Colombia: a Nobel Peace Prize for the people

Local organisations hold the key to peace in Colombia. Juan Manuel Santos’ Nobel Peace Prize will mean little if he doesn’t reach out to these groups.

Image credit: Presidencia de la República del Ecuador
Image credit: Presidencia de la República del Ecuador

Donald Trump hasn’t turned his Nobel Peace Prize nomination into a victory. But that’s not the result people are finding surprising as they wake up to the announcement of this year’s winner. No, the shock result is that Colombia’s president Juan Manuel Santos has been awarded the prize for a peace agreement that has just been rejected by the Colombian people.

A deal between the Colombian government and the FARC rebel group looked set to end the world’s longest-running civil war. Secret negotiations and some four years of formal talks resulted in the signing of an agreement that addressed historical grievances and set out a programme of transition towards peace. The negotiating teams of Santos and FARC leader Timochenko were both well-nominated for a prize awarded “to the person who shall have done the most or the best work for fraternity between nations, for the abolition or reduction of standing armies and for the holding and promotion of peace congresses”.

But the finalised agreement was offered to the Colombian people to reject or endorse through a referendum. On Sunday, and by the slimmest of margins, the deal was rejected. For a nation battered by years of conflict, the beneficial terms for former fighters were too lenient, too hard to swallow.

Peace in Colombia is on a knife edge. FARC soldiers have once again taken up defensive positions. And getting back on the path to peace will take energy, resilience, bravery and patience.

Fitting then that the Nobel Peace Prize is awarded as much for past achievements as it is to provoke future action for peace. The committee tasked with selecting a winner gave as justification “the importance of the fact that President Santos is now inviting all parties to participate in a broad-based national dialogue aimed at advancing the peace process”.

So the selection panel hopes to empower Santos through this period of instability, to give Colombia the confidence to re-evaluate the peace agreements and to find a satisfying way to end the conflict. But how will this process look? How will Santos achieve the broad-based national dialogue needed to engage his people and rescue Colombia’s future?

One answer is to tap into the civil society boom that grew up around the referendum: the youth whose passion for peace drove them to organise, take to the streets and connect with Colombia’s people.

Our local correspondent in Colombia, Lina María Jaramillo, last month highlighted the impact of these groups in the build up to the referendum. From Jóvenes de Paz who looked to disavow young people of their apathy for political processes to Jóvenes por el Si who used performance art to counter media bias surrounding the referendum, it is community groups like this that have a direct line to the people of Colombia.

As Santos looks to maintain momentum around the peace agreement he must look as well to these groups. 62% of Colombians abstained from voting. Civil society groups can respond to this lack of engagement. The youth who rallied for a yes vote will rally again: to lift up poor voting attendance and convince communities that the need for peace outweighs political difference.

If the desired impact of today’s award is to be felt, Santos must understand his Nobel Peace Prize is as much for him as it is for local people striving for peace throughout Colombia, and all those who have lived and died through 52 years of conflict.

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