The APN Team recently had the opportunity to sit down with several of our Alumni, including Dr. Fekadu Adugna Tufa (Individual Research Grant 2016), to discuss their research and the role of the APN in their careers thus far. This interview is one of a series that we will be publishing detailing “Life as an APN Alumnus.” It has been edited for length and clarity.
We spoke with Dr. Tufa at the International Studies Association’s 2017 Annual Convention in Baltimore, MD. Several APN Alumni attended the conference, particularly from the 2016 cohort, to present findings from their APN-supported fieldwork and research. Dr. Tufa is an associate professor of anthropology at Addis Ababa University, Addis Ababa, Ethiopia.
APN Team: Thank you so much for being here with us and for giving an insightful presentation. Could you tell us a bit more about your APN-supported research?
Prof. Tufa: Thank you very much. My 2016 APN grant focused on “Understanding Conflict and Peacebuilding Endeavors in the Somali Region of Ethiopia.” This is a project that has become a reality because of the APN grant. It is an area where I had been working but, had never done such productive fieldwork before the APN grant, so thank you for making my dream a reality. The APN is not only about money, it’s not only about the funds we get to conduct fieldwork; it is much more than that. The APN trainings that we received—the proposal writing training, the theoretical and methodological training, the fieldwork training, and the research and writing up training—are so much more than the financial aspect. The APN always follows up with the grantees as well. I managed to come to the United States, here to Baltimore, because of my APN connection and the panel organized by the APN, so thank you again.
What research are you doing currently as a follow-up to your APN-supported research? Are there any other research projects or trends that you have been particularly excited about?
What’s quite interesting is that conflict in Africa is very dynamic. The current conceptualization of conflict in Africa is not the same as it had been conceptualized previously. Conflicts in Africa are multi-causal now, they are multilayered at this time; and peacebuilding endeavors are also changing. There are multiple peacebuilding endeavors, but the problem is the connection between the many actors engaged in peacebuilding is not well done. Everybody tries to bring peace, but sometimes the peacemaking is far from the conflict, and the conflict changes more than the peacebuilding endeavors. So it’s quite interesting to learn what’s happening on the ground: Which actors are active in the conflict and who are the major actors? What are the structures of the conflict and what will be the solution for the conflict? That is what I find most interesting.
As a researcher, how do you study that disconnect, that difference between the actors involved in the conflict on the ground and those who are in a removed location doing the “peacebuilding”?
As a social anthropologist, where I am most effective is in doing fieldwork on the ground. We go to the field; we talk to the people; we live with the people; we engage with the people; we sometimes even stay with a host family to try to understand the way that the people think. We learn about these people by living very close to them, eating with them, chatting with them, trying to feel how they feel, trying to be a part of their lives. We work to understand the gap between these actors on the ground, and the officials, the politicians, and the academics.
And as an Ethiopian, do you think your positionality as someone who is not from the same community as those you study, but is from their country, affects your research in anyway?
It does, but I try to be quite reflective. I work to understand where and how my Ethiopian-ness, my ethnicity, my public and political interests, and any number of my other interests affect my work. So I reflect on that, and I see where am I, what shall I do, how does my own identity affect my research. The major thing is to be reflective: to look back on my own identity and try to minimize the negative impact of how it affects the research I am doing.
To close, do you have any advice for early-career researchers, particularly those considering applying for an APN grant?
For people applying for APN grants, my advice is not to focus on the money alone, but to focus on the research and the many other benefits provided by the APN. The APN makes available such a wonderful environment where you not only get funding, but also many other benefits. You receive training and opportunities to meet other fellows and build a network across the continent. You also receive opportunities to become global scholars and to disseminate your work. For all early-career researchers, these are such important parts of making your work available to a wider audience and exposing it to alternate viewpoints.
Excellent. Thank you so much for being here and sharing your insights with us today.
Dr. Fekadu Adugna Tufa has a PhD in Social Anthropology from Martin Luther University, Germany. Currently, he is an Assistant Professor in the Department of Social Anthropology, College of Social Sciences, Addis Ababa University, where he has served as head of the Department for more than three years. His research interests include ethnicity, identity, and resource-based conflicts in pastoral lowlands; conflict resolution, culture and pastoralism, and borderland studies; and land use change and environment. His publications include “Overlapping Nationalist Projects and Contested Spaces: The Case of the Oromo-Somali Borderlands in Southern Ethiopia,” Journal of East African Studies 5, no. 4 (2011): 773-787; “Examining the Livelihood and Coping Mechanisms of Rural-Urban Young Migrants: The Case of Burayu Town,” Journal of Development Studies; and “The Nomadic Gabra: Ethno-History, Pastoralism and Politics of Identity,” Ethiopian Journal of Social Sciences and Humanities. His APN-supported research focused on “Understanding Conflicts and Peace-Building Practices in the Context of Multiple Actors: The Case of the Somali Region of Ethiopia.” He is a 2016 recipient of the Social Science Research Council’s African Peacebuilding Network’s Individual Research Grant.