The African Peacebuilding Network (APN) has made a significant impact on my academic career. If I have to pick one lesson from the APN Training Workshops that I attended as part of the APN grant I received in 2017, it is Prof. Thomas Tieku’s insistence on the absolute necessity of making our scholarly research and works intentionally African. I remember that, although I shared similar interests with some of my peers in the 2017 fellowship cohort and we were reading and debating similar materials and issues, we were not aware of each other’s works. We did not give enough weight to intentionally searching for debates underpinning African perspectives in African scholarship and publications. We also did not intentionally reflect on and relate to literature produced by African scholars. We were functioning as if the academia and the publication scene were unbiased and we overlooked or ignored how African voices were marginalized or excluded from mainstream publications by the politics of knowledge production. Since then, I have prioritized African voices from below and made African values and ways of thinking central to my scholarly works, teaching curriculum, and policy engagements. Before encountering the APN, I was arguably sharpening my mimicry skills. However, the APN experience changed my mindset and perspective on scholarship. Rather than learning how to research or write about Africa, I learned to be more reflexive, sharpen my scholarly skills, and center African values and perspectives. Centering is not the exclusion of knowledge coming from non-African epistemes.
More than anything, the APN empowered me to more clearly grasp the politics of peacebuilding knowledge production and recognize the importance of primarily learning from the African Archives. Moreover, I now pay much greater attention to learning from organic exchanges and the construction (or deterioration) of relations between communities on the ground. I now see Africa as it is, not as it should be based on parameters borrowed from elsewhere. As such, learning from the APN experience transformed my ontological and epistemological positions in conducting research. This will be crucial to the consolidation of the research agenda of African peacebuilding in the future, as well as decolonizing African studies more broadly.
A second impact of the APN experience on my career came in the form of generous funding for fieldwork after the completion of my PhD. In Ethiopia (and other African countries as well), researchers function under a severely constrained academic landscape as a fallout of decades of defunding and under-funding. The 2017 APN Individual Research Grant (IRG) enabled me to conduct extensive fieldwork on my research project, after which I was able to write articles and book chapters based on my research findings. The 2019 APN Book Manuscript Completion (BMC) Grant enabled me to co-edit a book published by Hurst and Oxford University Press (OUP), Youth on the Move: View from Below on Ethiopian International Migration, which was received well and was reviewed by Foreign Affairs and other publications.
Third, the training workshops (two APN methodology workshops and one workshop in collaboration with NexGen Scholars) and my participation in the joint APN-Next Gen panel at the 2019 African Studies Association (ASA) annual conference held in Toronto, Canada created the opportunity for networking with fellows from other African countries. These opportunities helped sow the seeds for building productive connections and networking. It is interesting and noteworthy to add that I had the pleasure of meeting, engaging, and exchanging ideas with other APN and Next Gen fellows and alumni in other international conferences as well as virtual events.
I have also intentionally designed graduate courses—entitled “Research Methods” and “Peacebuilding and Development”—that I teach at the Institute for Peace and Security Studies (IPSS), Addis Ababa University, Ethiopia, drawing on the mentoring and insights from APN workshops. Most importantly, I make the centering of studies and research projects on Ethiopian and African values an important part of my academic work. This has placed me in a better position to contribute toward nurturing the next generation of African peace and conflict scholars and practitioners. As such, the impact of the APN has not been limited to me as an individual but has also spread from me to my students through lectures, supervision of research dissertations, and policy engagements.
Looking Ahead to the Next Decade
Looking forward to APN’s second decade, I hope the APN can extend its scope and reach across the continent. The 190 African scholars trained and supported by the APN in the past decade are only a small fraction of deserving early and mid-career researchers and practitioners in the continent. Doubling or even tripling the number of fellowships awarded annually over the next decade will be a worthwhile investment by itself. My suggestion in this regard is for the program to mobilize resources, including the collective powers of former APN fellows to this end. Despite the APN’s efforts to continue to engage as many fellows as possible, my sense is that there is still room to develop collaborative efforts between former and current fellows to help consolidate them into a community of collectively engaged Africa-based scholars (be it at national, regional, or continental levels). Collective action, primarily led by such a community, will be an important force to add momentum toward the change we all want to see.
Collective thinking and articulation about African peacebuilding require an expanded knowledge infrastructure that we can all contribute towards building and benefiting from. In the past decade, the APN has been targeting the top African researchers. While this is useful, it will have to be built upon to increase the quality of education and research on African peacebuilding in the continent as a whole. Attempts to augment the knowledge infrastructures of each country and the continent—say by creating and supporting a national network/chapter of APN fellows in each country and by expanding APN publications to include a peer-reviewed academic journal and book series in collaboration with an African University Press/Publisher, with open/cheaper access to African scholars. Moreover, given the increasing utilization of virtual platforms over the past two years, it will be worthwhile if the APN considers creating a platform or forum for current and past fellows to meet and share their research, experiences, and publications. Such interactions and engagements will keep the ball in motion and push us as a community of knowledge and practice to be more proactive. Moreover, such engagements will create the platform for more conceptual and theoretical debates on African peacebuilding and set the research agenda for the future.