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Why Do Internationally Backed Peace Processes Fail?

FP staffers talk about their reporting on the ground in South Sudan and Colombia and how war crimes, revolution, women, and Washington all played a role in those countries’ faltering peace processes.


In this episode of The Backstory, FP senior reporter Molly O’Toole moderates a conversation between former FP fellow Megan Alpert and FP staff writer Siobhán O’Grady, who reported from Colombia and South Sudan, respectively, through grants from the International Women’s Media Foundation.

As part of their reporting, both Alpert and O’Grady examined the conflicts that have long plagued each country and the reasons why their peace processes have hit such large roadblocks. In Colombia, Alpert explored narratives from the politicians who opposed the proposed peace deal and eventually got their way. In South Sudan, O’Grady tracked down rebel leader Riek Machar at his armed camp and met with civilians who survived atrocities at the hands of government soldiers and are still seeking refuge in the country’s sprawling swamplands. 

For decades, Sudanese rebels in the south fought against their northern neighbors in an effort to liberate themselves from the oppressive government in Khartoum. The conflict claimed more than 2 million lives and displaced millions more. But in a moment of hope for peace in the tumultuous region, South Sudan — with the help of the United States and other members of the international community — declared its independence from Sudan in 2011. By late 2013, the newly independent nation had descended into another civil war.

In Colombia in the mid-1960s, the Marxist Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC) launched an armed rebellion against the government, mostly over issues of inequality and land reform. They later turned to drug trafficking and extortion, targeting the Colombian population. The right-wing paramilitary groups that formed to fight the FARC have also been accused of carrying out massacres. For decades, the conflict has terrorized the country.

Over the course of the past two years, both countries have entered internationally backed talks to put an end to their bloody conflicts. And for a time, it seemed like the peace processes might actually work: In August 2015, South Sudanese rivals Riek Machar and Salva Kiir signed a peace agreement designed to end their civil war. And this month, Colombian voters took to the polls to vote in a referendum that would have ended the conflict with the FARC.

The South Sudanese deal has since unraveled, with some of the conflict’s worst violence taking place in the months after it was signed. And Colombian voters shot down the proposed peace deal, leaving Latin America reeling and the government of Colombian President Juan Manuel Santos — who won the Nobel Peace Prize for his efforts in the process — questioning what would come next.

About the participants:

Molly O’Toole is a senior reporter at FP, covering the 2016 election and national security. Previously, she was the lone politics reporter for Defense One, where she reported from Congress, the White House, the Pentagon, the State Department, and the campaign trail in South Carolina, Iowa, and New Hampshire. She has also worked for Reuters, the Nation, The Associated Press, and Newsweek International, among others, from Washington, New York, Mexico City, and London. Follow her on Twitter at: @mollymotoole.

Megan Alpert was a 2015-2016 fellow at FP. Her other bylines have included, GuardianGuernica Daily, and Earth Island Journal. She has reported from Ecuador, Colombia, and Washington, DC on issues ranging from the reintegration of female FARC combatants to oil development in the Amazon rainforest. While at FP, she received an Adelante reporting fellowship from the International Women’s Media Foundation. Follow her on Twitter at: @megan_alpert.

Siobhán O’Grady is a staff writer at FP, where she runs the website’s Passport blog and writes on U.S.-Africa relations. A two-time grant recipient from the International Women’s Media Foundation, Siobhán has reported from South Sudan, eastern Congo, and Senegal and has lived in Morocco and Cameroon. She previously reported on border security, drug cartels, prison reform, and all things Ted Cruz for the Houston Chronicle‘s Washington, D.C., bureau. Follow her on Twitter at: @siobhan_ogrady.

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