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Finding peace in Colombia

Catalina Quintero's picture
Sunday was the day that all Colombians, in Colombia or abroad, voted in a referendum to ratify or not the peace agreement that was signed on September 26 between the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC) rebel group and the Colombian government.
As a Colombian living in Washington, D.C., I was serving as a voting monitor (Colombians citizens who volunteer to make sure the process runs smoothly and transparently) here all day, from 7 a.m. until 4 p.m. Most of us were for the YES vote; so we were both saddened and surprised when we heard the news that the NO vote had narrowly won.
Though I was pessimistic at first, I thought about the great peacemakers of this world, and in particular Nelson Mandela who once said: "In the end, reconciliation is a spiritual process, which requires more than just a legal framework. It has to happen in the hearts and minds of people." I have come to a different conclusion about this supposed "blow" to achieving peace in my country. I think this is a lesson in what the true meaning of peace is, especially for those of us who work on combatting conflict and often think that peace is a technocratic agreement.
City view of Bogotá, Colombia.  (Photo: Dominic Chavez/World Bank)

It is true that society has been extremely polarized in recent months, and that although this is likely the most comprehensive and technically sound peace deal in this 50+-year-old conflict, the process was not very inclusive or transparent of society at large. Corruption scandals in the current government abound, and the fear that we might turn into another Venezuela if the FARC gain political power (which the agreement provides for to an extent) are not that far-fetched for many Colombians glancing over the border. The process divided Colombian families. There is not one person I have spoken to that has told me that they could easily breach the subject at dinner without a real fight breaking out.
The NO vote was a lesson to us Colombians that polarization and choosing sides here isn't the way, that listening to the other rather than just maintaining our position is what we need the most. If we are fighting, and if there is violence verbal or physical within our hearts and minds and at the most basic level of the family, how can we have a national peace when we aren't even at peace with ourselves let alone our family members or colleagues at work? Peace is the work of a united nation, a united effort.
I don't think all is lost, in fact, I think this NO vote reminds us that for the peace agreement to hold, we need to be more inclusive of all opposing views. What works for peace is love and not fear, understanding and trust of the other rather than ostracizing someone for a different opinion. It is about taking that anger and resentment within and transforming it, because they don't work. Humility and calmness do.
President Santos has declared that the ceasefire still holds while democratically recognizing the NO vote. Former President Uribe has also emphasized his will for peace and for continued conversations with the FARC so that the opposition's views can be included in the agreements. Finally, the FARC has said they will not return to "the jungle" to fight ever again.
The whole point is that we had forgotten to look ourselves in the eye, each Colombian, and realize that we are both part of the problem and solution to finding it within ourselves.


Youth and peacebuilding one act at a time

Bassam Sebti's picture

Aristotle once said “Good habits formed at youth make all the difference,” and what a difference a group of young Lebanese men and women are making to advocate for peace to make a difference!

Their ages range between 16 to 25 years old. They are poor and unemployed. They once fought each other, literally, in their sectarian-divided Lebanese city of Tripoli. Sunni residents of Bab al-Tabbaneh and Alawite residents of Jabal Mohsen neighborhoods fought each other repeatedly.

But at the beginning of 2015, the government imposed a ceasefire that put an end to the endless rounds of fierce clashes and restored calm in the city.

And that’s when a Lebanese non-profit organization promoting peace through art went there looking for a different kind of recruitment: one of peace. March brought the youth together to perform in a play!

Arab reality show tests humanity and empathy

Bassam Sebti's picture

It’s Ramadan and the Arabic TV channels are festooned with shows that vary from recurring popular soap operas, cooking and competition shows — but one has become the talk of the town.

Al Sadma, or The Shock, the Arabic version of the popular American show What Would You Do, is a reality TV prank show. But it’s not like many other tasteless reality shows that invoke fright and even terror, it is a show that invokes morality and examines humanity.

Striking extreme poverty by 2030: How can the New Deal help?

Sarah Hearn's picture

The message of the  g7+ group of conflict-affected and fragile countries is clear. Solutions to conflict and poverty only work when they are nationally-owned and led. That might seem obvious, but the international community has learned the hard way that externally-imposed priorities do not add up to peace and sustainable institutions that drive development.

5 things we learned about violent extremism

Alys Willman's picture

The threat of violent extremism formed a common thread through many discussions at the Fragility Forum this month. While certainly not limited to fragile settings, these areas experience a disproportionate burden of attacks and exploitation by extremist groups. If we are going to prevent further violence, our efforts have to focus there.

UN Deputy Secretary General Jan Eliasson noted this in his opening remarks, saying, “We must get better at stamping out the flames before they pose an existential threat. We must do more prevention and post-conflict work.”
If we are ready to get serious about prevention and response to violent extremism, we need a better understanding of why people and communities support extremist groups, and why they don’t. During the Forum, the panel “Violent Extremism: What we know, and what we don’t” helped shed light on some critical empirical questions. 

Here are five things we learned:

Gender equality and peace building - moving beyond MY goal to implement the Sustainable Development Goals

Anne-Lise Klausen's picture

The buzz around the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) is changing, as reality kicks in and countries now have to figure out how to integrate the thinking of the goals into plans, set priorities and commit to targets.

Up to now global interest groups and constituencies have rallied around MY goal – one of the 17 SDGs that they supported. This is understandable, as their first achievement has been to see their goal included. With that done the hard work is starting, to implement the ambitious agenda.

No doubt this will be challenging and the crosscutting goals that have several sector “homes” are likely to face particular difficulties. Constituencies need to team up and mobilize joint resources and strategies especially around Goal 5 on gender equality and Goal 16 on peaceful and inclusive societies. This is sensible and smart: Reducing sexual and gender based violence (SGBV) and increasing women’s roles in peace and statebuilding are core objectives of both constituencies. 

Fragile to fragile: How the g7+ is bringing optimism to the Central African Republic

Anne-Lise Klausen's picture
School children in the Central African Republic
Credit: © Pierre Holtz | UNICEF

At a meeting of the g7+ group of fragile states recently held in Nairobi, Bienvenu Hervé Kovoungbo looked back on his time in the same city, two years ago.

Back then, the citizens of his country, the Central African Republic (CAR), were caught in a fight between different militia groups. Bienvenu, who is the Director of Multilateral Cooperation and former Head of the Investment Budget Division in the Economy, Planning and International Cooperation Ministry, flew to Nairobi to attend a steering meeting of International Dialogue on Peacebuilding and Statebuilding. There, he appealed to g7+ colleagues and to donors to come to their assistance.  After the meeting, he could not get back to the capital Bangui for two weeks, held up in Douala, Cameroon while his family had to flee their home and live with thousands of others in makeshift camps on the outskirts of the city.

Don’t shut your doors to refugees

Bassam Sebti's picture
The author on the day of his graduation from the Master of Writing Studies program at Saint Joseph's University in Philadelphia in 2008. © Jenny Spinner

I walked among dead bodies of people blown up by bombs. I ducked and covered from bullets falling around my feet, and I was almost choked to death by an angry mourner. One of millions of Iraqis, I was trying to survive a brutal reality that never seemed to end.

I still cannot escape these images. I still smell the dead. I had to go to where death lay due to my job as a reporter. That job left many journalists, including one of my former colleagues at the Washington Post, dead.

As rewarding as it was, that job cost me my country. I had to seek refuge. Armed groups had taken every chance to attack journalists and their families, especially those who worked for American media. They kidnapped them, tortured them, and asked for ransoms to spare their lives. I did not want this to happen to my family.

Weekly wire: The global forum

Roxanne Bauer's picture

World of NewsThese are some of the views and reports relevant to our readers that caught our attention this week.

How the new peace and violence development goals can be met
The Conversation
For the first time, issues of violence and peace are part of a global development framework. The recently launched Sustainable Development Goals aim to “significantly reduce all forms of violence and related deaths everywhere”.  While admirable in its intent and ambition, is this possible? And, if so, how? Earlier global agreements, notably the Millennium Development Goals, did not consider issues of conflict and violence. Critics point to the omission as one reason areas affected by conflict and violence lagged so far behind peaceful and stable countries on achieving the goals. Human development indicators are often far worse in conflict areas.  On top of this delivering development is made more difficult by continuing violent insecurity, politicised divisions and militarisation. Unsurprisingly, people in these areas see reducing levels of violence and conflict as the most important way in which their lives could be improved.

Understand COP21 in these 7 graphics
Today marks the third day of COP21, a key milestone in the global effort to combat climate change. For the next two weeks, representatives from more than 190 countries will work towards creating a legally binding and universal agreement that spells out how countries will cooperate on climate change for decades to come. A strong Paris agreement can send the signal to the world that the global transformation to a climate-resilient, zero-carbon economy is underway. Here’s a visual look at recent progress the world has made, as well as what needs to be done in Paris and beyond to truly overcome the climate change challenge

Ready for takeoff: Connecting people for peace and development in Eastern DRC

Mohammed Dalil Essakali's picture
Aerial view of a refugee camp @Vincent Tremeau/World Bank
Aerial view of a refugee camp @Vincent Tremeau/World Bank

It would be hard to find another place on earth where the improvement of transportation is more impactful on the wellbeing of a population than in the eastern region of the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC). Here, transportation is so severely underdeveloped that travel to other provinces is sometimes nearly impossible, if not downright dangerous.