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 with Dr. Sarah Ssali, Associate Professor and Dean of the School of Women and Gender Studies at Makerere University, Uganda, member of the Advisory Board of the Next Gen program, and one of the facilitators for the Next Gen Biannual Fellows Workshop, to ask a couple of questions. The interview has been edited for length and clarity.
APN: Tell us a little bit about yourself, your background, and your education.
Dr. Sarah Ssali: My name is Sarah Ssali and I was born and raised in Uganda. I am also an associate professor and Dean of the School of Women and Gender Studies at Makerere University. I earned my first degree in political science and public administration from Makerere University, for my masters I studied gender studies, also at Makerere University, and for my PhD I studied international health and development at Queen Margaret University in Edinburgh, Scotland.
In your opinion, what do you think is the importance of having joint APN and Next Gen workshops like the one we’ve been having here in Ghana?
We have just concluded a fruitful period. Interestingly, this is not the first time we are having a joint workshop. We have had them in Nairobi before but then, they were back to back and we never really met. What has happened this time is that we were brought together because we (Next Gen fellows and workshop facilitators) came when APN was finishing theirs, but we had a day where we overlapped. This was a great opportunity to explore and bring out the synergies between the research of grantees of the APN and the research of fellows of the Next Gen. Now, you must know that the two come from different backgrounds; Next Gen mainly deals with capacity building and training of PhD scholars. So, it nurtures and provides mentorship for such scholars at the proposal writing, research, and doctoral completion stages. The APN mostly deals with post-docs and experienced practitioners, transitioning scholars who have gotten their PhDs into the world of academia, policy-engaged research and becoming responsible for knowledge production on the continent. So bringing APN and Next Gen scholars together is very important to derive synergies in the research being supported by both programs. This is important because it helps in consolidating the next generation of Africa’s knowledge producers and professoriate, enabling them know each other better and form life-long, career-enhancing relationships. This is more-so as the grantees and fellows of both programs focus on the broad theme of conflict and peacebuilding in Africa.
What advice do you have for fellows and grantees when it comes to conducting great research?
There are a number of things that fellows and grantees have to do when planning and conducting research. First, which is very important is to read, read, and read. They must read widely as it is a must for their work so that they can determine what the key developments in their field are, and decide on what issues to focus on, or the potential contribution they hope their research will have on their field. The second advice is to be well-informed about the scholarship within their disciplinary track. Fellows and grantees need to understand how other scholars or their peers in a particular field have researched about a subject, or another related subject that they want to work on. Thirdly, they have to familiarize themselves and be well immersed in the theories addressing a particular field of study or subject-matter. As they read around several issues or a particular field of study, and work hard on their research proposals, dissertations and articles, fellows and grantees need to learn how to interrogate the literature. The following questions should also come to mind: what kinds of books and articles am I reading, who is writing them and for what purpose? Where am I located in relation to the global readership on a particular issue/subject and how can I contribute to global readership on the issue/subject? However, fellows and grantees should also realize there is also area-focused knowledge production, which involves locating their works in locally published texts/literature in order to strengthen and locate their field of inquiry in the area and context from which it comes. I say this because many African scholars tend to associate scholarly rigor with the ability to cite from literature (including theories) produced by scholars based in the global North in their writings, while neglecting to cite high quality literature produced by scholars based in their local/regional context, be it Uganda, Cameroon, or any other African country, and those based in the global South. It is therefore very important for fellows and grantees to read and stay informed about the knowledge produced within the Continent and other parts of the world, while also continuously exploring ways of contributing to global knowledge production.