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Colombia’s Transition to Peace: Lessons and Inspiration from South Africa

Tanenbaum Peacemakers Ricardo Esquivia and Nozizwe Madlala-Routledge

Tanenbaum Peacemakers Ricardo Esquivia and Nozizwe Madlala-Routledge

“She [Nozizwe] could speak about both things — how to end the conflict and then what comes after that…to have someone from South Africa, who came from the grassroots, but who participated in the government and the truth commission, that was really key for us. So there was a lot of interest. Not only at the university at the conference, but in general society. There were interviews on television and the newspaper and with students. Her wisdom and all her knowledge helped illuminate this path along which the country can go. It was a very precise and opportune time for her to come. And her voice of experience really contributed a lot.”

These were the words of Tanenbaum Peacemaker in Action, Ricardo Esquivia, as he described his fellow Peacemaker from South Africa, Nozizwe Madlala-Routledge’s visit to his country Colombia. An active member of the Peacemakers in Action Network (PIA Network), Ricardo hosted Nozizwe less than two months after the Peacemakers convened in New York for Tanenbaum’s sixth Working Retreat – and he noted that Nozizwe’s visit wouldn’t have been possible without Tanenbaum bringing them together.

Ricardo is the founder and director of Sembrandopaz, a nonprofit community organizationdedicated to facilitating the construction of a culture of peace building capacity among grassroots organizations in Colombia.” His wife and English translator, Lillian Hall, leads the organization’s international relations and project management coordination. In 2005, Ricardo received the Peacemakers in Action award for his lifelong work of bringing communities in conflict together to reconcile their differences and lay the groundwork for a peaceful future.

It was a critical time for Colombia. After almost fours years of brokered negotiations in Havana, Cuba, the nation was hopeful for a long-awaited peace and a more just and equitable future. Despite this, Colombia experienced a temporary setback. Just days after an historic peace accords signing between the government and the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia — two sides at war for over fifty years —   millions of Colombians voted “yes” to either accept or “no” to reject the peace deal in a national referendum. By an incredibly narrow margin (50.2 % voting “no”; 49.8% voting “yes”), the people of Colombia, galvanized by former President Alvaro Uribe’s “no” campaign, rejected the peace deal.

In the days leading up to the referendum, Nozizwe visited Colombia and delivered the keynote speech at the 1st International Peace Studies Conference at the University of Cartagena. After spending her first few days in Cartagena for the conference, Nozizwe traveled with her hosts to Sembrandopaz’s offices in Sincelejo, to speak with individuals living in rural communities. Along the way, the Peacemakers visited an Afro community in Mampuján, which led to some special moments.

African Roots

“African Roots” Quilt. From Mampuján, Colombia

Sembrandopaz works closely with Mampuján, an afro community that was displaced in 2000 by Colombian paramilitaries. The community is still unable to return to its land. However, as the first community in Colombia to receive its reparations as victims of the armed conflict, they are “emblematic” of how justice is being realized in Colombia. In Mampuján, women address the community’s painful past by weaving applique quilts that visually narrate their experiences, including massacres and displacement, as well as their African roots. When the Afro-Colombian women received a visit from Nozizwe, a South African woman who had struggled with armed conflict and the difficult transition to peace, there was an immediate sense of unity. Wanting Nozizwe “to take back a piece of Mampuján” to South Africa, the women created an applique for one of Nozizwe’s dresses. In turn, Nozizwe taught the women a South African song in Zulu, “a special moment in which the Afro people of Colombia felt themselves transported to Mother Africa.

Tanenbaum Peacemaker Nozizwe Madlala-Routledge (left) in Colombia

Tanenbaum Peacemaker Nozizwe Madlala-Routledge (left) in Colombia

Everywhere Nozizwe went, she touched people with her message of peace. There was a heartfelt connection between Nozizwe and a young woman from Zambia, Lweendo, a Sembrandopaz volunteer, (during Apartheid, Zambia opened its borders to fleeing refugees from South Africa), as well as a young Afro-Colombian staff member from Colombia named Yesica. Ricardo described how Yesica and Lweendo shared similar dreams in their work toward peace and reconciliation – and so they were profoundly inspired by Nozizwe and her role in South Africa’s peace process.

In Sincelejo, Nozizwe met with women from five different communities Sembrandopaz works with — Alta Montaña, Libertad, Mampuján, Pichilín, and San Jacinto — as well as peasant leaders and a group of local peacemakers. Many of the women Nozizwe spoke with were of Afro-Colombian descent, “women who have lived [Colombia’s] armed conflict in different ways.” Nozizwe listened to the problems they face in their communities (e.g., access to education, employment and birth control). And Nozizwe responded by encouraging the women to use their talents and skills to create “a new society of peace.” Nozizwe spoke to the similar experience of women in South Africa, who were organized and worked together to effect change in their country. While working with others toward peace, Nozizwe described how she developed leadership skills, and she stressed to the importance of visualizing hopes for the future. Nozizwe also encouraged the women to network with other women in their communities.

Yesica Blanco of Sembrandopaz with, Nozizwe Madlala-Routledge in Cartagena, Colombia

Yesica Blanco of Sembrandopaz (left) with Peacemaker Nozizwe Madlala-Routledge in Cartagena, Colombia

Nozizwe also engaged with broader civil society. During a moving encounter, she listened to an ex-combatant who had demobilized ten years ago and now works with an entire network of women ex-combatants. After a tearful embrace, Nozizwe called her “my sister.”

Nozizwe Madlala-Routledge featured in article about peace.

Nozizwe Madlala-Routledge featured in article about peace.

Thanks to fortuitous timing, Nozizwe’s impact also reached beyond the local community level. Just prior to Nozizwe’s to visit to Mampuján, Colombia’s First Lady, María Clemencia, had met with the same women who weave the storytelling applique quilts. (In fact, the women have been asked by the Colombian government’s high peace commissioner’s office to create an enormous quilt which will contain what the peace accords will look like in people’s lives, with all six points of the peace accords represented.) The First Lady was told about Nozizwe’s upcoming visit and this led to a formal request from the office of President Juan Manuel Santos office for Nozizwe to deliver a videotaped message of peace for the Colombian people. The importance of Nozizwe’s work in South Africa, and the hope her message carries, was apparent to all parts of society, including the President.

Despite the disappointing setback of the failed referendum, Ricardo and Sembrandopaz’s work continues. They have been practicing their vision of peace for twenty-five years in what Ricardo describes as a “post-conflict period.” Nozizwe’s visit to Colombia was short but her presence was undoubtedly felt by those she met.

“Secuestro” (Kidnapping). Quilt. From Mampuján, Colombia

For Ricardo, however, this was more than a visit from his fellow Peacemaker in Action, “it was an opening.” Nozizwe has already invited her new friends from Mampuján to come to South Africa to share their stories; and she encouraged one of the young Sembrandopaz staff members to participate in a leadership program at a local university in Johannesburg. The community members who had the joy of meeting and talking with Nozizwe reciprocated; they extended Nozizwe an open invitation to return to Colombia.

Two Peacemakers inspire hope for a peaceful Colombia – oceans apart – but near in their shared vision for peace. And their work together will continue.

By Michael McShane
Peacemakers in Action Network Coordinator, Tanenbaum

 

Tanenbaum Peacemakers in Action Speak at United Nations

Leading grassroots peacebuilders and Tanenbaum Peacemakers in Action, from six of the world’s conflict zones, made a celebrated appearance at the United Nations on Wednesday, July 13, 2016.

The event, “Turning the Tide: Engaging Religiously-Motivated Peacebuilders in Conflict Zones,” addressed two topics: alternative approaches to combating extremism and ways that grassroots peacemakers build relationships and trust with community members, diplomats and government officials.

The first panel featured Tanenbaum Peacemakers Ms. Maria Ida “Deng” Giguiento (Philippines), Mr. Azhar Hussain (Pakistan), and Ms. Nozizwe Madlala-Routledge (South Africa), as well as H.E. Mr. Rubén Ignacio Zamora Rivas, Permanent Representative of El Salvador to the United Nations. H.E. Mr. Kai Sauer, Permanent Representative of Finland to the United Nations moderated the first panel.

Peacemaker Nozizwe Madlala-Routledge highlighted the need for multi-faith peacebuilding in South African communities. She noted how, “The interfaith movement between Christians, Muslims and Hindus, created in the struggle to end apartheid, continues today, providing a moral canvas for our government.”

Tanenbaum’s most recently awarded Peacemaker in Action, Deng Giguiento, discussed how she advises military leaders as a peacebuilder in the Philippines. She described once believing that she couldn’t work with the military: “I always perceived them as the enemy. But I was taught to pray for my enemies.” Following prayer with action, Deng sees positive results as she trains both military and community members with the hope of building a “lasting peace in Mindanao.”

The second panel reviewed innovative approaches to tackling violent extremism and the prominent but frequently overlooked role of women in this field. Panelists included Peacemakers Mr. Ricardo Esquiva (Colombia), Ms. Dishani Jayaweera (Sri Lanka), and Dr. Sakena Yacoobi (Afghanistan), as well as Ms. Faiza Patel, Co-Director of the Liberty and National Security Program at the Brennan Center for Justice at NYU Law School, and Mr. Andrew Tomlinson, Director & Quaker U.N. Representative. Ms. Lakshmi Puri, Assistant Secretary-General of the United Nations and Deputy Executive Director of UN Women moderated.

Ms. Lakshmi began the panel by discussing how “Essentially religion is about humanity. It is about rights and it’s about the equality of all creatures.” Then Sri Lankan Peacemaker Dishani Jayaweera described how she created the Female Religious Leaders Initiative after working with 300 male religious leaders from diverse faith traditions. She began the initiative “to explore the role of female religious leaders in peacebuilding and reconciliation” and their “interpretation of religion and spirituality.” Her work aims to include women in the religious peacebuilding process, essential for creating lasting peace.

Peacemaker Sakena Yacoobi, who has founded numerous schools in Afghanistan, expressed, “I really strongly believe that women are the victim in every country, women and children.” And she gave insight into the solution, “If we really want to bring peace – it is not through guns, it’s not through tanks, it is through education…. education is the key issue that brings transformation”.

Peacemaker Ricardo Esquivia (Colombia) spoke about the importance of including both communities and government offices in the peacemaking process to combat extremism. “[We] use a pedagogy of nonviolence to teach communities about non-violent action, and we mobilize [groups] to interact through dialogue and direct negotiations with local and national governmental officials.”

The event at the UN was part of the 2016 Tanenbaum Peacemakers in Action Network Retreat, which brought together Peacemakers from all over the world to exchange ideas and best-practices in peacebuilding. This year’s retreat focused on combating violent extremism and women in peacebuilding.


We extend our gratitude to the event’s sponsors: The Organisation of Islamic Cooperation (OIC), KAICIID, the Greek Orthodox Archdiocese of America (GOA), and the GHR Foundation.

RSVP: Tanenbaum Peacemakers at the United Nations

Tanenbaum_2016_evite

Join us this July 13th for a unique opportunity to hear from six Peacemakers in Action on the critical issues facing us today.
Click here to download the invitation and be sure to RSVP today! Space is limited.

South-South Exchange: Peacemaking in South Africa & Honduras

Transcending Cultural & Geographic Boundaries

Honduras is one of the poorest countries in the Americas, and in 2013, had the highest murder rate in the world. In 2011, as a response to extreme poverty and weak democratic institutions, an organization led by Hondurans began to grow. Known as the National Popular Resistance Front (FNRP), they were determined to eradicate the perpetual fear that plagued their daily lives.

Tanenbaum’s Peacemaker in Action Chencho Alas recognized the power of this growing movement and its potential to build democracy within Honduras. As an established community leader and nonviolent activist, Chencho was selected by FNRP to present his own peacebuilding techniques and approaches to their organization.

Chencho knew that the newly formed FNRP would benefit from a unique opportunity: a Network Intervention. He sought assistance from fellow Tanenbaum Peacemaker in Action Nozizwe Madlala-Routledge who had intimate familiarity with nonviolent resistance, reconciliation and peacebuilding. Chencho knew that Nozizwe’s personal experience and struggle as a Quaker leader during South African apartheid would ignite hope for Hondurans. Together, they worked to develop a plan for a mutual partnership.

In 2011 and 2013, Chencho and Nozizwe conducted trainings and facilitated a South-South exchange of knowledge and capacity building for peaceful reconciliation. In 2011, they led training sessions with over 50 Honduran leaders that focused on methods of peacemaking and nonviolent resistance. In 2013, Chencho and Juan Barahona, the leader of the FNRP coalition, traveled to visit Nozizwe and other South African leaders. Chencho and Juan participated in meetings throughout South Africa to learn about the South African process and model of reconciliation. Additionally, workshops included strategy sessions for participatory planning and network building.  Chencho absorbed this knowledge with the intention of adapting and replicating their peacebuilding models in Honduras. He understood the potential for integrating non-violent resistance along with the South African reconciliation process.

Nozizwe’s experience with post-conflict peacebuilding in South Africa proved powerful and inspiring for grassroots activists during the intervention in Honduras. Her struggle to overcome prejudice and her imprisonment in South Africa was a powerful example for Hondurans, helping to ignite their hope and dedication towards their own peacebuilding initiatives.

During the intervention in Honduras, Chencho presented his own approach to peacemaking that focuses on positive assessment of assets and abilities, rather than problems and needs. Nozizwe learned from this method and looks forward to incorporating this approach in South Africa.

Common challenges and situations faced by both Hondurans and South Africans helped Chencho and Nozizwe to quickly understand how South-South partnerships promote the exchange of best practices in ways that combat entrenched challenges including poverty and violence.

Following the successful interventions, the FNRP used tools enhanced by both Chencho and Nozizwe to form the LIBRE political party in Honduras. During the November 2013 elections, the LIBRE party held early leads in the polls and displayed great progress in becoming a political party that unifies Honduran society.

Network Interventions highlight the importance of the collaborative work in ways that propel substantive peacebuilding and information sharing within the Network. The South-South exchange initiated by Chencho and Nozizwe illuminates the importance of the positive relationships built through the Network and its power to transcend cultural and physical geographic boundaries.

Click here to download the complete Honduras and South Africa Interventions report.