As someone that lived through 20 years of civil wars in Idi Amin’s Uganda etc, I can say that my experience of both poverty and absence of peace is hard earned. Business needs certain conditions or the right environment to thrive. One those conditions as I see them are effective institutions and these in turn thrive on consensus.
The situation in Uganda for instance roughly from 1975 to 1985 was that there were no effective institutions to speak of and as such the infrastructure failed as well as the economy. Typically regardless how much money you had it was near impossible to set up and or run a viable or sustainable business, some days there was simply nothing available to buy in the shops, nor people to transact business with.
The buildings that housed shops and other institutions in the capital city got burnt out during one of the civil wars and people got rounded up and taken away for no apparent reason other than being in the wrong place at the wrong time.
First forward to the current day Uganda and at this point I would urge you to get hold of a copy of Bob Geldof’s DVD entitled Geldof in Africa by way of illustrating my point. The documentary is a tale of two cities, where the north of the country is war torn and children are on the run during the night to avoid being captured and taken into bush to fight.
The South is stable and has been since 1986, and to date there are institutions in place that oversee enterprises and this has enabled investors to etc. You would indeed be forgiven for thinking that you were in two different countries if you compared the north and the south Therefore from my personal experience I would argue that economic development would be near impossible without peace in any given country.
A peaceful environment from a political point of view provides for confidence in would be investors as well as building on local enterprise. The Uganda that I grew up in was far from this and as such we tended to live in the present moment as we had no confidence that we would still be alive that afternoon let alone the following day. It is this confidence that is a building block for sustainability, in my opinion.
Going back to the central question: How can business contribute to sustainable peace? I would have to draw from my personal experience again and say Yes, But to a certain extent and this would be premised upon perception, specifically perceived inequality.
If I can just take you back to Idi Amin’s Uganda There was a perception that the Ugandan Asians had monopolised Business and enterprise generally that by getting rid of them the Africans would have a chance at running successful businesses/enterprises. On my recent visit to Uganda (September 2008) this perception was still alive in some quarters, although I am unclear as to how wide spread it is. However this may go some to illustrating my point please follow this link
The manner in which businesses/corporations conduct themselves, may feed this type of perception leading to unrest, riots etc, and from that point of view Businesses can contribute to peace by ensuring that their practices are equitable, inclusive and transparent.