In 2014, one of my colleagues at the Makerere Institute of Social Research (MISR), Stella Nyanzi, walked to my office and drew my attention to the APN’s Call for Individual Research Grants in the field of African peacebuilding. Stella, who had won the same grant the previous year, encouraged me to respond to the Call. On taking a closer look at the required information in the Call for Proposals (CfP), I was struck by the statement: “Proposals should also discuss the likely relevance of the research findings to existing knowledge on peacebuilding (both its practice and policy).” My immediate response was that I would not apply because I was neither knowledgeable in the field of peacebuilding nor keen on policy research. At that time, Research Fellows who taught in the MISR PhD program (and I was one of them) were encouraged to focus on academic research and knowledge production. There was a sort of institutional disregard for consultancy and policy-related research. Working in such an environment and as a historian of 20th century Uganda, I thought of myself as a researcher who would only focus on the past. In my naivety, I thought I had nothing to contribute to contemporary and policy-related issues. Nonetheless, I applied for the grant and I was successful.
Winning the APN grant in 2015 marked a key moment in my career as it opened new opportunities. My APN project focused on land conflicts in the Bulambuli district in eastern Uganda and this was a new research area for me. The project exposed me to new scholarship and a wide network of academics who I interacted with during the two APN-organized workshops in Gaborone, Botswana, and Addis Ababa, Ethiopia. In addition, I attended two conferences, one at the French Institute for Research in Africa (IFRA) in Nairobi and the other at Cambridge University, namely the African Studies Association United Kingdom (ASAUK) 2016 annual meeting. At both conferences, I shared my work in progress on the land conflicts in Bulambuli and received critical feedback from different scholars.
Aside from funding my project, the APN invited me and facilitated my travel to Addis Ababa in April 2016 to participate in a discussion with policymakers and practitioners on the Ebola Virus Disease (EVD). Organized by the APN program in collaboration with the African Union (AU), the event was held at AU headquarters and I participated in the round table on “Governance issues in multi-stakeholder responses to the Ebola Virus Disease in West Africa.” My role on this panel was to share Uganda’s experience in handling cases of EVD. This was rather unfamiliar territory for me. I had to research, read, and consult with some senior medics and researchers in Uganda on the topic. My presentation at Addis Ababa was very well-received. It was indeed a great honor and experience for me to reflect and speak on this topic to a remarkably diverse audience that consisted of academics, ministers, and policymakers, among many others from various parts of Africa.
When I returned from the policy roundtable, I thought all was done, but I was wrong. A few days after the meeting, Prof. Cyril Obi invited me to develop my presentation into a short article. I took up the idea and wrote a short piece, “If I die let me be the last: Reflecting on Dr. Lukwiya and Uganda’s efforts against Ebola.” This was published in Kujenga Amani and it can be accessed here. The article gave me great visibility. It was posted on the MISR website, and I received a lot of positive feedback.
Over the years, the APN team has continued to appreciate my work and efforts in diverse ways. In 2018, they invited and facilitated my travel to the African Studies Association (ASA) annual meeting in Atlanta, Georgia, USA where I was tasked with discussing papers at the APN-sponsored panel. The panel consisted of former recipients of the APN grant whose papers largely focused on farmer-herder conflicts and explored possibilities of building peace. Engaging with the presenters and listening to feedback from the audience opened my eyes to new possibilities. After the conference, Prof. Cyril Obi reached out to all of us who had been on that panel to develop the papers for publication. Together with Mary Setrana, Patience Adzande, and Fekadu Adugna Tufa, we developed our essays for a special issue in the highly-ranked international peer-reviewed journal, African Studies Review (forthcoming 2022). Without the APN’s support and encouragement, I doubt that I would have pushed this far in my career.
My article in the forthcoming African Studies Review Special Issue is an outcome of my APN-supported project. The success of this project further inspired me to reflect on and historicize other contemporary societal issues. For instance, when landslides occurred in the Bukalasi village, located in the Bududa district of eastern Uganda, in October 2018, I was surprised to find that sections of the Ugandan public blamed the survivors for what had befallen them. Whereas the government of Uganda, aid agencies, and many institutions and individuals responded to the calamity by providing emergency aid, some members of the public blamed the survivors for refusing to relocate to safe areas that had been procured by the government for resettling people living in high-risk areas following previous landslides in 2010. I wanted to find out why survivors of the 2010 landslides had declined to relocate and resettle in presumably safe places but I did not have the resources. An opportunity came in 2019 when the College of Humanities and Social Sciences at Makerere University called for proposals for a Competitive Mentorship-Oriented Research Grant funded by the Andrew W. Mellon Foundation of New York. My application to interrogate the controversy over relocation and resettlement by landslide survivors was successful. This project has enabled me to investigate the history of water management in Bududa over the course of the 20th century and my essay is currently under review for publication. Additionally, the research has revealed the ways in which the occurrence and government handling of landslides in Bududa intersects with and engenders land conflicts in Bulambuli. There are critical governance issues underlying the management of both landslides and land conflicts.
Moreover, while at the ASA meeting in Atlanta, I was also privileged to speak at a roundtable on “Evidence, Narration, and Innovation in the work of Luise White.” Professor White is a renowned historian who has worked on the history of East Africa and whose work broke new grounds and made a significant contribution to Africanist historical methodology. I had come across Professor White’s work during my graduate studies at Northwestern University in Evanston and also used it to teach the MA History class at Makerere University, but I had not met her in person. It was a very humbling experience for me to join Africanist historians and have a conversation with Professor White in 2018. Earlier in 2018, Professor Gregory Mann from Columbia University extended an invitation to me to participate in the roundtable to celebrate Professor White’s work. I was excited at the idea, but I had no prospects of attending the 61st ASA meeting because I did not have funds for travel. About a month later, APN surprised me with an invitation and generous financial support for both travel and subsistence.
The APN opened up opportunities for me to meet and network with different scholars who work on Africa. Each forum has come along with different opportunities. Most recently, in February, we had yet another conference at the Uganda Christian University (UCU) in Uganda. This brought together several recipients of the APN and Social Science Research Council (SSRC) Next Generation fellowship awards to reflect on their projects. It was very refreshing for me to meet up with different Ugandan scholars including some of my students and former students. The discussions were very vibrant and provocative. The knowledge that I acquired from the different APN organized fora continues to inform my own work and mentoring skills. For instance, Professor Kasaija Apuuli’s keynote address on security at the UCU conference spoke directly to both my project on landslides and land conflicts as well as my student’s (Jacqueline Namukasa) PhD project on the Migingo Island controversy.
APN has supported multiple research projects and created a large network of African scholars and practitioners in the critical area of peacebuilding. In the next ten years, I envisage that the number of such scholars and practitioners will have doubled and their work will become more visible and will inform and shape African peacebuilding policy and practice. However, such projects will have more impact if the researchers can be in conversations with the public and policymakers. Providing such a space is one way of ensuring that the scholars do not only speak among themselves but also engage those who design, make, and implement policies and others that are affected by such policies.
Reviewing applications and manuscripts for APN has exposed me to different research projects that colleagues in the region work on. I am proud to be part of the APN network and I would like to continue participating in APN-supported activities aimed at strengthening the network. Perhaps we can dream of establishing an APN Uganda or Eastern Africa chapter that will bring together APN alumni to reflect on critical issues in the region.
The APN has lifted me up and taken me to places and contributed immensely to my professional growth as a scholar.