Development for Peace

FUrrego Main Picture

In order to understand the reason why I decided to study the Masters in International Development Practice at Monash University, I should first provide you with a quick summary of the history of Colombia.

A brief history of Colombian conflict

Colombia was a Spanish colony from the 1500s until its independence in 1810. Its history as an independent country has been strongly marked by violence and war, so much so that just in the Nineteenth Century we had more than four civil wars. The other major impact upon Colombian society nowadays has been the constant ruling of a small elite who have continued the status quo from the colonial era, maintaining the inequality that still characterises the country today.

At the middle of the Twentieth Century, leftist groups emerged wanting to fight the oppression created by this elite. However, the government’s suppression of these groups was so violent, they were forced to flee. And so, guerrilla warfare commenced as they hid deep in the Colombian jungle. This necessity, of the people to fight inequality, brought war again to our country. These groups, in pursuing control of the power themselves, began killing civilians indiscriminately and brought a sense of terror upon the population.


A brief history of this Colombian Felipe

Here is where my story begins, by the year 2005 Colombians were tired of this war of terror and gave big support to our armed forces to fight these illegal groups. Right after finishing school, in my willingness to help end the war that had cost too many lives, I joined the Colombian Navy. I have already been ten years in this institution and only now, by the combined effort of the Colombian Armed Forces, have we brought the main illegal group to sit and hold peace negotiations with the government.

All these years in the military have given me the opportunity to get to know almost all the corners of my country, to see the people’s needs and to witness the devastation that war brings. The only thing I could do at that moment as a member of the Navy, was to provide security and try to alleviate basic needs.


Linking development and post-conflict Colombia

Over this past decade, in my understanding of the major issues and the experiences I have had, I have come to realise that you cannot fight violence just with stronger armies: that is like fighting fire with fire. What the Colombian Armed Forces need are new ways to help the people, to offer more than just cyclic violence and illegal lives.

My goal here is to learn how to create Sustainable Development programs in isolated communities and communities that have been victims of the conflict. With these programs I hope we will be able to provide more than just the choice of becoming another illegal actor because of the lack of opportunities for a better future.


Why a Colombian naval officer at Monash?

In my search to find new tools to help the situation in Colombia, I started to look for other countries or places where I could take a different perspective of my country’s situation from outside the military. Australia and especially Melbourne is a place where I have many friends from back home and also it is considered the most liveable city in the world; what a great place to experience an example of modernity and welfare. I received a scholarship from the private sector in Colombia and the Colombian Navy approved my choice of study to help build new plans for a post-conflict society.

I decided to come to do the Masters in International Development Practice because it provides an opportunity to learn of the different trends in development and how I can better approach my goals and be successful in them. The other aspect that I find very important and interesting about being in this masters, that I had not considered before coming, is that it is full of enthusiastic people from different backgrounds and lived experiences.

MIDP offers a multicultural environment that I enjoy because the students bring their own points of view, different to my own, that are so important to understanding development.

This article expresses the personal opinion of the author and not the opinions of any institution mentioned within.

Felipe Urrego Gonzalez
MIDP Student