I discovered the African Peacebuilding Network’s (APN) individual research fellowship through the network of the Social Science Research Council’s (SSRC) Next Generation Social Sciences in Africa (Next Gen) of which I have twice been a fellow. I applied to the APN in 2019 with the aim of exploring questions that had arisen during my doctoral journey but were outside that remit. Little did I know how deeply and broadly the fellowship would affect and transform my entire career, a fact I am only realizing as I write this reflection.

To put this essay in context, I should state that I do not identify as a “pure” academic, but as a pracademic; i.e., one who straddles academia and policy, and aims to ensure symbiosis between both aspects of my work. My life as a civil society practitioner includes building capacity in security sector reform and governance, gender, and the implementation of the Women, Peace and Security Agenda. I also conduct policy research on issues of interest. In 2021, for example, I wrote a commissioned report on, The Impact of Covid-19 on gender equality and women’s equality,1Titilope Ajayi, Impact of COVID-19 on Gender Equality, Women’s Empowerment and the Rise of New Opportunities Through Business and Innovation: An Analytical Report, Vol. 1, Accra: Africa Skills Hub (AHA), 2021, https://africaskillshub.com/sites/default/files/2021-10/impact%20of%20covid%20FINAL.pdf  in rural Ghana, using case studies of the Volta and Northern regions.

Arguably the most visible impact of the APN experience is the level of research outputs of its beneficiaries. Through my fieldwork on women and the violent conflict in northeast Nigeria, I published my first journal article titled, “Women, Internal Displacement and the Boko Haram Conflict: Broadening the Debate” in March 2020.2Titilope Ajayi, “Women, Internal Displacement and the Boko Haram Conflict: Broadening the Debate,” African Security, Vol. 13, Issue 2, 2020: 171-194. It is one of several outcomes of my APN-supported research on the broader theme of how women have experienced and responded to the Boko Haram conflict. I found out about the journal from its co-editor, Prof. Temitope Oriola, one of many dedicated mentors on both the APN and Next Gen programs and a scholar who shares my interest in women and conflict.

The APN extended an opportunity to share my article during an advocacy visit to Washington DC on March 5 and 6, 2020, incidentally a few weeks after its publication. On the first day, I presented my work at a joint SSRC African Peacebuilding Network-Search for Common Ground Policy Dialogue on “Rethinking Approaches to Chronic Crisis in Africa: American and African Perspectives.” I had the privilege of participating in an all-female panel comprised of APN fellows, Dr. Christelle Amina Djoulde and Dr. Pamela Chepngetich, who are doing important research concerning women in Cameroon and Kenya. Our various research-based presentations were synthesized into a policy report,3Nicolas Wicaksono, Titilope Ajayi, Dr. Christelle Djoulde and Dr. Pamela Chepngetich, Search for Common Ground and African Peacebuilding Network, 2020: https://www.sfcg.org/wp-content/uploads/2021/01/Rethinking_Chronic_Crises_in_Africa_Gaps_and_Opportunities.pdf  jointly published by SFCG and APN in January 2021.

We each spent the second day of the visit holding consultations with policymakers and practitioners in Washington DC. We participated in a breakfast meeting with a cross-section of civil society actors and afterward visited officials and practitioners working on Africa-related issues in the State Department and a US Congress sub-committee support team. In my reflection on the visit, I wrote about the rich learning, networking, and visibility it afforded me, my colleagues, and our APN-supported work, and how much I appreciated the opportunity.4Titilope Ajayi, “Reflection on the Washington, DC Advocacy Trip,” March 5—6, 2020, Kujenga Amani, May 6, 2020, https://kujenga-amani.ssrc.org/2020/05/06/reflections-on-the-washington-dc-advocacy-trip-march-5-6-2020/ As testament to this visibility, in March 2021, The Conversation Africa invited me to share a summary of my article entitled, “Nigeria must rethink responses to women displaced by Boko Haram.”5Titilope Ajayi, “Nigeria must rethink responses to women displaced by Boko Haram,” The Conversation, February 2, 2021, https://theconversation.com/nigeria-must-rethink-responses-to-women-displaced-by-boko-haram-150798

Courtesy of the APN, during my fieldwork for the fellowship in September 2018, I shared my work, “Death by Migration: Lessons from the Drowning Deaths of 26 Young ‘Nigerian’ Women Migrants” at the High-Level Policy Dialogue jointly organized by the APN, the Nordic Africa Institute (NAI), and the African Institute for Peacebuilding and Conflict Transformation (AIPECT) on “Migration Peace and Security in North Africa and the Sahel” in Marrakech, Morocco. Engaging in that space with the work of diverse academic and policy actors, including Phinith Chanthalansy of UNESCO’s Maghreb Office and Mustapha Elkhalfi, Morocco’s Minister Delegate for Relations with Parliament and Civil Society, greatly enriched my thinking about the connections between security threats and responses and how academic and policy knowledge can be fused toward effective multi-actor responses.

More recently, again by virtue of my APN-supported work and knowledge outputs, I was invited to speak at a panel themed “The future of peace in Nigeria” as part of a high level virtual conference on “Conflict and Peacebuilding in Northern Nigeria” on May 26 and 27, 2021.6Report on Conflict and Peacebuilding in Nigeria, May 26-27, 2021, Wilton Park: https://www.wiltonpark.org.uk/wp-content/uploads/2021/05/WP1761V1-Report.pdf Jointly organized by the APN, the African Leadership Centre, and Wilton Park, the event was part of a series on peacebuilding that brought together different generations of peace actors—practitioners, scholars, and activists—to discuss how to improve synergy and inclusion in peacebuilding in northern Nigeria.

Prior to my APN experience, I often had trouble deciding what to research and write about. The fellowship helped me validate my interests, situate my work, and better identify debates and bodies of knowledge where I could make critical contributions. The APN program also helped me understand that I have a voice and that my perspectives as shaped by my positionality matter. The APN’s blog, Kujenga Amani, has been an important part of this journey and features several pieces I wrote for broader than academic audiences. Each essay is important to me, but I will highlight the special issue I guest-edited in April 2021: “Looking Back to Look Forward: Lessons Learnt from the Trump Administration and Prospects for Peacebuilding in Africa.”7Titilope Ajayi, (ed.), “Looking Back to look Forward: Lessons learnt from the Trump Administration and Prospects for Peacebuilding in Africa,” Kujenga Amani, April 21, 2021, https://kujenga-amani.ssrc.org/category/special-issues/looking-back-to-look-forward-lessons-learnt-from-the-trump-administration-and-prospects-for-peacebuilding-in-africa/  With support from the APN team, I edited essays by my NextGen and APN colleagues, Dr. Margaret Monyani,8Margaret Monyani, “Implications of Trump’s Immigration and Asylum on Africa to US Migration,” Kujenga Amani, April 21, 2021, https://kujenga-amani.ssrc.org/2021/04/21/implications-of-trumps-immigration-and-asylum-system-on-africa-to-us-migration/ Dr. Erick Sourna Loumtouang,9Erick Sourna Loumtouang, “The Challenges of American Foreign Policy in the African Sahel: An Overview,” Kujenga Amani, April 21, 2021, https://kujenga-amani.ssrc.org/2021/04/21/the-challenges-of-american-foreign-policy-in-the-african-sahel-an-overview/ Dr. Ndubuisi Christian Ani,10Ndubuisi Christian Ani, “Resetting US-Africa Partnership for Peace After Trump,” Kujenga Amani, April 21, 2021, https://kujenga-amani.ssrc.org/2021/04/21/resetting-us-africa-partnership-for-peace-after-trump/ and Dr. Mohammed Dejen.11Mohammed Dejen, “Sponsoring Sufism as a framework for Countering Violent Extremism in the Horn of Africa: The Ethiopian-US Alliance,” Kujenga Amani, April 21, 2021, https://kujenga-amani.ssrc.org/2021/04/21/sponsoring-sufism-as-a-framework-for-countering-violent-extremism-in-the-horn-of-africa-the-ethiopia-us-alliance/ I also authored a piece on, “Women, Peace and Security in Africa during the Trump Years.”12Titilope Ajayi, “Women, Peace and Security during the Trump Years,” Kujenga Amani, April 21, 2021, https://kujenga-amani.ssrc.org/2021/04/21/women-peace-and-security-in-africa-during-the-trump-years/

Networking and mentoring are key ingredients that make the APN space special. I will always be grateful to Professor Cyril Obi, Program Director, and Professor Ismail Rashid, former Chair of the APN Advisory and Selection Board, who held my hand, shaped my work, and provided encouragement at critical points during my fellowship. The person I am today and person I will become are a testament to their mentorship and that of other mentors, including Dr. Yolande Bouka, Professor Sarah Ssali, and Professor Rita Abrahamsen. From the latter three, I gained additional knowledge that is often not publicly available or prioritized by the academy on how women with families can have successful public careers.

As I end this reflection, I ask myself: why has the APN had this impact on us all? What sets the program apart? I conclude that it is a blend of factors, chief of which is its focus on Africa and the prioritization of emerging voices. Kujenga Amani is an important part of this project to foreground the rich breadth of grounded work by young scholars from across the continent. I also note the strong ethics of critical thinking and innovation that are engrained in all fellows, especially around the position and power of Africa in a rapidly evolving global peace and security context; the commitment of respected African scholar-mentors who are leaders in their respective fields; and the provision of safe and nurturing spaces to network with people from varied contexts, disciplines, and professional backgrounds.

Ultimately though, at least for me, the APN imparted a sense of responsibility to use my professional capital, my PhD, and the privilege of the spaces they afford me access to speak out on matters of significance to Africa and use my voice to bring critical, but constructive perspectives.

On this tenth anniversary, I celebrate the APN, its leadership and program staff, and everyone who has made it such a tour de force for so many. To protect this legacy, over the next ten years, it behooves all APN fellows, alumni, and members of the APN community to continue supporting this initiative in our various capacities toward making African peacebuilding scholarship and practice more visible and more central in resolving Africa’s security challenges. Here is to many more years of transformative change in the lives of African scholars and the landscapes we inhabit.