I consider myself privileged to have been part of the African Peacebuilding Network’s (APN) scholarly community since its inception in 2012. As a social researcher with a little over 30 years of experience, I have engaged in dozens of research projects and professional activities in over 40 countries and produced numerous publications, many of them funded through competitive research grants. In this exciting intellectual journey, I have researched the broad areas of international development, higher education, African politics, conflictology, peacebuilding, and peace and security studies. The APN has been a major part of my exciting intellectual journey, especially in the last decade. The narrative of my initial contact and progressive engagements with the APN can be best explained within the changing dynamics of my research interests as a policy-engaged scholar.
In the aftermath of the 2005 Comprehensive Peace Agreement (CPA), signed by the Sudan People’s Liberation Movement (SPLM) and the government of Sudanese (GoS), and the lead up to the 2011 referendum on sovereign statehood for South Sudan, I became keenly interested in researching the conflicts and peacebuilding in South Sudan.
I took four cumulative steps in pursuit of my new research interest in South Sudan, steps that could be relevant to young researchers intent on transforming their embryonic research interests into substantial scholarly products and grants.
Firstly, I started reading all relevant literature I could find to learn more about the conflict in South Sudan—books and book chapters, journal articles, and current affairs. My scoping literature search and readings gave me incisive insights on the subject.
Secondly, I was challenged to exhibit a measure of expertise that my employment positions conferred on me. During the years of the Sudan-South Sudan peace settlement and transition to independence, I was working as a research fellow and lecturer in African peace and conflict studies at the University of Bradford and, subsequently, as a professor of international relations and security studies at the United States International University-Africa (USIU-A) in Nairobi, Kenya. These employment positions conferred on me the perception in many quarters as an “African expert”— a perception that meant I was always invited to speak on diverse current developments in Africa. South Sudan was highly topical between 2005 and the outbreak of civil war in 2013, and as such, I received several invitations to speak about South Sudan in seminars, workshops, and public lectures in Africa and the West as one perceived to be an “African expert.” I challenged myself to accept every speaking invitation on South Sudan which further tasked me to read wider and go out there to test my ideas. On several occasions, I was speaking to audiences in which some knew far more than me about the conflict in South Sudan, giving me an opportunity to learn from their interventions and comments.
Thirdly, in the process of engaging with diverse audiences and policy practitioners on South Sudan, I was sometimes tasked to write and present papers at conferences, seminars, and training workshops. Hence, I had to put my ideas in written form. After those seminars and workshops, I always revised my presentations and submitted them to journals, edited books, or newsletters for publication. Journal peer-review processes, as we all know, will put you through rigorous research and revision of manuscripts. I went through all of that and got a few papers published on the conflict and peace processes in Sudan and South Sudan. Up till this stage, I never had the opportunity to visit or conduct fieldwork in South Sudan and all my research and publications on the conflicts and peace processes in South Sudan were based on secondary sources. I greatly desired a visit to South Sudan, among other things, to empirically strengthen and legitimize my growing research expertise. This opportunity later came through APN.
Fourthly, in 2012, the APN was set up by the Social Science Research Council (SSRC) with funding from the Carnegie Corporation of New York (CCNY) to promote scholarly evidence-based research on Africa and launch the APN Individual Research Grant (IRG) competition in the following year. I applied for and secured the APN Individual Research Grant (IRG) in the same year, which gave me the opportunity for a fieldwork visit to South Sudan. I applied for the APN grant (jointly with my USIU-A MA student at the time, Nicodemus Minde) based on a research project titled: “Peacebuilding and Statebuilding in a Fragile Rentier State: The Case of South Sudan.” On securing the APN IRG grant, we completed our fieldwork in South Sudan between January and February 2013. Nicodemus and I published two journal articles and one essay in Kujenga Amani from our APN-funded research project, namely:
- Kenneth Omeje and Nicodemus Minde, “Stakeholders’ Perspectives on Priorities for Post-Conflict State-building and Peace-building in South Sudan,” African Peace and Conflict Journal, Summer 2014, pp.14-28.
- Kenneth Omeje and Nicodemus Minde “The SPLM Government and the Challenges of Conflict Settlement, State-Building and Peace-Building in South Sudan.” Africa Insight, 45/1, June 2015, pp. 51-67.
- Kenneth Omeje and Nicodemus Minde “The South Sudan Peace Deal and Prospect for Peacebuilding” Kujenga Amani, November 2015, http://forums.ssrc.org/kujenga-amani/2015/11/04/the-south-sudan-peace-deal-and-prospects-for-peacebuilding/#.VjsjGfZFC1s
After my APN project, I have been privileged to serve the APN in a few other capacities that have helped expand my professional networks and deepen my expertise in African peacebuilding. Since 2013, I have been repeatedly invited to APN events in Africa, New York, and Wilton Park (near London) in the United Kingdom. On several occasions, I have also served as one of the facilitators in APN workshops, in addition to mentoring many successful grant recipients and fellows. Furthermore, between 2017 and 2020, I was privileged to serve as a member of APN’s International Advisory Board, a platform that gave me the opportunity to meet and interact with some of the brightest minds in African peacebuilding, development, and security studies, such as Professors Fantu Cheru, Gilbert Khadiagala, Ismail Rashid, Rita Abrahamsen, to mention but a few.
By courtesy of my membership of the APN’s extensive networks, I have edited two major readers to which many APN fellows and alumni contributed chapters, in addition to other publications. I have also been fortunate enough to write or edit the following books, chapter contributions, and articles in the past four years by leveraging my APN engagements and networks:
- Kenneth Omeje, “Reflections on How the Nigerian Government has Managed the Covid-19 Crisis”, Africa Security, Special Issue, 2021: “Covid-19, Peace and Security in Africa: Challenges and Opportunities”.
- Kenneth Omeje (ed.), The Governance, Security and Development Nexus: Africa Rising. New York: Palgrave Macmillan, 2020.
- Kenneth Omeje, “The Application of Qualitative Research Methodology to Peacebuilding Research in Africa,” in, Ismail Rashid and Amy Niang (eds.) Researching Peacebuilding in Africa: Reflections on Theory, Fieldwork and Context. London: Routledge, 2021, pp.90-110.
- Kenneth Omeje. (ed.), Peacebuilding in Contemporary Africa: In Search of Alternative Strategies. London: Routledge, 2019.
- Kenneth Omeje, “The Political Economy of Peacebuilding in Africa,” in Tony Karbo and Virk Kudrat (eds.), The Palgrave Handbook of Peacebuilding in Africa, New York: Palgrave Macmillan, 2018, pp.281-298.
Furthermore, I have partly leveraged the work I have done within the framework of the APN to secure other grants and fellowship awards, including the Georg Arnhold Visiting Professorial Fellowship in Sustainable Peace Education at the Georg Eckert Institute (GEI) in Braunschweig, Germany (Autumn 2014) and the CODESRIA Grant Supporting Doctoral Schools to Re-build Scholarly Infrastructures and Academic Communities in the Humanities in African Universities (2021-2023).
Finally, I wish to use this opportunity to commend the APN under the inspirational leadership of Dr. Cyril Obi for the outstanding works the program has initiated and organized in African peacebuilding and the extraordinary opportunities they have provided to many scholars on the continent to make contributions to peacebuilding scholarship and policy processes. Congratulations on the APN’s remarkable ten years anniversary.