Political Economy of Reconciliation

About the project

In 2016, after over 50 years of civil war in Colombia, the government and the largest remaining guerrilla group, FARC, signed a peace agreement. While there are still other armed groups active in many parts of the country, this was a major step towards peace and reconciliation. The work to address the consequences of conflict in a transitional Colombian society continues to this day. In this context, people’s willingness to contribute to reconciliation processes, and what impact these processes have on a society are important to understand in order to implement policies and programmes that work towards a sustainable peace for all.

Based on the analysis of several representative surveys, complemented by more than 40 interviews and focus groups in all regions of Colombia, this project seeks to understand what reconciliation means in different cultural and war contexts and to examine how socioeconomic conditions and gender realities shape people’s experience and expectations. Reconciliation has become a catch word used, and perhaps overused, without critical attention to its context specific meaning and impact. This project tries to understand reconciliation in Colombia in all its complexity and to identify factors that influence people’s understanding and attitudes towards reconciliation from the past and the present.

 

The project has developed analyses based on two representative surveys: One survey was funded by the USAID partner organisation ACDI/VOCA in alliance with Universidad de los Andes which was conducted in 2017 and 2019, in 44 Colombian municipalities. The other survey was funded by the Gender, Justice, and Security Hub (in alliance with the Women’s Rights After War (WRAW) project). This survey was conducted in 2023 in 79 municipalities.

Project definition of reconciliation

The establishment or re-establishment of relations among groups that previously had an antagonistic relationship. Reconciliation involves a process both between individual victims and perpetrators in the conflict and within the wider society that has been divided by conflict.

Key findings

Identity characteristics, people’s past lived experience of the conflict and their current life situation affects the possibilities for reconciliation in post-conflict contexts.

For example, people’s current economic situation impacts their attitude towards reconciliation, but there are many other intersecting factors as well. Age, gender, religion, income, region, perception of security, and experience with violence matter when it comes to defining who are the most, and the least, likely groups to be willing to engage in reconciliation efforts.

Gender analysis reveals key differences in how people approach reconciliation.

Men are much more likely to demand material retributions for reconciliation. Women overall are much more sceptical about reconciliation. However, both past conflict experience and empowerment matters – women who have been victims of the conflict are much more likely to believe in the importance of forgiveness and women become more optimistic about reconciliation when they feel empowered or when they hold positions of leadership.

Women have concerns about their safety and livelihoods within the reconciliation process.

Many women feel that their life situation is not improving. Women are more hesitant to believe the intention of combatants to demobilise and ask for forgiveness and they are more worried about repeated acts of violence by armed groups. Women feel vulnerable in their communities and fear that they might again become targets of violence. Over many years there have been peaks of hope and peace combined with peaks of intensified combat and conflict, so they have grown wary after many years of conflict.

There is a gap between the expectations and realities of reconciliation between the government and local communities.

There is a profound schism between what institutions offer and what people expect and need in order to recover from the continued negative impacts of the conflict. For example, some institutions might offer a new law, or a photograph of a handshake between former enemies, but what people expect and need is connected to their material livelihoods such as improvements in road and power infrastructure damaged during the conflict.

I was expecting that women would be the champions of reconciliation, and to me to see that women in fact are much more sceptical was interesting, was surprising.

Graffiti women's faces Colombia

Reflection

These findings underscore the importance of advancing women’s political empowerment and achieving parity in leadership roles, prompting further discussion on the ongoing challenges women face in attaining positions of authority within the State. For example, in Colombia, following the 2022 parliamentary election, women accounted for only 29% of the elected officials. In local elections, the number of women as mayors and governors has been low. In the last four elections, only between 3% and 16% of these positions were held by women. Even in the most recent local elections, women only made up 25% of all elected positions, including mayor, governor, and local council member roles. The disparity in gender representation persists, and with it, the need to promote mechanisms to overcome inequality.

Recommendations

Colombian government and policymakers

  • To achieve sustainable peace reconciliation efforts must be responsive to diverse contexts and communities within Colombia. Reconciliation is a complex process shaped by people’s individual and collective identities, livelihoods, and needs. Furthermore, lived experiences in the conflict can significantly affect individual’s understanding of and relationships with reconciliation. Policy responses need to be tailored to these different groups, and sector specific polices must be developed in addition to national policies. These sector-specific policies must address gender, the urban-rural divide, young people, and the major gap between what institutions offer and what people expect.
  • Reconciliation efforts should prioritise addressing women’s safety and livelihood concerns. The study’s findings highlight not only the desire for reparations related to land restitution and sustaining livelihoods, but also underscores that women are more concerned than men about receiving physical and mental health support as part of the reparation measures.
  • Develop a shared understanding of the possibilities and limits of reconciliation. Not all parts of conflict are suited to be addressed through an intentional process of bringing people together in reconciliation. Reconciliation should not become a catch-all for all crimes committed. Shared understandings of the process are essential. If definitions of reconciliation and what issues can be addressed by different actors within this transitional justice process are too divergent, the clash of expectations can lead to decreased support and engagement for the wider peace process.
  • The divide between institutions and communities needs to be addressed by policy. Reconciliation requires national and regional policies and programmes to be responsive to local community needs. These policies and programmes should be designed based on the input of local leaders, grass-roots community organisations, and those most directly impacted by the conflict.

To expect national policy to work for the whole country is a mistake, you need to make sure that you develop more sector specific policy