Intergovernmental Organizations and Peacebuilding
by Shane Ellanson
April 22, 2020

From November 13-15, 2018 the African Union hosted its 3rd Interfaith Dialogue Forum and held its 3rd Intercontinental Youth Forum of iDove (Interfaith Dialogue on Violent Extremism). Throughout these events, the African Union reinforced its belief in the positive role that religious leaders can play in maintaining peace in the region. This effort also created an atmosphere for religious leaders to converse with each other about their successes and areas of needed improvement in peacebuilding efforts. Transnational bodies and inter-governmental organizations (IGOs), like the African Union, are in a unique position of authority and influence over their member states.

Through conferences like these, IGOs have the ability to stress values, like religious tolerance, to their member states and to hold those states accountable to these shared values. Unlike local or community organizations, these institutions have the ability to influence the values and actions of national governments using soft power mechanisms of accountability. While not all member states will sympathize with the values being presented by the IGO, additional pressure may be persuasive as a regional body expresses a commitment to transformative peace between and within member states.

The role of IGOs in peacebuilding is also important because religion-based conflicts, refugee crises, terrorist organizations, and many other issues and conflict are not typically limited to the borders of any particular nation-state and therefore cannot be addressed independently by a single member state. For this reason, it is necessary to have a larger, unifying body overlooking and attempting to resolve these issues. A lone state is incapable of solving the kinds of problems listed above because the impacted parties are not uniquely theirs. As violence spreads over borders, transnational recruitment occurs over the internet, and migration patterns cross state lines, a holistic multi-country approach is required to address the varied contributing factors to any particular conflict scenario.

Distinct from larger transnational organizations, regional bodies are often more in tune with the nuances of their localized cultural and community tensions. The AU, for example, consists of 55 member states that are all located on the continent of Africa. Geographic proximity may allow the citizens of individual member states to feel like their contexts are understood by the regional IGO and that their culture is actively being considered in the peacebuilding process. By understanding regional issues, these IGOs more effectively contribute to peacebuilding efforts and are more welcomed by the conflict-impacted parties than external actors.

IGOs have the ability to make major contributions to peace in their region by using their platform to promote the positive role of religion in resolving conflict. The African Union has tapped into one of the most over-looked tools in the peacebuilding sphere with their newfound attention to interfaith dialogue. Working with religious leaders to spread the importance of religious tolerance and social cohesion allows IGOs the opportunity to reach large groups of people using an established mechanism, religion, that possesses a strong influence on decision making and way of life. The African Union is paving a path for the world into the future of peacebuilding and conflict resolution.

The views, thoughts, and opinions in this blog belong solely to the author and are not representative of an official position or endorsement by the International Center for Religion & Diplomacy (ICRD).