The Social Science Research Council’s African Peacebuilding Network (APN) had the opportunity to sit down with Dr. Amanda Coffie, an APN alumnus and a Research Fellow at Legon Center for International Affairs and Diplomacy (LECIAD) at the University of Ghana. The interview was conducted at the 2019 International Studies Association Annual Convention in Toronto, Canada, in March 2019. It has been edited for length and clarity.
APN: You co-authored an APN policy briefing note titled: “Africa and the Global Compact on Refugees: Inclusive Policy Responses to Forced Displacement,” which was based on an APN panel at the 2018 ISA conference. Tell us about the process of putting that policy brief together with your fellow APN alumni?
Amanda Coffie: In 2018, I co-edited a policy brief with other APN grantees (Richard Alemdjrodo and Patience Adzande), and I think this is one of the many interesting opportunities for any APN grantee, the fact that you can have collaboration with other grantees—and not just limited to your year of the award. It was a great experience, and the APN really helped in facilitating not only the policy brief but also by organizing the conference panel at the International Studies Association, which ultimately resulted in the policy brief.
As authors we had so many ideas that we had to fit into APN policy brief requirement (two pages), but it also helped develop our skills in writing for a policy audience because as academics we mostly write and talk among ourselves, but the APN’s emphasis on policy relevance enabled us to bridge that gap, so our discussions are not limited to academics. It was an interesting experience and I would encourage others to write such co-authored policy briefs so that there is more collaboration among grantees. Single-authored policy briefs are great, but when you bring a group of people together, it enhances the process.
You were awarded a six-month CAPREx (Cambridge-Africa Partnership for Research Excellence) postdoctoral fellowship at the University of Cambridge in 2018, could you tell us about the opportunity this award represents and how it builds on the research you conducted as an APN grantee?
Yes, I got a six-month CAPREx postdoctoral fellowship at the University of Cambridge, which is just coming to an end. It was a post-doctoral fellowship, and during that time, I also developed a proposal and got additional funding from the Alborada research fund at Cambridge University. This is funding my current research on the Gambian diaspora and their role in peacebuilding in the Gambia. While I was at Cambridge, I conducted interviews with Gambians living in the UK and during the summer this year I will be going to the Gambia for a month to collect data.
What do you hope to produce through this research?
I see the current research that is funded by CAPREx and the Alborada research fund as building on what I did for my APN-funded research project in 2016 where I looked at Liberian resettled refugees living in Canada and their participation in peacebuilding in Liberia. Now I am looking at the Gambian (refugee) diaspora and their engagement in the ongoing rebuilding of the Gambia in the post-Jammeh era. In the future, I would like to look at displaced populations, including refugees and diaspora in West Africa and the practice of peacebuilding in West Africa. So the Gambian case study adds to my APN research, and both will contribute toward my future objective of writing a book. The book will examine these actors as outsiders with insiders’ perspective—resettled refugees and refugee diaspora and their engagement with peacebuilding in their home countries.
I’m looking forward to that, and yes, there will be some publications.
What advice would you offer to people who are applying for APN grants in terms of writing a strong proposal and making the best of the time spent on research-related fieldwork?
In terms of what advice I would offer to people applying for APN grants: I think attending the APN’s proposal development workshops are a very good opportunity for potential applicants—perhaps it can somehow be decentralized and the numbers of participants can be increased.
I also think that we should encourage the applicants to do at least some preliminary research—their proposal should be building on existing research that they have already done. Sometimes they write grant proposals, and if they haven’t done any primary research on the topic, they realize when they get the award that they cannot conduct the research they were planning to—and then they will have to try to get the APN to readjust their research topic.
Finally, in addition to devising a strong research topic and design, I would encourage applicants to spend more time and conduct research on the “relevance” component of their proposed topic. Relevance with respect to contributing to policy and knowledge production from Africa (which unfortunately is constructed as a knowledge consumer) is a major aspect of the proposal. This aspect of the proposal is critical because it is an opportunity for us to contribute toward knowledge and influence policies affecting a given community.
Amanda Coffie is a Research Fellow at the Legon Center for International Affairs and Diplomacy, University of Ghana. She earned a PhD from the Department of Political Science, Carleton University, Ottawa, Canada. Her research spans a continuum of forced migration, from conflict zones, through asylum, repatriation, and transnational. Her work attends to issues of refugees, security, governance of migration and asylum, programs of host countries and international organizations, as well as post-conflict peacebuilding. She is currently working on the refugee diaspora and peacebuilding in The Gambia. She is a 2016 recipient of the Social Science Research Council’s African Peacebuilding Network Individual Research Grant.