I was very fortunate and privileged to have been among the early-career scholars to be awarded the Social Science Research Council’s African Peacebuilding Network (APN) Individual Research Grant (IRG) in 2018. It was the first time I had ever received a prestigious and competitive research award in the field of peace and conflict. I remember how excited I was when I learned of my selection. It was a turning point in my academic career. Receiving the award has changed the way I think about my research and intellectual capabilities. I have always wanted to write about the experiences of African women and children living in war-affected zones. The APN grant gave me an opportunity to travel to Rwanda to conduct research about the lived experiences of youth born as a consequence of conflict-related sexual violence (CRSV) which occurred in the 1994 genocide against the Tutsi. One of the things that I loved about participating in the program is connecting with other early-career scholars from various African countries and sharing ideas about our research interests. I also enjoyed being mentored by senior professors from world-class academic institutions. The research workshops that the APN organized were particularly helpful in preparing me for fieldwork. I was also privileged to have the APN support my research permit application in Rwanda.1Because my study involved participants who were born as a consequence of genocide rape and were therefore potentially living with childhood trauma, the process of obtaining a permit to undertake this research was quite lengthy. Without this support, along with the generous research award I received, it would not have been possible for me to conduct this research. To carry out my research project, I worked closely with the Survivors Fund (SURF)— an organization that helps genocide survivors in Rwanda rebuild their lives. SURF helped me to trace and interview 20 youths born out of rape during the genocide about their perceptions of individual and collective selfhood. I have shared some of the findings of this study on the Kujenga Amani digital platform.2Sela M. Musundi, “Understanding Selfhood among Young People Who Were Born out of Genocide Rape in Rwanda,” Kujenga Amani, March 8, 2019, https://kujenga-amani.ssrc.org/2019/03/08/understanding-selfhood-among-young-people-who-were-born-out-of-genocide-rape-in-rwanda/ I also have a research paper drawn from this study that is currently under peer review for publication.
During my fieldwork in Rwanda (which happened around the time of “Kwibuka”3‘Kwibuka’ means to remember in Kinyarwanda—when Rwandans commemorate the 1994 Genocide against the Tutsi), I got an opportunity to attend the “Ubumuntu Conversations” held at the Kigali Genocide Memorial Center. This was a very memorable event that was attended by people from all walks of life. We heard stories from various speakers who recounted their memories of the genocide. We also heard from government officials, academics, and world leaders who spoke about the different mechanisms that Rwanda has now put in place in order to prevent similar atrocities from occurring again in the future. Various actors also spoke about the role Rwanda is playing on the global stage to help prevent mass atrocities and genocide elsewhere in the world.4Sela M. Musundi, “How Rwanda is Teaching Peace Education Through Ubumuntu Conversations,” Kujenga Amani, August 14, 2018, https://kujenga-amani.ssrc.org/2018/08/14/how-rwanda-is-teaching-peace-education-through-ubumuntu-conversations/
Since completing my APN research project in Rwanda, I have remained very interested in exploring how war impacts women in Eastern Africa and the rest of the continent. I am glad that APN, through the Kujenga Amani platform, has enabled me to blog about the experiences of women in Ethiopia’s Tigray region who continue to be gravely impacted by the ongoing violent conflict in that region. In May 2021, months after the conflict in Tigray had begun, I contributed an essay to Kujenga Amani, titled “Genocidal Rape? The Tigray Conflict and Women’s Bodies as a Battleground,”5Sela Musundi, “Genocidal Rape? The Tigray Conflict and Women’s Bodies as a Battleground,” Kujenga Amani, May 26, 2021, https://kujenga-amani.ssrc.org/2021/05/26/genocidal-rape-the-tigray-conflict-and-womens-bodies-as-a-battleground/in which I explored how sexual violence was being used by parties to the conflict as a weapon of war against Tigrayan women and raised the question of whether these acts of violence amount to genocide. After writing this piece, I began to think more broadly about the nuances of war. I asked myself, “What other stories can we tell about women in war zones?” As the Tigray conflict unfolded and I learned more about what was happening to women there, I realized that there was more to explore about these women’s lived experiences beyond sexual violence. One of the issues that caught my attention was that even in the face of war, these women were still providing care to children. That made me wonder what it is like for women to carry such a responsibility in the face of violent conflict. In August 2021, I contributed another blog post to Kujenga Amani, titled, “The Challenge of Mothering in the Context of Violent Conflict: How War is Impacting Women in Tigray, Ethiopia,”6See Sela M. Musundi, “The Challenge of Mothering in the Context of Violent Conflict: How War Is Impacting Women in Tigray, Ethiopia,” Kujenga Amani, August 11, 2021. in which I recounted how exposure to war was affecting the wellbeing of women and children in Tigray and also predisposing women to psychosocial issues, further complicating their capacity to care for children. I would like to build on the ideas in this essay to conduct in-depth qualitative empirical research on war and motherhood in Eastern Africa, given that there is a lot to uncover on this topic.
I am also curious about the methodologies that early-career scholars can deploy to research about women and children living in contexts experiencing active conflict in the era of Covid-19. I began to blog about the Tigray conflict because I was very interested in conveying to the world the story of what Tigrayan women and children were undergoing. Blogging allowed me to communicate to a wider audience outside my academic circles and to form new networks with individuals who share an interest in peace and conflict issues.
Through APN, I have been able to forge social networks with researchers at various institutions including the Simon-Skjodt Center for the Prevention of Genocide at the US Holocaust Memorial Museum, the Geneva Graduate Institute, the International Studies Association (Global South Caucus), Babcock University (Nigeria), and many others. These connections have been a critical avenue through which to share ideas, information, and resources with fellow scholars. I have also had the opportunity to attend virtual meetings and roundtables on armed conflict in sub-Saharan Africa with scholars that I met through these networks. For example, in November 2021, I attended a round table on “Ending Conflict and Violations of Women’s Rights in the Ethiopia-Tigray War” organized by the International Studies Association (ISA) Global South Caucus. This event brought together scholars from across the continent to interrogate the Tigray conflict and its impact on women and girls and offer recommendations on the mechanisms that could help resolve the conflict. I am confident now more than ever that there is so much we can do on the African continent to bring about peace and reconciliation and prevent future mass atrocities. I hope that in the next decade, more opportunities will be made available through the APN Program for early-career African scholars on the continent to receive training in the area of grant writing and research so that they can be well-equipped to apply for grants and conduct pertinent research that will help inform policymakers, civil society, and other key actors on how to end violent conflict on the continent.
- 1Because my study involved participants who were born as a consequence of genocide rape and were therefore potentially living with childhood trauma, the process of obtaining a permit to undertake this research was quite lengthy.
- 2Sela M. Musundi, “Understanding Selfhood among Young People Who Were Born out of Genocide Rape in Rwanda,” Kujenga Amani, March 8, 2019, https://kujenga-amani.ssrc.org/2019/03/08/understanding-selfhood-among-young-people-who-were-born-out-of-genocide-rape-in-rwanda/
- 3‘Kwibuka’ means to remember in Kinyarwanda
- 4Sela M. Musundi, “How Rwanda is Teaching Peace Education Through Ubumuntu Conversations,” Kujenga Amani, August 14, 2018, https://kujenga-amani.ssrc.org/2018/08/14/how-rwanda-is-teaching-peace-education-through-ubumuntu-conversations/
- 5Sela Musundi, “Genocidal Rape? The Tigray Conflict and Women’s Bodies as a Battleground,” Kujenga Amani, May 26, 2021, https://kujenga-amani.ssrc.org/2021/05/26/genocidal-rape-the-tigray-conflict-and-womens-bodies-as-a-battleground/
- 6See Sela M. Musundi, “The Challenge of Mothering in the Context of Violent Conflict: How War Is Impacting Women in Tigray, Ethiopia,” Kujenga Amani, August 11, 2021.