The African Peacebuilding Network and Next Generation Social Sciences in Africa programs had the chance to attend the 3rd Biennial Conference of the African Studies Association of Africa, where several APN and Next Gen alumni and fellows were also in attendance. The conference took place at the United States International University-Africa (USIU-A) in Nairobi, Kenya from October 24-26, 2019. We had the opportunity to sit down with Next Gen alumnus (2016-2017) Marion Atieno Ouma and ask her a few questions. The interview has been edited for length and clarity.
Next Gen: So, you used to be a Next Gen fellow, right? What were you working on?
Marion Atieno Ouma: In 2016, I received the Doctoral Dissertation Research Fellowship and in 2017 I received the Doctoral Dissertation Completion Fellowship. I finished my PhD and passed, and I am expecting to graduate in November 2019. My dissertation explored the politics and dynamics of social protection policymaking in Kenya. I examined policymaking processes, specifically social policy, and my area of focus was social protection.
How did both the research fellowship and the completion fellowship given to you by Next Gen help you with actualizing your research?
I am based in South Africa. It would have been difficult for me to go and collect data in Kenya without adequate funding. Even though Kenya is my home, the expenses related to research had to be covered, and Next Gen provided both the funding and the mentorship support needed to complete my doctoral research. The key thing for me was being able to interact with the other fellows and the mentors that we had. Even without the funding, I think that part – being able to interact with other people who are part of the fellowship cohort – was fundamental for me. I remember the first fellowship workshop that I attended, which was at USIU-A in Nairobi. I had come to the first session after collecting some data but had no idea what to do with it. We talked about this during the session and there were other people who were in a similar situation of not knowing how to move on to the next stage with all the data we had collected. I learned from other fellows’ insights and experiences as well as advice from the mentors, which was also very helpful in overcoming the challenges I faced. It was also the place where I learned about ATLAS.ti (software used in qualitative research and qualitative data analysis) for the first time. It was so helpful for me because then I just got the software through my university. Furthermore, the fellowship opened the door to connecting with and becoming a member of broader networks and funding opportunities. I was able to connect to the Council for the Development of Social Science Research in Africa (CODESRIA), for example, and received additional support for my research. It also exposed me to more information and knowledge about what other scholars and mentors were doing on the Continent and beyond. I keep in touch with many of the fellows and mentors in the various networks I belong to and engage with their scholarly work.
Who are some of the mentors that you have been able to stay in touch with?
One of them is Amy Niang (APN alumnus and member of the APN Advisory Board) and another is Professor Sarah Ssali (chair of the Next Gen Advisory Board). Another thing for me is that as a woman fellow, the connection that I and other women fellows had with the women mentors, was important to have. There was a point where I was choosing between going back to work at an NGO or pursuing my academic career and I remember Dr Akosua Keseboa Darwah telling me that I was doing very well academically. At that time, I wasn’t feeling confident enough, but she advised me to stick with academics because there are very few of us women in the field. The advice she gave me was so profound and it made me realize that this is where I need to be.
What are your thoughts on this year’s African Studies Association of Africa (ASAA) Conference and what would you say about the prospects of having more of these types of conversations on the continent?
This is the first ASAA conference I am attending and when I look around, being able to see the number of African scholars based on the continent who are here is great. Most of the time when you go to conferences about Africa that are based outside the continent, you can almost count the number of Africans that are actually there because of a number of different things that hinder us from going such as visas, paying for flights and accommodation, which can be expensive. I hope more conferences like this one happen around the continent. I would ask other Next Gen fellows and alumni who were not able to come, to attend future ASAA conferences. For me, seeing the number of African scholars who are coming from African universities is really encouraging and I hope we keep at it.
What do you think that APN and Next Gen should do in the future regarding supporting such conferences?
I think the first thing would be to really try to bring APN and Next Gen fellows to these conferences. We know that programs like the APN and Next Gen support scholars to attend conferences like the African Studies Association (ASA) in the US and the International Studies Association (ISA) in North America, but what about ASAA in Africa? Other organizations such as CODESRIA sponsored some African scholars to attend the ASAA conference, and APN and Next Gen should do the same. I think it will be very help in supporting the participation of African scholars is such scholarly conferences.