Help me stop being an Africanist? (Colombia bleg)

I’m ready for a change of scenery, so I plan to spend several weeks in Colombia this summer looking for new research ideas and opportunities.

I always thought of myself as a political economist who happened to work in Africa rather than an Africanist. I still plan to work south of the Sahara, including a new project or two in Kenya. But I’m ready to shake things up a little bit. I’ve dusted off my 15-year old Spanish books and the lessons have begun anew.

The whole family is going. We have a beautiful home exchange for the last week of July and first week of August in Bogota, plus an office at Universidad de los Andes. Then two weeks holiday.

I welcome advice for both work and play. Jeannie and I went in 2009 and you gave us some good advice. So I am coming back for more.

Holiday-wise, we haven’t even begun to explore options, and so we’re wide open to suggestions. We will have a 2- and 4-year old in tow, so the ideal situation is to visit two places for a week each, and use each as a home base for day trips and exploration. We were thinking maybe Medellin and then the coast, but really have not thought it through yet. Are there places of historical/conflict interest that are now family-friendly? FARC’s Wonderland?

Research-wise, I’ve been thinking about a few different directions:

Suggestions of interesting people or programs or organizations are welcome.

21 thoughts on “Help me stop being an Africanist? (Colombia bleg)

  1. Chris – let me know what you find out! We’ve been planning a similar (though shorter) business/family trip probably later this year – though I have the opposite problem. Help me stop being a Latin Americanist? I need Africa suggestions for travel later this summer. We should compare notes, but alas, I don’t have good Colombia suggestions as that’s one place I haven’t been. Doug P was recently there with his family though.

  2. Hi Chris,

    This is Karen, a native Colombian working in development in DC, and a fan of your work.

    Since you would be working at Universidad de los Andes, you should probably meet with Ana Maria Ibáñez, Daniel Mejía, and Andrés Moya, at the Econ Department. They work in topics related to conflict in Colombia.

    Other than the Atlantic Coast and Bogota, one of my favorite places in Colombia is Villa de Leyva, a charming colonial town 3 hours away from Bogota. I would recommend you look into some of the tours to the paleontological research center, and explore some of the interesting history of the area. I would also consider going to the coffee region of Colombia (Armenia, Manizales, Pereira). There are several nature related activities nearby that your kids might enjoy (

    Hope this helps. Enjoy my country!

  3. Hi Chris, I just finished living a year in Bogotá. My number one thing to do was get out and run/bike on the Ciclovia on a Sunday. Nowhere I know in Australia shuts the major roads down like this for the people to get out there. You can hire bikes from Bogota Bike Tours in Candelaria and near Usaquen as well. Just need to make sure the ones you get are in good condition!

  4. Hi Chris,
    If you go to Medellín (I think you should, NYTimes also thinks so: you can visit the new Casa de la Memoria museum, which is a place to remember the victims of Colombia’s conflict. There are also a lot of Cartel de Medellín related historical places there.
    Regarding people, María Teresa Ronderos just published an interesting book on paramilitaries (
    I will be in Medellín around that time. More than happy to help in anything you may need.

  5. Another thought of something the kids would enjoy is the Tren Turístico de la Sabana to Zipaquirá. Lots of excited Colombian kids being on the one of the only trains in the country, some great live music on board and a really interesting destination.

  6. Hey Chris!

    An important topic in War on Drug´s affected countries (Mexico and Colombia) is police violence and the militarization of police. Very similar to what is going on in the U.S. Important to remember that the U.S. Defense Department have been partly responsible for this militarization through Plan Colombia and Iniciativa Mérida. Keep me posted on what you are doing.



  7. This is great! I am from Colombia, I recommend to contact economists at Universidad de los Andes (Bogota), they have CEDE which is Centro de Estudios de Desarrollo Economico, Universidad Nacional de Colombia (Bogota) and Universidad del Valle (Cali). Particularly in Andes and Valle have faculty conducting research on the effects of the conflict in Colombia’s economy. Andes and Javeriana have very good departments of political sciences, and Javeriana has been working with the Centro de Memoria Historica.
    I am sooooo jelous! I wanted to go back home to work but did not work out, I wish you the best of luck there, enjoy my country!

  8. Hi Chris – Tangential to your research interests, but if you need a perspective on agriculture in Colombia, CIAT (International Center on Tropical Agriculture) is one of the 15 centers of the CGIAR and has headquarters in Cali. They are particularly strong on bioinformatics / spatial stuff, if that is of any use to your interests – Andy Jarvis being probably their stand-out scientist at the moment.

    Also, go to a football match (and blog about it afterwards!)

  9. Dear Chris, it’s a shame you’re moving away from the “Africa scene.” We are grateful that you happened to work on Africa, we will be in debt forever. And don’t be bashful wearing the “Africanist” badge – you’re not like the others, you sincerely care.

    We apologize for running out of knotty problems for you to chew over. We’ll work up interesting problems while you’re gone. Please come save us again us once you get bored of Colombia.

    With regards,

  10. @DS: Touché. It’s a good point. But what a mean-spirited way to make it. I often get mean-spirited myself on the Internet. It’s easy. But when people work on something for years or decades it’s usually because they care deeply. Was my post really so flippant?

  11. Hi Chris,
    Maybe you can find out why Colombia has given reparations to almost 500 thousand victims, accruing over $2.6 billion pesos since 2011, and no one has measured its effects. Its the single-biggest transfer of resources (sometimes cash, sometimes other assets) in most victims’ lifetime, and not a single impact evaluation can account for its consequences.

    I hope you have better luck than I did on figuring this out.

    Enjoy Colombia! Try every possible fruit juice that crosses your path

  12. Hi Chris, as I look back at my comment, I realize it was unnecessarily caustic. I apologize for that, and wish you well for the future.

    However, I do stand by the point I was making (rather clumsily). Academics are not beyond the myopia often blamed on bureaucrats eager to swell their portfolio, politicians desperate to show quick results to win the popularity contest, aid organizations overzealous to post pictures on social media, and other do-gooders of all variety focused on short-trm visible gains. Academics are rewarded for being clever, not being right, or harping about the right things infinitely until the reforms and changes are achieved. “Incentives matter,” we preach, and yet go about as if our incentives are not misaligned with the long, arduous, gradual, unsexy, un-publishable, un-bloggable, un-OpEdable, un-photogenic, thankless, witnessless effort that is development.

    Apologies again. And godspeed!

  13. I grew up in Santa Marta, on the northern coast of Colombia so I am dismayed that there aren’t more recommendations for the coast. Yes Cartagena is beautiful and touristy but the coast north of Barranquilla has plenty to recommend it not least of which is that it is so often ignored. The beaches and snorkeling from Santa Marta north can be pretty great. Don’t forget to try the ubiquitous shrimp cocktail and mamones, sold on the beaches. And the arepas with queso campesino or con huevo. Bolivar’s tomb is in Santa Marta and there is a small but interesting and accessible pre-Columbian gold museum in town. In terms of more professional interests, there is a culture of violence and revenge (not all that unusual of course) that predates La Violencia and the issues of the last two decades. When I was there in the early 80s most violence was centered around family feuds of the Hatfield/McCoy variety. How that blended with the violence of the paramilitaries and perpetuated it I think is an interesting and understudied topic. As in other places in Colombia there were/are lots of displaced people but the ones on the north coast, in my opinion, get less attention.

  14. Hi Chris. I have been living and working in Medellín for the past 18 months. The government has gained worldwide renown for its ‘transformative social urbanism’, yet the real story is the way communities have constructed innovative alternatives in the face of rising inequality, persistent organised crime and violence, and increasing militarisation. You’d be very welcome to come and explore this social innovation during your time in the city ( and are good references for now), amongst day trips to beautiful nearby towns such as Santa fe de Antioquia and Jardín. Abrazos, mucha suerte, Tom

  15. In the South, I would visit Cali and Popayan. It will help you understand how power dynamics have worked and still work in Colombia. Besides that, they are quite manageable cities. In Cali, you and your children can learn to dance salsa. And Popayan is small, beautiful and manageable. In Bogota, I would recommend to contact people in CINEP (jesuit center for peace studies) and bear in mind mining (legal and illegal) is your research.

  16. Hi Chris, I am currently working with the UN in Colombia (basing out of Bogota) on transitional justice, victims’ rights, and peace process. I came across your posting and thought it would be nice to reach out. Feel free to contact me if you’d like to have a chat. Enjoy your time in Colombia!