The year for peace in Colombia?

I hate turbulence during flights. My palms start sweating, my heart is pounding, and no matter how much I remind myself that it’s ok, I still can’t shake the feeling off.

That's exactly how I feel now about the peace process in Colombia.

It’s turbulent times. The peace negotiation between the government and the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC) will soon be reaching the deadline of 23 March 2016 that Colombian President Juan Manuel Santos had announced a few months back.

Both parties have been negotiating the last item in a five-point agenda, which happens to be on the most sensitive and complex issue of all: the end of the armed conflict, including disarmament, demobilisation and reintegration (DDR), and justice agreements. Meanwhile, the economy is slowing down, the national police is facing one of its worst crises in decades, corruption scandals surround multinationals and state-owned companies, and FARC is conducting what critics have called 'armed proselytism' by mobilising the civilian population in political events, all with the presence of their armed personnel.

It looks increasingly likely that the deadline of 23 March may have to be extended.

And yet at the same time, it’s so unbelievable that we're having this conversation in the first place. With the conflict in Colombia already raging on for 50 years, I didn’t think that peace with FARC would even be possible in my lifetime. When I was a child in the 1980s, I remember what it was like watching the news every evening, filled with stories of bombs, kidnappings and entire towns under siege. And yet here we are.

As a Colombian, I feel that those of us that still care about what happens in the country are living in a constant state of oscillation between excitement and anxiety. On the one hand, the possibility of having a country in peace fills us with wonderful excitement. On the other, the challenges that need to be overcome for peace to be sustainable are the reason why some of us wake up at 4:30am and can’t go back to sleep. After all, it’s the future of our country that is being negotiated.

As peacebuilders, we know very well that the real hard work starts after a peace agreement has been signed. For Colombia, some of the main challenges will be to ensure that both parties are willing and able to fulfil their commitments. This includes guaranteeing the security of those demobilised, so they can successfully reintegrate into society, addressing the issue of criminality, ensuring everyone from the private sector to the NGOs can contribute to peace, and bringing to life the government's idea of paz territorial, or ‘peace from the ground up’, just to name a few. 

At International Alert we're helping prepare the ground for what is coming. We're working with the private sector to raise awareness of their role after the conflict and to help them design programmes and projects that can contribute to peace.

We're helping the government to engage the private sector and, together with other state agencies, articulate a coordinated approach.

We're working with civil society to promote knowledge of what has been agreed in the negotiations in the hope that this can lead to a more enabling environment for peace.

There is a growing sense of uncertainty, polarisation and, above all, fear. My fear is that Colombian society will not support this process when the time comes to vote the plebiscite. I also fear for the people where open war is still happening and for how the vacuum that FARC will leave in the regions will be filled. However, I don’t think we have much of a choice but to carry on and push through the turbulence.

Going back to another 50 years of war doesn’t seem feasible now. But the air is stirred and it is a bumpy ride. I'd still like to think that it's because we're hitting that rough patch right before we make our way through to the open and calm skies.