Ending the War in Colombia: Understanding Conflict, Preparing for Peace

On 24 August, Colombian Government and the Revolutionary Forces of Colombia (Fuerzas Armadas Revolucionarias de Colombia, FARC) have reached a comprehensive peace agreement. It is too early to celebrate the end of the long-lasting war—the deal has to be ratified through referendum and even then its success will be conditional on implementation. At this point, we can reflect on some insights from this 52-year-long conflict and looking forward try to anticipate what we have yet to learn from the Colombian experience.

colombia-peace-accord

Insights

Each conflict has its own internal dynamics (which are shaped and fed by local political institutions and contemporary contexts). Any conflict therefore may take as long as its internal logic dictates, be iterative, with many failed attempts to establish peace.

Whatever external influences they will have an effect on the conflict as long as its contextual fabric absorbs and localises them. This makes any given conflict unique, and therefore no imported solutions will work without being first adapted to and ‘digested’ by local contexts. The same goes for ‘lessons learned’.

Interventions of external actors tend to complicate the situation and make the conflict’s natural maturation process confused. Active interventions (except for humanitarian aid and facilitation of peace talks) complicate the conflict for many reasons; they also tend to transfer into proxy wars, given different interests and agendas of external actors.

Military interventions of external (individual or collective) actors must be avoided, except for limited tasks by international stabilisation forces. Even then, the UN mandate should be limited to such tasks as ensuring cessation of hostilities, maintaining ceasefire, enabling delivery of humanitarian aid, etc.

For a comprehensive peace deal to materialise the conditions must be ripe, first of all the goodwill of both sides along with their readiness to make concessions. Not an easy task considering that there is never full agreement in either camp, as ensuring coherence is always a challenge.

It also takes a leader who is brave enough and ready to put his/her political career at risk of concluding the deal—which is always subject to imperfection, scrutiny, disbelief, and controversy, and won’t be met by all people positively.

Challenges ahead

There are many questions and many concerns. Not many answers. Quite understandably—only practice will provide them (and even then, these would not be timeless truth).

– Does the peace agreement mean the end to hostilities between Colombian security and all rebels?

  • Bilateral permanent ceasefire between FARC and the government became effective as of Monday, 29 August.
  • Other rebel groups are not part of the peace deal and some will seek strengthen their ranks at the account of FARC members who disagree with disarmament. Parallel talks are planned with the National Liberation Army (ELN), the second-largest guerrilla group.

What are the peace deal’s success factors? Once ratified, the sustainable peace will depend on:

  • how all the agreed reforms and reintegration points are delivered by the government;
  • how effective transitional justice works, for all sides;
  • how society accepts ex-combatants and their supporters;
  • how population of formerly FARC controlled areas accepts the government’s legitimacy; and
  • how FARC members go through the process of reintegration into society.

– What are challenges faced by the Colombian government? Most immediate are:

  • political opposition undermining the process;
  • population not happy with special treatment offered to ex-combatants and with softness of measures against crimes committed;
  • financial problems with regards to investing into reintegration, public services and rebuilding infrastructure in former FARC areas.

– What kind of dilemmas will FARC face? They have to be understood along the drivers of conflict:

  • politically: accepting that they have to become part of political system they have fought for ideological reasons;
  • economically: making transition to licit income generation, learn new skills;
  • psychologically: overcoming self-aggrandisement but also frustration from the change in social status;
  • socially: adapting to new places if relocated (especially with families), finding their new role in community life.

– What are the issues for citizens to overcome? Different groups of stakeholders to peace and reconciliation will have to cope with common dilemmas (such as overcoming mistrust and forgiving) but also specific to them problems:

  • changing allegiance but also the lifestyle (areas formerly controlled by FARC);
  • accepting former fighters as equal community members, whatever past experiences and grievances (localities of resettlement);
  • repossession of property and land, reintegration (returnee population);
  • overcoming envy as ex-combatants and returnees, as well as former rebel areas will receive financial support from the government (domiciles of resettlement localities; people in remote rural areas across country who won’t receive additional investment);
  • complying with transitional justice measures (former guerrillas but also security officers facing prosecution).

– What are some tough tests before the international community? There will be at least three challenges, neither of them new to international affairs:

  • diplomatic: after decades of taking side of the government to adopt a balanced approach in order not to distort a very fragile balance necessary for integration and lasting stability;
  • political: to respect the democratic process and choice of Colombian people in terms of new government priorities (including in foreign policy), as influenced by FARC’s participation in the legislative and executive.
  • aid coordination: to ensure maximum possible level of coordination between development agencies, sponsors, implementers in order not to confuse and harm the otherwise sensitive political processes of disarmament, demobilisation, reintegration.

– What are challenges to international development experts deployed to Colombia?

  • working in the field (and this is where the real job is done): will be under pressure of all sorts—life conditions in remote rural areas, security, and above all unpredictability of developments. Decisions often-time shall be taken spontaneously, urgently and with limited prior knowledge. Exhibiting highest levels of impartiality, integrity, political and cultural sensitivity to navigate through at times turbulent local waters while keeping the delivery of assistance at expected professional standard is not easy;
  • project owners: development specialists shall be allowed more independence in decision making, thoughtful experimentation, and flexible forms of planning, delivery and monitoring—adapted to local circumstances.

There is a long way to go for Colombia in terms of peacebuilding, and for all those who want to make violent conflict there and elsewhere on the face of the Earth part of history, not future. Understanding local contexts, making timely adjustments, and focusing on the drivers of change can greatly help making this path more effective.

The full version of this article was posted on PolicyLabs: The Colombian Peace Accord: Food for Thought

About the Author: Dr. Elbay Alibayov is an international development professional specialising in state-building and political processes in post-conflict countries. He has worked in Iraq, Afghanistan, Bosnia and Herzegovina, and Azerbaijan. Being posted in the field (such as office in Srebrenica) and headquarters of international projects and missions, he has designed, implemented and overseen a broad range of strategies and local and nation-wide initiatives, and have chaired and participated in the work of civil-military groups, political coordination boards at all levels.

This entry was posted in Building Security and Justice after Conflict, conflict and tagged , , on by .

About PolicyLabs

Dr. Elbay Alibayov is an international development professional specialising in state-building and political processes in conflict affected situations. He has worked in Iraq (with USAID), Afghanistan (with UNDP), Bosnia and Herzegovina (with OSCE), and Azerbaijan (in academia and think tanks). He has designed, implemented and overseen a broad range of strategies and local and nation-wide policy initiatives, and have chaired and participated in the work of civil-military groups, political coordination boards at all levels. Holds PhD in Contemporary History/Political Science. @ElbayPolicyLabs

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