The African Peacebuilding Network (APN) and Next Generation Social Sciences in Africa (Next Gen) held a joint training workshop in Peduase, Aburi, Ghana from the 24th to the 28th of June, 2019. We had the opportunity to sit down to ask Dr. Chukwuemeka Eze, Executive Director of West Africa Network for Peacebuilding (WANEP) who delivered a keynote speech on the first day of the workshop, a few questions. The interview has been edited for length and clarity.
APN: Tell us a little bit about yourself and your education and training. What motivated you to become a peacebuilding practitioner and mediator?
Dr. Chukwuemeka Eze: I am originally Nigerian, but for the past ten years I’ve been living in Ghana. I head the West Africa Network for Peacebuilding (WANEP). My first degree is in political science and also I have a master’s degree and PhD degree in peace and strategic studies, with emphasis on peace education and conflict early warning systems in West Africa, respectively. Over the years, I have been in communities where people have unsuccessfully tried to resolve their conflicts, leading them to resort to the ‘elders.’ These ‘elders’ try as much as possible to resolve these conflicts through their intuitive knowledge, but in my own estimation, the resolution of the conflicts has always been compromised by what some people consider to be respect for elders rather than satisfaction with their decisions and outcomes. After many years I spent observing my father, who is currently a traditional ruler engaged in some forms of arbitration and mediation, I developed an interest in both aspects of conflict resolution asking myself the question – what can I do differently? Fortunately, after my first degree, I completed my Compulsory one year National Service and subsequently started work in a peacebuilding organization called the Center for Peace in Africa. It was while working with the Center for Peace in Africa that I came in contact with WANEP, and they offered me a position as its first staff member in Nigeria. I progressed from being a Program Officer to a Program Manager, and later became the National Coordinator of WANEP in Nigeria for several years. From Nigeria, I was appointed Program Director in the Regional Office here in Accra, a position I held for five years, after which the WANEP Board appointed me as Executive Director. I am now in my fifth year as the Executive Director.
In relation to that, can you speak to the work of WANEP in the region, and more specifically your role as its Executive Director?
WANEP is the official partner of the Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS) for the operationalization and sustenance of the ECOWAS Early Warning Mechanism, and the implementation of the ECOWAS Conflict Prevention Framework (ECPF) – maintaining a Liaison Office at the Commission since 2004. Within this context, I lead the interface between WANEP and ECOWAS, as well as the interface between WANEP and the African Union (AU). WANEP is the first civil society organization from West Africa to be provided with office space at the AU Headquarters and supports the Africa Union Capacity Building Program (AU-CAP). We also enhance AU-CAP’s outputs in relation to peace and security. I am also responsible for providing leadership to over 150 staff members of WANEP in the 15 ECOWAS Member-States as well as over 550 -affiliate organizations across West Africa, while supervising about 26 staff members in our regional office here in Accra. An important part of the work I do is to enhance WANEP’s role in regional peace and security by supporting peacebuilding in the ECOWAS and AU states.
In your opinion, how best can we connect and build synergies between researchers and practitioners in African peacebuilding? And what do you see as the role of programs like the African Peacebuilding Network in consolidating processes aimed towards such collaboration?
The first thing is to underscore the fact that the APN has a niche within the African peacebuilding lexicon and space. An obvious gap exists between practitioners operating in the field and Africa-based researchers and this needs to be bridged. We are aware that researchers are not making sufficient use of practitioners’ expertise or integrating their perspectives into the development of research agendas and projects. When we also look at the other side of the coin, practitioners lack adequate access to research results, or are not making sufficient use of researchers’ findings to enhance their own work in the field. I am of the view the APN can effectively address gaps between researchers and practitioners. The program through targeted collaborative projects and activities is capable of developing connections between those in the field of peacebuilding practice and scholars producing research-based knowledge. In this regard, APN, and more specifically its fellows and alumni need to actively explore opportunities and develop programs for connecting African researchers to African peacebuilding practitioners, help increase and build synergies between both constituencies in ways that help consolidate African peace and security. Such a symbiotic relationship is very important when we consider the fast pace at which Africa’s peace and security landscape is changing on a daily basis. Given the complex changes in conflict dynamics on the continent, researchers have to undertake innovative studies whose findings can better inform the work of practitioners and vice-versa. In this regard, organizations like WANEP are open to working collaboratively with APN to support African scholars who in turn will benefit from practitioner’s experiences. Given our solid track record at the national and regional levels, we can share experiences and practical insights that will positively impact research agendas and ultimately support the production of grounded and better informed actionable policies in the field of Africa’s peace and security.