I received the African Peacebuilding Network’s (APN) Individual Research Grant (IRG) in 2016. The decision to apply for the grant stemmed from my long search for research support and mentoring opportunities aimed at academics in the Global South. My persistent search for research grants led me to the APN in 2015. By then, Prof. Cyril Obi, the Program Director of the APN, was making frantic efforts to reach, train, and include young academics in the Mano River Union (MRU) area, West Africa’s conflict-affected sub-region in the activities of the APN. I was invited to a regional APN grant proposal writing workshop in Accra, Ghana, a workshop that eventually succeeded in helping me put forward a strong proposal for the 2016 APN grant competition. For several years, I had wanted to conduct studies on Guinea, given the fact that there are limited studies in English on Guinea, and there is so much to learn from the country. As such, with the opportunity provided by the APN, my application focused on Guinea. Luckily, I succeeded in winning the grant and commenced a long and amazing journey with the APN.
The APN grant opened the door to professional growth and new experiences as an African scholar. These included participating in two APN training workshops on research methods, writing, and dissemination, a research grant of $15, 000 to conduct field-based research within six months, and mentorship by a senior and very experienced academic, Ismail Rashid, a professor of African history at Vassar College, New York, United States of America. Empowered with APN funding, participation in the APN research methods workshop, and excellent mentorship, I embarked on my research project between June and December 2016. I traveled across Guinea conducting fieldwork, engaging different demographics on contextual issues, their personal experiences, and the rich history and culture of the country.
Through the APN, I became a member of a network of African scholars and practitioners researching and working in the field of African peacebuilding. Becoming a part of the APN family contributed immensely to changing my academic trajectory. Prior to receiving the grant, most of the projects I had participated in were uneven collaborations with researchers from the Global North. I had very limited say in the planning, design, and budgeting of the projects, which made me feel more like an “appendage,” merely included for the fulfillment of a funding requirement. That perception undermined my ability to take ownership of the projects and outputs we collectively produced. Nonetheless, as a young academic in Sierra Leone with limited access to resources and publishing opportunities, I had no option but to collaborate with those researchers. I knew the way out was to secure grants that were genuinely targeted toward enhancing the capacity of African academics, connecting them to scholarly networks within and outside Africa, and providing information on how to publish their research findings in reputable journals and books.
My mentor Prof. Rashid has been one of the most kind-hearted, patient, and supportive people I have ever come to know. He walked the entire research journey with me, and at every stage, his rich knowledge and experience helped me to shape and strengthen my work. With his guidance, I was eventually able to publish two papers from the fieldwork data collected in Guinea. These were as follows:
- “Young People and the Search for Inclusion and Political Participation in Guinea,” African Conflict and Peacebuilding Review 8, 2018, no. 1, 54–72.
- “Resisting War: Guinean Youth and Civil Wars in the Mano River Basin,” Journal of Peacebuilding and Development, Vol. 14 (1), 2019, 36-48.
The publication of these two articles based on my APN-supported research was a great boost for me. I fulfilled one of my lifelong dreams of wanting to bring to the fore pertinent issues related to young people and their everyday struggles in a conflict-affected gerontocratic and patriarchal society. My APN-supported work on Guinea inspired me to embark on conducting studies on young people in other parts of Africa, as I was initially largely focused on Sierra Leone.
Since becoming a part of the APN family, I have been supported to participate in conferences and workshops which further widened my networks and provided the opportunity to share my research findings and experiences with scholars from other parts of the world. Additionally, the APN regularly shares calls for papers and applications for research fellowships, scholarships, and grants on a weekly basis, while also providing access to other kinds of information for those within its network.
In the last five years, I have developed an exceptionally good working relationship and collaborated with a wide range of peers and senior academics within the APN’s network of scholars and practitioners. For instance, I recently collaborated with Prof. Temitope Oriola, of the Department of Sociology, University of Alberta, Canada, and another colleague, Dr. Henry Mbawa of the Justice Sector Coordination Office, Ministry of Justice, Sierra Leone, in co-authoring an article titled “Corruption, Underdevelopment and the Complicity of the Masses in Africa.” The article will be published in July 2022 in the Brazilian Journal of African Studies (BJAS). Similarly, in early 2021, with the encouragement of Prof. Cyril Obi, I brought together five former APN grantees to contribute, alongside other academics, to a book project on Youth-Led Social Movements and Peacebuilding in Africa that will be published on May 24, 2022, by Routledge. The success of the book project is partly owed to the contribution in the form of the support provided by more than ten senior academics within the APN network in peer-reviewing the respective chapters of the edited book volume. The concrete demonstration of support and commitment to the project enhanced the quality of the edited volume.
The support and encouragement I received as the editor of the volume contributed to its successful completion. I am currently working on another edited volume, with some of the contributors also being former APN grantees. The volume is tentatively titled, New Perspectives on Disarmament, Demobilization and Reintegration of Ex-Combatants in Africa, and it will be published by Routledge later this summer. Senior scholars within the APN family have already committed to providing the same kind of support they had earlier provided during the preparation of the manuscript of the volume on “Youth-Led Social Movements in Africa.”
What is incredibly brilliant about the APN is that it is a global community of African peacebuilding scholars that fills a critical gap that had existed for decades. The community enhances one’s ability to grow, connect with others, and effectively contribute to the production and distribution of knowledge on African peacebuilding, and other related fields. The network also encourages former grantees to mentor and build the capacity of younger academics, within and outside the APN. The aim is to strengthen interdisciplinary research, scholarship, and policy-relevant engagements in Africa.
The courage, strength, persistence, and absolute commitment of the APN team and its leadership have succeeded in touching and transforming the lives of a vast number of African scholars on the continent. What the APN has achieved within a decade is truly remarkable and if the program remains on the same track, I am hopeful that the next decade will hold a greater promise.