Archive | November, 2016

Some impressions on Colombia’s peace process

19 Nov

I have had the great privilege to have been in Colombia for the past three days. That is too far short a time to make any sensible comments on the country, particularly as I never left Bogota. Here are some impressions and observations (all encased in caveats that a brief visit by an outsider is does make for expert commentary):

– The latest peace accord (reached one week ago) contains very significant concessions by the FARC. It is clear that they do not have the will to go back to war. They want a way out, and it is up to enlightened elements in the state, civil society and international community to allow them to do that with some honour.
– The implementation of the peace accord is not a one-off piece of legislation. Instead, each provision will have to go through Congress, creating avenues for delay, the watering down of original intentions, and disillusionment among people. Many countries have declared a state of emergency due to war. There is a good case to declare a state of emergency due to peace in order to expedite legislation through Congress.
– Two major issues shape this country but they have largely been left out of the peace process and peace accord: paramilitaries and land reform. The former are extraordinarily corrupt and violent actors but are embedded in society and allied with corporate and elite interests. The latter is crucial and was dodged in the peace process. Commitments to ‘rural development’ are not the same as land reform. The danger is that without fundamental economic reform (or sustained economic growth to cover up the cracks) then Colombia ends up like Bosnia-Herzegovina: somewhere with a sullen population that have not seen benefits from peace.
– The Colombian peace process and accord have contained remarkable innovation – especially in terms of attention to victims and gender. Colombia is well placed to become a peace process ‘beacon’ – somewhere that can offer advice to other societies undergoing transition.
– The fiction that the conflict is marginal to major urban areas, and to the majority of the population is alive and well. It is a dangerous fiction and one that we have seen in many conflict areas where the state has managed to forced an insurgency to the geographical margins. Sri Lanka and Uganda come to mind here. The fiction is dangerous because it covers up uncomfortable facts that political elites would like to hide: 1. That the whole of society is militarised (the Colombian state has a huge number of armed police and soldiers), 2. That every citizen is paying for the war through their taxes, and 3. That the political elite have been inept in allowing the war to continue for decades.
– Elements of the FARC seem to have naive political and economic agenda and believe that they can establish a new economic model in areas they control. Globalisation allied with the paramilitaries will smash that.
– Finally, the Colombian peace deal is at the mercy of politics. A presidential election is coming up. The peace accord might be collateral damage in that.


New Journal Article: ‘Social Peace versus Security Peace’ Global Governance 22, (2016), pp. 491-512

14 Nov

A new journal article by myself (and Madhav Joshi and SungYong Lee) has been published. Email: if you would like a pdf copy


This article examines the extent to which contemporary peace accords are orientated toward social or security concerns by drawing on data from the Peace Accords Matrix that comprises thirty-four comprehensive agreements signed in the post−Cold War period. Key findings confirm that, while social aspects of peace have been widely emphasized in many academic studies, formal peace processes are still largely focused on a security agenda in terms of peace accord provisions and implementation priorities. Although social peace has received increased emphasis in recent peace accords, more attention in contemporary peacebuilding is still given to security peace. KEYWORDS: social peace, security peace, peace accords, the liberal peace.

Trump and the academic and policy bubble

10 Nov

The pollsters got it very wrong. So did the experts. But then the experts and pollsters have been getting it wrong for some time. British general election: wrong! Brexit referendum: wrong! Colombian peace accord referendum: wrong! Trump defied the conventional wisdom while the pundits and pollsters were trapped in a conventional wisdom paradigm.

All of this reminded me of the 2014 Scottish independence referendum. I was fairly confident that the result would be 45 percent for and 55 percent against. For once I was right (believe me – a rare occurrence). I used very unconventional polling methods and gut instinct. As a resident in Scotland, I used the revolutionary technique of talking to people on the morning dog walk, in the queue at the post office, and on trains. I also looked around me: at the screaming headlines on the newspapers as I walked into the supermarket, at the particular newspapers people were reading on the trains, and what the land owning families in my locality were doing to mobilise the locals. At this point, social scientists will be rolling their eyes and imagining me making predictions on the basis of various ingredients I throw into a cauldron. But that eye-rolling, and the dismissal of anecdotal and non-conventional evidence, is the point of this blog.

Social scientists and those in the policy and journalistic bubbles often convince themselves that they have their finger on the pulse of society. I am not sure that many of them do – simply because they do not live in the societies they claim to understand. Take, for example, most UK academics in the fields of politics and IR. Newspapers of choice: the Guardian and Financial Times. Radio station of Choice: BBC Radio 4 (or 6 Music). Favourite bands: too-cool-for-school specialist stuff. I could go on. The key point is that they tend not to listen to local radio stations, read local newspapers, live in the areas where they grew up, have deep family networks in the locality they live and work.

Not only do these social scientists (and I suspect the same is true for many in the worlds of commentary, journalism and policy-making) live lives far removed from general society, but they are deep denial about this. I had a conversation with some very lovely Manchester colleagues recently about the fact that academics tend to be removed from the society around them. The conversation did not go well. Every time I made this point I was met with howls of denial. ‘Oh, but the guy in the building next to me voted UKIP, so I really do have my finger on the pulse’ or ‘My plumber, you know, I really like him, but he reads The Sun and we talk about politics all the time’. Every time I made the point that academics are removed from the real world the protestations from my tri-lingual, cappuccino-drinking, yoga and yeast-free obsessed colleagues grew more ridiculous.

The key point is that academics and ‘experts’ lack the humility to take an honest look at themselves and their removal from (UK cultural references coming up) the Greggs-eating, Foxy bingo enjoying, payday loan society that is out there. Wonga, anyone? Academics who write about sensitive and ethnographically-inspired research overseas somehow forget that they are incredibly removed from the societies they physically live in but culturally avoid.

It is this interest in the anecdotal, and its evidential value, that made me pursue the notion of Everyday Peace Indicators. The project, which community-sources indicators of peace, security and change in localities in post-conflict societies has faced enormous difficulty in that the policy world cannot take seriously data that it deems to be anecdotal, too local or non-generalisible. The project has to work very hard to say that its data (expressed in a local vernacular) must be taken seriously by policy elites. From our research we know that people live in very local worlds, and make decisions and hold beliefs on the basis of anecdotes and everyday observation. They tend not to live the privileged lives of pollsters, academics and policy-makers. We have made ourselves into space aliens (who failed to predict that Trump would do it). That means that we really need to take a good look at ourselves, our disciplines and all those methodological conventional wisdoms that we foist upon our students.