conducted by the IJR since 2003.

The triple challenge of poverty, unemployment and inequality has been a continuing hallmark of the South African reality and it has direct implications for the attainment of the better life that was promised. It is in this context that the IJR tries to make its contribution and it, along with many other civil society actors, has concluded that the promotion of active-citizenship must to be prioritized.

The IJR and other civil society actors understand the need to locate domestic challenges within a local and global framework. Locally, it advocates for the implementation of the provisions contained in the 2030 National Development Plan and globally it understands the value of promoting the SDG’s as vehicles for fundamental change. There are organisations like IJR working for positive and sustainable peace in most countries of the world but they lack the influence to be taken seriously by world leaders.

Ideally we need champions who are internationally respected. One such country is Germany. In a world that is becoming increasingly insular, Germany has taken the lead in its approach to crises, such as the recent influx of refugees into Europe. As a country Germany is known for its political and economic stability.

Of all the countries in the world Germany is arguably the one country that enjoys the most confidence in the eyes of many people across the globe. Germany should shed its reluctance to assert itself on the world stage and use its strong moral, political and economic position to become more influential in world affairs. Germany should extend the leadership role it is playing in the European Union to the rest of the world. It should leverage its influential and powerful position in world affairs to promote the SDG’s beyond its borders.

Germany is known for its foundations that are doing sterling work across the globe and the German government could potentially work through these foundations and their civil society partners in various countries to promote peaceful, just and inclusive societies. The world is crying out for fresh approaches to tackle its many challenges. What is clear is that the traditional structures and historical leaders are unable to instill confidence and it is time for Germany to step up to the plate by shedding its reluctance to lead from the front.

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