My Take on the Field-Based Course in Bogotá by MA Student Yishak Tefferi

Thursday, March 30, 2017TOPICS: Study Abroad

Walking through the streets of Bogotá
begin quoteThe major lesson from the experience of both nations is the daunting challenge of building peace in divided societies.

By MA in Peace and Justice student Yishak Tefferi

Introduction

When I first heard about the field-based practicum in Bogotá during Orientation in August, I became fascinated with the idea and decided to be part of it. Admittedly, the prospect of visiting an amazing Latin American country was more appealing to me than the content of the course at the time. However, my enthusiasm in the substance of the course grew when I started keenly observing events in Colombia following the infamous referendum of October 2, 2016. In many respects, I observed a few parallels with the ongoing situation in South Sudan where I had worked as a United Nations Missions Human Rights Officer for nearly four years. A few days after the referendum, I attempted to write a piece comparing the peace deals in Colombia and South Sudan. Nonetheless, making comparative analysis proved to be somehow illusive given my limited knowledge of the Colombian conflict and its context. So, by the time I registered for the course, I was really motivated to have an in-depth understanding of the Colombia conflict and the ongoing efforts to build a lasting peace.

With the benefit of hindsight, it can be said that the timing of the field-based course was magnificent; as it is offered at a unique moment in Colombian history where the country has been grappling with the implementation of a very comprehensive, but hugely controversial peace agreement. As a result, the practicum provided us the opportunity to obtain a profound understanding of issues relating to the conflict and the recently signed peace agreement. In this respect, the fact that the field visit was conducted after or parallel to other pertinent courses- such as conflict analysis, human rights, transitional justice, gender war and peacebuilding, international system, etc.- has in fact made it a far more enriching experience and enabled us to apply the knowledge gained in classrooms to a real-life setting.  

Lessons

Personally, the field visit enabled me to draw valuable lessons for my future peacebuilding work and in many respects resonated with my experience in South Sudan. One may argue that Columbia and South Sudan have nothing in common. Nonetheless, despite being several thousand miles apart, both countries have suffered from the longest scourge of violence and encountered the lofty challenge of implementing ambitious peace deals. The major lesson from the experience of both nations is the daunting challenge of building peace in divided societies. The divisions created by longstanding conflicts are so deep in both contexts that they make it enormously difficult to strike a balance that appeases the various competing interests. Thus, the success of the implementation of the peace agreements in such contexts largely depends on the various actors’ realization of the critical need for trade-off among competing interests such as peace, justice, truth, amnesty, reparations, etc.

Despite the massive challenges, the Colombian peace agreement appears to have a far better prospect of success. The tendency of its political elites to learn from failed peace agreements in the past, the existence of a vibrant civil society, its rich experience in Disarmament, Demobilization and Reintegration (DDR) implementation and the presence of relatively strong democratic institutions and functional economy will enable it to gradually build a lasting peace. Nonetheless, the path ahead will not be smooth; nor will it be linear. Particularly, meeting the ambitious timeline of implementation of the peace agreement coupled with the looming “second referendum” and next year’s election will present stern tests to the viability of the peace agreement. Even so, I believe that these challenges could only slow down what appears an inevitable implementation of the peace agreement.  

Concluding Observation

This field-based experience was quite educational even for a person like me, who has significant field experience in post-conflict and conflict context in Africa. It also provided me the opportunity to get to know my classmates better and create a strong professional bond with them. The Kroc School equips students with not only the theoretical tools to understand and analyse conflicts, but also the setting to practically apply the theoretical knowledge obtained in class.

Joan B. Kroc School of Peace Studies

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