Major peace transitions: the Botswana-Serbia link

They are on separate continents, with different cultural practices and contexts, yet a comparison between them can tell us something about major peace transitions.

According to research by the Institute for Economics & Peace (IEP), Botswana and Serbia both showed outstanding improvements in peacefulness between 2008 and 2016.

Out of 163 nations analysed in the Global Peace Index (GPI), these two countries were the only two nations to make major peace transitions from the mid-peace category to high-peace during the eight-year period.

Despite their varying historical and cultural contexts – Botswana’s post-colonial development challenges contrasted with Serbia’s post-conflict recovery – both countries share a similar lift in the GPI rankings.

Significant improvements in peacefulness tend to be slow and difficult to achieve. The low number of countries to make this kind of transition suggests that while it is possible to have large and rapid deteriorations in peace, transitioning to a high level of peacefulness was much more difficult in the decade measured.

The period from 2008 to 2016 was marked by a downturn in global peacefulness, with some countries experiencing dramatic changes in their internal peace GPI scores. This period recorded more countries deteriorating in peace than improving, but there were enough country-level changes in each direction to examine the characteristics of countries with substantial, categorical changes.

A 2018 IEP analysis split the 163 countries from the GPI into three groups – low-peace, mid-peace and high-peace – to highlight the common characteristics of countries that improved or deteriorated enough to move from one of these groups to the next.

Botswana and Serbia stood out with higher per capita incomes, less access to small arms and light weapons, on average, than other mid-peace countries in 2008. The two countries had better business environments and were more transparent, with higher levels of Free Flow of Information. There were also higher numbers of security and police forces.

Larger security forces were also a characteristic of countries that had large deteriorations between 2008 and 2016, which suggests that security forces can be either a positive or a negative factor in peace transitions, depending on the strength of countries’ Positive Peace. Without strong Positive Peace, there may not be appropriate checks and balances on security operations.

While a larger sample size – more countries to study, over more years – would yield even clear insights, IEP used hypothesis testing to confirm that Botswana’s and Serbia’s strong performance in these areas was statistically significant.

The same IEP analysis showed that other countries also improved in peacefulness, albeit to a lesser degree. Between 2008 and 2016, eight countries improved from the low to the mid-peace group. These countries were Algeria, Ecuador, Georgia, Haiti, Israel, Sri Lanka, Peru and Uganda.

When compared to other countries with low levels of peace in 2008, these countries had lower access to small arms and light weapons. They also had more economic freedom, better relations with neighbours, less hostility to foreigners and performed better in youth development.