The Social Science Research Council’s African Peacebuilding Network (APN) had the opportunity to sit down with Dr. Admire Mare, an APN alumnus (Individual Research Grant 2013) and senior lecturer at the Namibia University of Science and Technology (NUST). The interview was conducted at the APN-NUST Media Training Workshop held in Windhoek, Namibia in July 2018. It has been edited for length and clarity.
African Peacebuilding Network: Could you tell us a bit about yourself and when you received your APN research grant?
Admire Mare: I am a senior lecturer in the Department of Communication at Namibia University of Science and Technology (NUST). Previously, I was at the University of Johannesburg. I received my APN grant in 2013; back then, I think we were some of the first APN grantees. I vividly remember going to Kenya for the research methodology workshop where I met so many people who, up to now, I continue to converse with on different platforms.
Could you tell us about the theme and primary objectives of the media training workshop you facilitated and what you hope its impact will be?
The workshop we had over the last few days was the “Media Training Workshop on Improving Media Coverage of Conflict and Peacebuilding in Southern Africa.” We were mainly targeting journalists from the southern Africa region. Mostly, we’re looking at countries that have had some kind of conflict, whether you are talking about xenophobic conflict; election-related conflict; civil war, as in the case of Mozambique and Lesotho; and protests related to governance issues, especially in Swaziland. So these are the people we invited for this particular workshop.
Regarding our objectives, we wanted to make sure that we not only reintroduce the concept of “peace journalism” within the newsroom but also make sure the media understands its role regarding peacebuilding in different kinds of environments, and also its role in making sure that it prevents conflict from escalating.
Could you tell us how your APN grant in 2013 and your continued engagement with the program has impacted your career?
So much has happened since I got this grant in 2013. Not only have I grown as an academic but I’ve also partnered with like-minded people within the media and the conflict and peacebuilding research community. My relationship with the APN enabled me to serve as a resource person for one of the workshops held in West Africa, also on the theme of media, conflict, and peacebuilding but within the West Africa region. So I went there as a resource person but also led a discussion around peace journalism theory and practice within the African context.
Beyond that, I’ve also benefitted a lot from the APN grant in terms of receiving travel funding to attend regional conferences. I’ve also used my platform with the APN to network with colleagues within media and scholarly circles to do very interesting studies. Some I have not even met in person, but I know them because of our shared connection with the APN family. For example, recently I have been talking with a colleague based in Ghana working on issues around conflict. I focus more on the media side, and we are seeing how much we can synergize our research strategies so that we can benefit from each other.
What were the main themes of your APN research project and your subsequent research?
When we got the grant in 2013, our research was mainly about understanding the role of media in mediating election-related violence within the Zimbabwean context. We were looking at the 2008 election because it was one of the bloodiest elections Zimbabwe had ever seen. But beyond that, we went further and did some research on how the media did in 2013. And now we are doing the same in the build-up to the 2018 elections. The grant has allowed us to build on the research to develop a comparative aspect.
Nowadays, what I’m more interested in studying are issues around the safety of journalists. I’m trying to understand how different contexts endanger journalists, for example, in some contexts you have extensive surveillance systems, like in South Africa. These surveillance mechanisms are making it very difficult for journalists to do their work online. I’m also looking at how conflict-prone areas can endanger the lives of journalists in terms of their physical well-being.
Those are issues I’ve been working on, and I’m actually looking at broadening my focus further, especially now that there was a coup in Zimbabwe. I know that many journalists were assaulted by the military during the coup. Increasingly, I am really interested in the safety of journalists within conflicts and coming up with coping mechanisms to make sure they can survive in those contexts.
The APN works to support independent African research on critical issues related to peacebuilding. Why is it important to promote strong, independent African research and make it visible around the world?
I think the APN has done a great job, especially on the African continent, because most of our universities don’t have funding for research. So when you fund the research of young and middle-career academics, you are enabling them to make sure that the knowledge produced in Africa actually goes onto the global stage and that’s very important, especially now when people are talking about decolonizing knowledge.
It is important to give young scholars space to articulate issues from their own context. Because there is nothing as important as actually having people writing about their lived experiences. That’s the advantage that we have as African researchers; because we are based in Africa, we experience these conflicts—we are part and parcel. So when we come up with solutions or when we do our research, it is grounded in our experiences and contexts.
This helps us to thrive and challenge certain kinds of knowledge that are produced in the global north by people who come into the area, do research for two days, and then publish an article. However, for us, it’s not like that. We live these things; we are here 24/7, 365 days a year. So, we can produce knowledge that can actually compete on a global scale.
The media training workshop brought together scholars studying communication and journalism and practitioners working in the media space. What do you think is the importance of bringing the two—practitioners and scholars—together?
I think it’s very important, especially when you talk about the nexus between theory and practice. Most of the time, scholars tend to theorize a lot and practitioners tend to practice a lot. So when you have the two in the same room, it means we can feed off each other and feed into each other’s work. This is crucial for having robust and practical solutions to problems we face on a daily basis. And I think you can see it in what we got when we allowed journalists to present and speak about their own experiences. For me, that was very important because it helped scholars appreciate the challenges these practitioners face, especially within different newsrooms. It’s very important to not only theorize but to also have practice as part and parcel of that dialogue.
Admire Mare is an African Peacebuilding Network 2013 grant recipient. He is a senior lecturer in the Department of Communication at the Namibia University of Science and Technology (NUST). Dr. Mare has published several journal articles and book chapters and is the recipient of several other grants awarded by IDRC (Canada), CODESRIA (Senegal), and OSSREA (Ethiopia). His research interests include war and peace journalism, media and social movements, social media and political action, youth and political participation, emerging media business models in the global south, media and democracy, and platform economies and born-digital start-ups. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.