The Supervisory Council of NIMD is pleased to announce that Simone Filippini has been appointed as the new Executive Director, effective 16 October 2017.

Filippini has more than 30 years of experience in the international public sector. She started her career at the Netherlands Ministry of Foreign Affairs where she had various roles, including Ambassador to Skopje, Macedonia. Her latest position was CEO of Cordaid, one of the largest development and humanitarian NGOs in the Netherlands. She has also been an elected member of the National Board of the Dutch political party D66. Filippini will succeed Hans Bruning who has led the organization since 2011 but who unfortunately has to step down due to health reasons.

Bernard Bot, Chair of the Supervisory Council: “We are very excited to welcome Ms. Filippini to the NIMD family. Actually, she is no stranger to NIMD. From 2004 to 2007 she was a member of the NIMD Board where she had the opportunity to see our work in practice. Her vast management experience, leadership and communication skills will bring new energy and a fresh approach to the organization and will help us to steer NIMD forward. Furthermore, we also want to take this opportunity to express our sincere appreciation and gratitude to Hans Bruning who has guided the organization with dedicated leadership and commitment since 2011.”

Simone Filippini is looking forward to taking up her new position. “As a strong believer in multiparty democracy I’m really honoured and happy to be joining NIMD. Effective and inclusive leadership, and cooperation across party lines, which are all key aspects of NIMD’s work, are now more important than ever. Especially if we want to achieve the ambitions that the global community has committed itself to, including the Sustainable Development Goals and the Climate Agenda. To help increase the scale and impact of NIMD’s activities, together with the highly knowledgeable and committed NIMD team, is a fantastic challenge that I’m truly looking forward to.”

NIMD and AWEPA are strategic partners of the Netherlands Ministry of Foreign Affairs (MFA) for their lobby and advocacy programme called ‘Dialogue and Dissent’.

The Strategic Partnership programme aims to strengthen civil society organizations in low- and middle-income countries in their role as advocates and lobbyists in support of inclusive development. The joint programme focuses on strengthening political parties (NIMD) and parliaments (AWEPA), and started in January 2016.

Due to an unsustainable financial situation, the Executive Committee of AWEPA in its recent meeting has concluded that AWEPA in its current organizational structure will be dissolved by the end of the year.

We regret this sudden change of circumstances, especially for the dedicated AWEPA staff, but also given the importance of NIMD and AWEPA’s joint effort.

The collaboration between NIMD and AWEPA has been strong and effective during the first 18 months of the partnership. This unfortunate development mainly affects the parliamentary component of the programmes in Benin, Mali, Mozambique, Kenya, Uganda, Zimbabwe and Ethiopia. NIMD’s activities and the programme activities in other countries that fall under the Strategic Partnership programme, will continue as scheduled.

NIMD and AWEPA are committed to limiting as much as possible the impact on the dual programme objectives of political party and parliamentary support and to retaining the networks, knowledge and expertise that have been developed.

This is a difficult moment in the partnership but, backed by a committed staff, we are confident that we can take positive steps to ensure that political actors remain an important part of the Dialogue and Dissent programme.

For further information, please contact Mrs. Karijn de Jong, Acting Director NIMD (karijndejong@nimd.org).

Blog by Jerome Scheltens, NIMD Knowledge Development Advisor

To celebrate the International Day of Democracy 2017, NIMD is launching our new blog on Political Paradoxes. Through this series of insights, our Knowledge Development Advisor will explore how we deal with paradoxes, contradictions or counter-intuitive manifestations in politics through our work.

This week, the University of Leiden in the Netherlands is hosting an International Colloquium on ‘Democratic Legitimacy of State Secrecy’ to explore what constitutes political legitimacy. Participants are also exploring the topic of informal closed-door deliberations.

NIMD is at this event and has enjoyed learning, and exploring the possibility of future collaborations with the experts present.

The lively discussion throughout the Colloquium on how representation bears on the justification of secrecy, got me thinking on how we, at NIMD, deal with the competing pressures of the need for confidentiality to inspire open dialogue, and the need for transparency.

In the international community, the Chatham House rule is a renowned instrument to create informal confidentiality and an atmosphere for open exchange. The rule states that information received during meetings can be shared outside of that setting, but the identity of the person who made the comment cannot be revealed.

The Chatham House rule makes sense in international diplomacy, where the exchange of information is key, and also strongly relates to the protection of sources in journalism.

But in NIMD’s political work during interparty dialogue processes, we do not generally use the Chatham House rule.

In fact, we use ‘Chatham House rule-reversed’! It is no secret who is meeting whom, but we do not disclose the content of the talks until all agree it can be shared publicly.

Dialogue processes are settings of open exchange designed to increase mutual understanding. While successful dialogue that leads to results still entails negotiations, if these start too soon during a political process it can lead to a kind of ‘give and take’ scenario, where parties trade off on their initial positions.

This usually leads to short-lived compromise, not the sustainable consensus NIMD looks for in its programmes.

For real consensus to happen, we need politicians to be willing to express their true interests, deeper needs and possible fears.

Political parties have the responsibility to aggregate the interests of the people. This is not the same as representation. Parties have the electoral mandate to make the tough choices, which some stakeholders or constituents will be pleased with and which will disappoint others.

So political parties exist in a state of permanent dilemma cracking. If the media limelight or parliamentary transparency requirements were on their shoulder the whole time, they could not fulfil this crucial yet ungrateful task responsibly.

So, just like Chatman House, as facilitators of dialogue processes we use our own tactics to create a safe space; a confidential setting to enhance interpersonal trust between competing politicians and create cross-party understanding.

But parties are public entities, what about transparency & accountability? Good point. Confidentiality should not lead to secrecy, and the need for closed-door deliberations should never become back-room dealing.

To a large extend our work is about communication management: we need a clear agreement between parties about who gets to share what and when.

In NIMD’s training module for political party agents on interparty dialogue (developed alongside International IDEA), we work to show parties that, although dialogue requires confidentiality during the meeting to enhance trust between parties, a degree of transparency concerning the dialogue process and discussed content is also crucial to enhancing society’s trust in their politicians.

Employing opposing means to the same end: this is what we call the trust-paradox.

Today, on International Democracy Day, NIMD is launching a new monthly blog on Paradoxes of Politics by our Knowledge Development Advisor Jerome Scheltens.

How does NIMD maintain a strong network and good reputation with political parties in its programme countries, where many other NGOs struggle to get political access?

One reason is that politics in general – and party politics specifically – has its own sets of rules. And sometimes these rules seem counter-intuitive to those departing from a principle-based advocacy position. By our nature (founded by parties for parties) and our years of practical implementation, we have are politically savvy and have developed a range of principles and practical approaches to operate in the political field.

Striving to contribute to making politics more democratic makes the story even more complex, as the total bag of ingredients which make up a full democracy is complicated, if not often downright contradictory. Fully grasping that totality and complexity, one might even be surprised that democracy ever managed to become – and yes, still is today! – the most widespread political system on our planet.

Each blog will demonstrate how we at NIMD deal with the paradoxes, contradictions or counter-intuitive manifestations inherent to party politics, as well as referring to peer events or other public activities on the topic at hand.

We hope you will enjoy this blog and actively share it on social media.

Read the first installment here.

On 19 September, NIMD and ProDemos held a network event on international leadership. The event brought together ambassadors based in the Netherlands, Members of the Dutch Parliament, policy-makers and representatives of Dutch political youth organizations.

The network event, which is organized annually by NIMD and ProDemos, was held on Prinsjesdag (Prince’s Day) – an important date in the Dutch political calendar, when the King reads a speech outlining government policy for the year ahead.

This year, the event explored the role of leaders faced with recent changes in the international political landscape.These changes have thrown up new challenges which our leaders cannot easily solve. With global power shifts, regional instability and the effects of the financial crisis, the Social Contract – as defined by Jean-Jacques Rousseau – seems to be broken. This is also underlined by terrorism and immigration, fuelling a steeper rise in populism.

As keynote speaker, Professor Rob de Wijk, Director of the The Hague Centre for Strategic Studies, kicked off the event, addressing the role of political leaders faced with this new reality and proposing possible ways to mend the broken Social Contract.

The participants were then invited to engage in debate on this topic, putting forward their own insights on the role of political leaders in today’s world. The discussion was structured around statements given by the the Chairs of the youth wings of several Dutch political parties. These short and snappy statements inspired a lively debate on topics affecting leadership, ranging from the role of values in international diplomacy to the effects of social media.

Following the event, the ambassadors, MPs and young organization members had the opportunity to network and discuss their ideas further in an informal environment.

Elise* is a young woman who owns a business in her small village in the Burundian hills, operating a bar and restaurant.

She enjoys her independence, and uses her entrepreneurial spirit to help other women and girls to meet their basic needs and reach economic autonomy.

Elise has always been interested in politics, and joined one of the major Burundian opposition parties – an innovative party known for putting women in good positions in the list of the 2015 communal elections – when she was young.

At a workshop for women and youth members of her party organized by the Burundi Leadership Training Programme (BLTP), NIMD’s partner in Burundi, Elise steps forward and speaks out:

“We cannot leave this place without thanking BLTP for the trainings it organizes for political parties. The training I took reinforced my personal leadership. Even more important, since I have participated in the trainings by BLTP, my fear has disappeared.”

*Names have been changed for privacy reasons 

The workshop during which Elise chose to speak out was one of many organized in Burundi by NIMD and its partner BLTP. Together, through these workshops, the two organizations work to create the conditions for dialogue between the different political parties.

In accordance with the Ministry of the Interior, the workshops are organized in an inclusive way, involving all major parties across the political spectrum, both in government and in opposition.

They empower politicians and civil leaders on a local and regional level with the skills needed to lead their parties forward and to enter into conversation with one another.

In addition, NIMD and BLTP invest in the long-term organizational development of political parties, helping them face the challenges ahead and carry out their role in a multiparty democracy.

This work is fundamental in helping parties to navigate their country’s political and historical context

The Burundian context

Burundi is a small but densely populated land-locked country in the heart of Africa. It consistently ranks among the least-developed countries in the world, coming in at 184 out of 188 on the 2015 Human Development Index.

The country has witnessed decades of violent civil conflict between ethnic groups since its independence in 1962. When the last major belligerent parties signed up to the 2000 Arusha Peace and Reconciliation Agreement for Burundi with ceasefire agreements in 2003 and 2006, it ended the most recent episode of large-scale violence, the 1993-2005 civil war.

Under the supervision of a number of subsequent UN missions, hopes ran high for Burundi’s peaceful transition to a multiparty democracy.

In 2005, the current President Pierre Nkurunziza was democratically elected to become the first post-transitional president.

However, around the elections of 2010, relations between political parties hardened and many of the main opposition parties boycotted the elections out of concerns that they would be unfair.

A contested decision by President Nkurunziza to run for a third term, judged by some to be unconstitutional, sparked a major political crisis in 2015. Violent protests, an attempted coup d’état, and a refugee crisis followed.

The political landscape became polarized and parties weakened. Strong political distrust and a lack of inclusive dialogue between different groups still pose a significant challenge.

In a context of polarization, and with parties poorly equipped to stand up to the country’s challenges, the promise of constructive dialogue between parties to help one of the world’s poorest countries forward threatened to wither away.

It was in this political climate that Elise realized that politics in Burundi affects everything and everyone.

She noticed how, as a result of her affiliation to her party, more and more people started to avoid her shop, even those who were regular customers only a few years ago.

She said: “I love politics because I believe in the ideology of justice and the solidarity of my party. But the polarization has detrimental effects for my business. Sometimes my clients will not eat here anymore, or are afraid to visit my bar out of fear of being associated with my party.”

This made Elise realize she wanted to get more involved. So, she was happy when the opportunity came up to become a provincial leader of her party.

Strengthening capacities and fostering dialogue

In her new capacity as provincial party leader, Elise found herself speaking of how the trainings had helped her to lead her party and overcome the fear to speak out.

Elise was proud to state that this training had strengthened her personal leadership skills. She also explained the importance of these meetings for her party as a whole.

By the time that she became provincial leader, it was very difficult for opposition parties to organize meetings and operate normally. Because of the high level of mistrust between the ruling party and opposition parties, some leaders from the opposition have been obliged to flee the country or avoid public areas. Others have been jailed.

The training that NIMD and BLTP organize for all major Burundian parties helps them to face these challenges, as well as strengthening the democratic and leadership skills of their members.

Elise commented on the importance of the physical contact for the party:

“I did not know there could be an opportunity to see members of my party physically assembled. Even we provincial leaders did not know each other and we communicated by phone, and now the training of organized by BLTP gives us this opportunity.”

The training that the parties enjoy individually also helps them to meet each other in dialogue.

A well-prepared party that has its internal processes in order is, after all, more capable of entering into political discussions and dialogue with other parties.

This sort of preparation increases confidence in one’s own positions, and fosters an openness to recognizing the importance of working together to help solve the challenges facing Burundi’s population.

Elise’s training helped her to have the confidence to attend dialogue meetings with other parties, including the ruling party, and to enthuse and convince members of her own party to join her.

Given the difficult circumstances that surround politics in Burundi, this is not always an easy journey.

In bringing together different parties, the workshops are always inclusive and impartial. Above all, they take place in an atmosphere of trust and confidence, in which party members can speak freely together.

As Elise commented, with a sense of relief and hope:

“Meeting with members of other parties is very beneficial for us. This dissipates our fear when we see that we can speak, express our opinion and live together with participants from other parties.”

After all, dialogue develops with physical contact. At these meetings, parties discuss the most important challenges for Burundi, and how to move forward from the current political impasse.

NIMD continues to support political parties in Burundi – based on its values of impartiality, inclusiveness and long-term commitment – to engage in constructive dialogue and find a way out of the current crisis.

At the same time, it capacitates both young and more seasoned politicians like Elise to help them to improve their leadership skills, and their understanding and application of democratic values, as well as more technical capacities like negotiation and non-violent political communication.

We are hopeful that the combination of well-organized parties, trained political leaders like Elise, and a continuous effort to create an enabling environment for dialogue will contribute to a peaceful solution for Burundi’s many challenges.

NIMD is proud to have contributed to drafting the National Action Plan for the implementation of UN Security Council Resolution 1325 on women, peace and security in El Salvador, in collaboration with UN Women and Cordaid, and with the support of the Group of Friends of the R1325.

Resolution 1325 sets out the importance of women’s equal and full participation as active agents in the prevention and resolution of conflicts, peace-building and peacekeeping. It calls on member states to ensure women’s equal participation and full involvement in all efforts for the maintenance and promotion of peace and security.

The National Action Plan sets out a detailed series of actions to help El Salvador to achieve these goals. It has the potential to be a powerful tool to help the Government, multilateral organizations, and civil society to increase the inclusion of women in politics, and protect the rights of women and girls.

Throughout 2016, NIMD supported the creation of the Plan through a series of forums and workshops, including an exchange between governmental and non-governmental representatives from Guatemala, Colombia and El Salvador, held in Bogotá.

In addition, NIMD funded a diagnostic study entitled “Women, Peace and Security: A report on the status of completion of the UN Security Council Resolution 1325 in El Salvador” and a second document on “Women, peace and Security: Tailoring UNSC Resolution 1325 to the context of El Salvador”, which aimed to facilitate the implementation of the Resolution in the country.

The National Action Plan has now been presented to the Chancellery in El Salvador with the objective of raising awareness of this tool and take the necessary steps towards its implementation.

NIMD’s input was made possible by the funding of the Netherlands Ministry of Foreign Affairs through the Democratic Dialogue for Environmental Security programme and the Strategic Partnership programme.

Eric Vignilé Tindo is a young man from Bohicon, a town about 120 km inland from the Beninese economic capital of Cotonou. Eric was born the eldest son of a family of five children. His father has always worked as a welder while his mother stayed at home.

In 2011, Eric gained a professional degree in computer science from the CERCO Institute and, in 2012, he became the Chair of the youth movement in his hometown, the ‘Mouvement des Jeunes Pour la Relève de Demain’. The movement was originally created to support the re-election of the incumbent Mayor of Bohicon, Luc Atrokpo, who is also the National Executive Secretary of the ‘La Renaissance du Bénin’ political party.

The general and municipal elections however, originally planned for 2013, only took place in 2015; during the two years prior to the elections, Eric became very active for the party.

Yet, in his view, lacked all fundamental knowledge of democracy.

In early 2015, Eric joined the NIMD-AWEPA School of Politics, a programme set up to provide training sessions for young Beninese people in response to the country’s needs and political culture.

“Eric has become one of our most dedicated students.” Jerome Scheltens, Programme Manager.

The School of Politcs class of 2015.

Benin has seen some substantial economic growth in recent years but the effect on poverty reduction and development has been small. The country is still one of the poorest in the world. Following the adoption of multiparty democracy in 1990, presidential transfer of power has taken place peacefully multiple times, respecting the maximum term limits and based on what are considered to be sufficiently free and fair elections.

However, although the country is considered to have a stable governance system, issues of severe corruption have led to increased social tensions resulting in strikes and demonstrations. Democratic reform has also been stagnant for a long time; as a very conservative political culture, Benin prefers to uphold the status quo.

Therefore, politics in Benin is exclusive and belongs to a small political elite. Policies and legislation rarely purposefully reflect the opinions of a broad section of the population, and youth and women in particular are excluded from participating in policy-making and political leadership. Because of this, there is very little trust or even interest in politics and governance.

The NIMD-AWEPA School of Politics

In 2015, NIMD and AWEPA initiated their first School of Politics in Benin, with the specific goal of promoting the role of youth and young women as democratic and civic orientated political leaders to help address their exclusion from politics.

For the first cohort, NIMD and AWEPA identified a group of 34 high-potential politically and civically active youth – 11 women and 23 men from across the country, all hoping for a brighter future for their country.

The goal was twofold. Firstly, the School of Politics trains engaged young students, including Eric, in democratic values and culture during weekend retreats in Ouidah, a town just west of Cotonou.

Secondly, the school supports its alumni network to organize activities aimed at influencing internal party policy and political decision-making, to make them more open and accommodating to the needs of youth and young women.

During the first session in early 2015, Eric and the other students received training to improve their understanding of political systems and help them develop skills as political strategists. The students learned how to write party programmes and manifestos, and develop strategic plans. They also picked up the skills needed to maintain a political position, including for example public speaking.

Immediately after this first session, Eric got to work putting his new skills into practice. He wrote a campaign plan and political programme for the Mayor of his hometown. The Mayor then put him in charge of communications and youth mobilization for the municipality during the 2015 elections.

And so, Eric was able to focus on organising youth activities promoting democratic values such as post-election polls and door-to-door campaigns.

Although, at first, many party members failed to understand the importance of including youth in more positive roles in politics, a change in behaviour by some of the youth leaders themselves, along with a healthy dose of perseverance from Eric, seems to have started to have their effect on the old guard attitudes towards youth participation.

A subsequent School of Politics session later in 2015 focused on election processes and management. The students were trained in the importance of transparency and accountability during elections. Among other things, they developed skills in election observation, results management and drawing up an electoral Code of Conduct.

Using new skills to strengthen democracy

After impressing the Secretary General with his knowledge, Eric was put in charge of selecting and preparing party poll representatives and representatives of the candidates at the community and district levels. With the support of one of his classmates Véronique Tonoukouen, he used the training skills he had acquired at the School to prepare the party representatives for election observation during the municipal and parliamentary elections.

He used this opportunity to explain the electoral code to the observers, demonstrate its importance and show how to abide by it. He did his best to stress the idea that election observation is about more than stopping another party from cheating but about the legitimacy of the process.

On this topic, Véronique noted that “Even if only one or two people are better equipped to observe the elections in a non-partisan way, we have made progress”.

As part of the alumni network activities, the programme supported Eric to organise feedback sessions to share what he had learnt within his youth movement, including what the youth wing should be doing better. Not all members of the youth leadership were willing to accept the changes Eric pushed for; while he wanted the leadership to be more representative of the community, some members felt they would lose their hold on power.

However, according to Eric, the leadership of the movement has changed a bit over time. As they now see the political value of representing their community, they organise outreach activities and have established a working group to give the leadership space to discuss thematic topics and learn from each other.

“The youth leadership even pays its membership fees these days” Eric says proudly.

It’s not perfect and the group still faces many challenges not least regarding its own capacity, but Eric points out that even little things can help when he notes his own ability to engage in real debate instead of shouting during discussions, which he feels has really improved the quality of his interactions.

Participants of the School of Politics engage in dialogue.

Eric speaks fondly of his classmates from a range of political parties and civil society backgrounds, and is the first to admit that the School has changed his view of women in politics after having seen how smart and dedicated the women in his class are.

Over the course of the last year and a half, Eric has become a great believer in democracy and, even though he is the first to dedicate the career he now has within the party to the Schools programme, along the way he has managed to transfer so much of what he has learnt to his community and party.

In the process, he has contributed to building a more democratic political culture that is open to the participation of young people and women, and a political system that supports transparent and legitimate elections. Not least, Eric has contributed to changing the way his party works from the inside, making it a more responsive and inclusive political organisation that he and other party members are proud of.

Together with AWEPA, NIMD continues to promote inclusive democracy among political and civic youth in Benin. It is currently working to improve the content of the School training sessions, as well as promoting the inclusion of representatives to cover the full local political scope, so that more people like Eric are empowered to become the democratic leaders of the future.

In Colombia, there is not a single person alive who has known long-lasting peace.

NIMD Country Director Ángela Rodríguez, like so many Colombians of her generation, grew up in fear of bombs, kidnappings and civil war.

A daughter of ophthalmologists, she grew up in a caring and hardworking family. She developed an interest for politics from an early age, and therefore it was a logical choice for her to study political science, and policy and development.

Since the mid-sixties, the main conflict in Colombia has been between the Government and the Colombian Revolutionary Armed Forces (FARC). Over the years, this conflict has caused the death of an estimated 250,000 people and left 7 million internally displaced.

One of its root causes was the political exclusion of large parts of society, which contributed to the emergence of illegal armed groups such as the FARC.

With a deep desire to promote reconciliation and fight polarization in her country, Ángela decided to dedicate herself to working towards a better political system.

Angela (third from right) with delegates from both the Government and FARC in Havana

When NIMD started working in Colombia in 2010, it was in an effort to strengthen political parties and make the political system more open and inclusive.

At that time, Ángela was working at UNDP, through which NIMD initially implemented its programmes. When NIMD decided to found its own country office in Colombia, Ángela decided to join and help set up the office.

Through years of working closely with most of the country’s political parties and building up good personal relations, NIMD has managed to gain their trust. NIMD’s impartiality, local ownership and long-term commitment are also crucial to its ability to work with parties that represent very different political ideologies.

So, through its regular work with political parties and government institutions, NIMD already had a good relationship with the Colombian Government when the peace process began.

But, foreseeing the support that would be needed on both sides of the table after a peace agreement was reached, the organization took a bold step and reached out to the FARC during the earlier stages of the negotiations to offer its help.

When it became apparent in 2016 that peace negotiations between the Colombian Government and the FARC were coming to a satisfactory conclusion, the negotiation table in Havana invited Ángela, as NIMD Colombia’s Executive Director, for preliminary talks with both parties to discuss the objectives of the Special Electoral Mission that NIMD was invited to compose.

Changing perspectives: Meeting the FARC

Growing up in Colombia’s capital, Bogotá, all Ángela ever heard was that the FARC was the enemy and the cause of all the violence, kidnappings and disappearances.

Therefore, on a personal level, she found it hard to meet with them at first. But there was no turning back.

When she entered the meeting room in complete silence, she immediately recognized two of the main commanders of the FARC. As the conversation turned to the political roots of the conflict, Ángela struggled to stay focused.

She couldn’t believe where she was.

Yet, the FARC commanders were friendly, and there was laughter during the meeting. They said goodbye with a hug.

However, something was not right for Ángela and she left the place feeling uncomfortable without knowing exactly why. She started to go back through every comment and gesture in her mind, trying to identify something inappropriate, but she was sure the commanders had shown her nothing but respect.

The next day she shared the experience with her father, who had first triggered her interest in politics, and taught her how to interpret the newspapers filled with stories about assassinations of presidential candidates and bombings. For him the answer was easy: Ángela had started to humanize the monster she grew up hating and fearing: the start of reconciliation after conflict.

For Ángela, the unexpectedly fruitful meetings reiterated the importance of always keeping an open mind and being willing to dialogue with your perceived adversaries. The talks had focused on the necessity of inclusion and the need for all people to be able to participate in politics.

The creation of a political party representing both the views and the constituency of the FARC would therefore be crucial for stable and lasting peace in Colombia.

With this in mind, Ángela offered NIMD’s institutional support and expertise to the FARC to help it transition to a legal political party.

Towards stable and durable peace

Not long after, in September 2016, both parties signed the (initial) historic Peace Agreement in Cartagena, ending over 60 years of internal conflict.

It was a development welcomed by both sides, and hailed a victory by Iván Márquez, the FARC’s top negotiator:

“We have won the most beautiful of all battles: [the battle] of peace for Colombia. The battle with weapons ends and the battle of ideas begins.”

Colombia’s President, Juan Manuel Santos also underlined the importance of the FARC’s transition:

“Today, as you begin your return to society, as you begin your conversion into an unarmed political movement […], I welcome you to democracy”.

However, this process was about to take an unexpected and disconcerting turn. The Peace Agreement was to be approved by the Colombian people in a plebiscite on 2 October 2016, but against all expectations, the “NO” side won the referendum.

The shock result seemed to paralyze the country.

People were crying in the streets of Bogotá, and across the country. Ángela was one of those people; in total disbelieve she felt she was seeing her dream of peace in Colombia collapse before her eyes.

Yet, the following weeks were astounding, with thousands and thousands of mostly young people taking to the streets in Bogotá and other major cities, protesting peacefully and demanding peace.

The negotiating parties tried to incorporate as many objections of the NO camp as they could, and a revised Peace Agreement was approved by Congress in December.

The work towards stable and durable peace could finally start.

The signing of the Peace Agreement (Credit: UN Photo)

NIMD’s role

Ángela’s involvement throughout the negotiating process resulted in NIMD being the only Dutch NGO to have two official roles under Point 2 (political participation) and Point 6 (implementation and verification) of the Peace Agreement.

For Ángela, the chance to contribute to the reform of the political system, and thereby help to make politics accessible for so many of her compatriots, is literally writing history.

She was so honoured to be able to contribute to peace in her country and the establishment of a more united Colombia that she could not wait to start.

NIMD quickly got to work as a member of the selection committee for the Special Electoral Mission, a group responsible for providing recommendations to improve the electoral system. The Special Electoral Mission strived to make the political system more inclusive, opening up democratic space for new actors and thereby mitigating the chances of a relapse into armed conflict.

Ángela led the technical secretariat of this Special Electoral Mission. In this capacity, she was the main spokesperson of the Mission, chairing most meetings and using her contacts with all existing political parties to make sure that their diverging views were taken into consideration.

As its second official role, NIMD provides its institutional support for the implementation of the Agreement on Political Participation, together with Carter Centre, UNASUR and Switzerland, and aims to communicate the significance of the reforms more broadly to the public.

Besides its official duties, NIMD wants to make sure that all parties have equal opportunities to participate in the political arena. Therefore, Ángela and her colleagues will support the new political organization that evolves from the FARC once it is fully disarmed, by helping it to comply with legal requirements for its registration and by providing expert knowledge on the functioning of the Colombian political system.

In effect, the necessary changes are already taking place. The FARC is now represented in Congress and the new opposition law has been discussed by all political parties and adopted.

President Santos installs the Special Electoral Mission.

Renewed hope for the future

Ángela is – as all Colombians – aware that the full implementation of the Peace Agreement is still a long process with many challenges, but that it is also the only way to move forward. For her, it is very special to be so closely involved in the renewal of the political system of her country.

She is conscious that her work is crucial to making the system more open and inclusive, ensuring that political parties are more responsive to society, and enhancing the democratic values of (political) actors.

Together, these steps will mitigate the risk of reverting to violent conflict.

For now, the signing of the Peace Agreement has already led to historically low levels of violence. From the start of the ceasefire in August 2016 until the end of that year, no more people were killed or injured in the conflict.

Ángela can now travel in her country more freely, with less fear of being attacked or kidnapped. Now, she can discover the beauty of her country as well starting to better understand the true conditions in which Colombians live in the countryside.

Such developments will eventually lead to much more mutual understanding between all Colombians, and result in a more equal and inclusive society.

NIMD’s Africa Regional Representative, Augustine Magolowondo, was invited to the African Union 2017 East and Southern Africa Regional Youth Consultation to share his experience on the role of political parties in enhancing youth participation in electoral processes.

This year’s Youth Consultations took place in Arusha, Tanzania, around the theme of “Enhancing young people’s meaningful participation in electoral processes in Africa”.

The overall goal of the AU Consultations was to provide a collaborative, open and inclusive space for young people to objectively reflect on progress made so far, challenges encountered and prospects for enhancing meaningful youth participation in Africa’s democratization processes.

Augustine Magolowondo took part in the event as a panellist in the session on “political parties as an avenue for young people’s’ meaningful participation in electoral process”.

In his speech, Augustine explored the relationship between political parties and young people. He stressed that party youth wings are not enough; political parties need to work on representing young people through genuine agendas.

NIMD is proud to have been able to participate in this important event towards enhancing youth participation, and stresses the crucial role of political parties in this process.

Augustine Magolowondo with Ambassador Salah S. Hammad at the Regional Consultations.