Peace Through Resilience: Colombia Should Now Focus On Building Stronger Communities

On August 24, 2016, in Havana, Cuba, the Government of Colombia and the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia agreed to a ceasefire, ending an internal armed conflict that has spanned over five decades. Colombia’s civil war, the longest in Latin American history, has resulted in the death of over 220,000 people, most of them civilians, and the displacement of 6.7 million people, especially women.

While the historic ceasefire is a laudable feat, efforts now need to focus on bringing a holistic transformation of relations between the parties to foster coexistence and an enduring peace. This is a Herculean task for Colombia which, with the help of international allies, will need to address the magnitude of loss, not just of life, but also the dignity, of its people. The transformation of a society from the devastation and wounds of the past to post-conflict reconstruction requires not only national and international support, but also grassroots and community level leadership, participation, and trust building. A number of programs are being set up to deal with the historical memory of the victims of war (e.g. to remedy intergenerational transmission of collective trauma), reconciliation between factions of the conflict, and reintegration of former combatants, including child soldiers.

Importantly, stakeholders must focus on developing communities that are resilient. Resilience allows for a community to endure stresses and shocks, whether environmental or societal, so that they do not escalate into pockets of conflict that could undermine wider peacebuilding efforts. By addressing triggers of conflicts at an early stage, conflicts can be prevented through systematic self-help mechanisms available to local communities and institutions. For example, community-led conflict management can be used to strengthen the capacity of communities to resolve conflicts and deal with the legacy of violence in an open and sustainable manner. In addition to promoting attitudes of tolerance, community-based dispute resolution systems can also generate trust and help build a culture of peace. Another strategy for building resilient communities is to bring in victims and local educational workers, including teachers, to develop syllabi that incorporates narratives of coexistence.

For a sustainable peace, there must be a culture of peace that embraces respect for all Colombians. Peace is sustained through interdisciplinary efforts dedicated to replace a culture of conflict with one of inclusion and cooperation. It is critical that all of Colombia’s peacebuilding strategies advocate for the inclusion of women, Afro-Colombians, indigenous people, youth and the LGBT community.

Resilience is a long-term process but the trajectory depends greatly on where and how this process begins, and thus inclusion must be integrated from the onset. Peacebuilding programs should specifically acknowledge and actively promote co-existence and resilience at all levels of Colombian society. People at the community level need to become engaged in the planning and production of the sustainability and resilience of their communities.

One way to develop these community-based programs is through the creation of a Sustainability and Resilience Trust. The Trust, comprised of community experts in sustainable agriculture, demining, environmental planning, social and trust building, education, and business, would provide training and advice at the community level in Colombia. In addition to providing a platform to share experience, the Trust can facilitate dialogue among peacebuilding stakeholders and promote nonviolent social change and sustainable living in communities.

As with any sustainable development project, local and state programming must also integrate effective policy solutions that address a myriad of other objectives such as social responsibility, good governance and economic development. For example, the government must address sustainable farming, land conservation, poverty eradication, and the promotion of sustainable business ventures. Creating market mechanisms and managing natural resources will not only engage the Colombian people in the growth of their communities, but it will also foster relationships between the government, the private sector, and NGOs.

Colombia is facing a historic opportunity to not only know peace, but practice peace. In order to ensure that peace is sustainable, efforts must be made to acknowledge and preserve the historical memory of victims, incorporate programming that fosters resiliency and coexistence, and actively recruit women, Afro-Colombians, indigenous people, youth and members of the LGBT community for leadership roles in the re-building of a new Colombia.

These efforts are aligned with the United Nations 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development which lays out an action plan to, inter alia, strengthen universal peace, eradicate poverty, and promote “peaceful and inclusive societies”. The inclusion and reintegration of war victims in post-conflict society depends greatly on acknowledging their suffering, helping them reclaim their dignity, and building trust capital. A Trust focused on sustainability and resilience would provide an ideal space to combine efforts, know-how, and resources to achieve those goals.

Developing resilient communities will help Colombia move towards sustainable peace and provide a blueprint for how parties in a conflict can turn their backs to violence without turning their backs on each other.