“At the end of this program, you will never remain the same again,” this statement by Cyril Obi, director of the African Peacebuilding Network (APN) program, in his closing remarks at end of the first APN-Next Gen joint virtual research methods training workshop organized for the fellows of the 2020 cohort has always resonated in my mind.

I was both happy and anxious when I received an email from the Social Science Research Council (SSRC) in May 2020, informing me that I had been awarded an individual research fellowship by the APN program. I was happy because it offered me the opportunity to receive funding for a research project that I had developed during the writing of my PhD dissertation, which focused on issues of defense and security across the Cameroon-Nigeria border. The award was a boon for me as a young researcher as it enabled me to carry out intensive fieldwork in a context where research funding is very scarce. The prestige of being an APN fellow also meant that I was now part of a network of scholars after going through a highly competitive selection process. It was an opportunity to launch my academic career and produce research that was both locally and internationally visible. My project sought to critically examine the consequences of the war against Boko Haram in the far north of Cameroon. By putting into perspective the notions of power and domination, the study focused on mobilities and the relationship of violence to the human body.

I am from the French-speaking part of Cameroon and, though the country is officially bilingual, I had done most of my academic learning, research, and writing in French.  In this regard, the APN provided me with an opportunity from a linguistic point of view to engage in scholarly writing in English and also expand my audience and networks. This was an incredible opportunity to be completely immersed in a universe that was different from mine.

However, the outbreak of the Covid-19 pandemic at the time of the award presented me with a dilemma that also initially created some concern. In a global context marked by the Covid-19 pandemic, I was a bit confused about how I could engage in research in the face of restrictions on the movement of persons. However, my initial concern eased as the pandemic made us as researchers rethink our methods, tools, and strategies for engaging in the field. I had to think carefully about the feasibility of the project and conducting research while staying alive without also putting the lives of respondents at risk.

My concerns were also informed by the realization that my initial expectation that the fellowship activities would be held on a face-to-face basis and provide the opportunity to travel, meet people, and make new acquaintances, would not materialize because of the pandemic.

However, by the end of the first virtual APN-Next Gen training workshop, all my concerns were dispelled. Even though the other laureates of the cohort and I had not left our respective countries, the experience of the virtual research methods workshop was unprecedented and enriching. The program put together excellent logistical arrangements to enable us to participate in the virtual workshop. I would like to thank the APN program director, Cyril Obi, and the program assistants at the time, Jennifer Sherys-Rivet and Natalie Bernstein, who gave clear guidelines and were always available to address the concerns of the fellows.

The APN strongly encouraged fellows to exchange views and also acquire knowledge that would enable them to improve their projects and ensure good data collection, analysis, and interpretation. Our mentors, being highly experienced senior researchers, provided advice on how to address challenges in the field during data collection in times of health crisis and violence.  We were also exposed to the ethical considerations of engaging in social research.

For the first time, I experienced a workshop situation where the questions and shortcomings of the laureates’ research proposals and research designs were dealt with individually as well as within small closely-knit groups. Space was also provided for each laureate to work under the supervision of an experienced mentor on a one-on-one basis. It was the first time I felt that I was being paid attention to and had someone to listen carefully to and address my concerns.  The APN mentors were clearly dedicated to helping me progress in my scholarship.  I would like to thank all the mentors of the 2020 APN cohort and, more specifically, Professors Kenneth Omeje, Temitope Oriola, and Amy Niang for their commitment and support. During these intensive workshop group sessions, I refined and improved my methodological and theoretical skills to make them effective and guarantee better results.

Outside the workshop, I benefitted from the availability of mentors and other members of the fellowship cohort by sharing my manuscripts with them and receiving their constructive feedback and suggestions. APN transformed my scholarship. It empowers fellows to intellectually push themselves, and produce innovative knowledge that challenges established wisdom. The program supports you to be ambitious and realize your full potential.  Its vast network puts you at the heart of the world of research by giving you unprecedented opportunities to participate in conferences and publish your work in high-quality scholarly journals. Being on the program’s mailing list gives you access to lots of information on opportunities to participate in other programs, conferences, and publications in the field of peace and security.

The APN also pays a great deal of attention to early and mid-career researchers regarding the dissemination of their research results. Mentors also work with fellows during the writing and dissemination workshop on strategies for engaging diverse audiences by disseminating research results including scholarly writing and publishing.  Being a part of the APN community has instilled in me a strong desire for scholarly excellence and I consider this one of the hallmarks of APN’s successes.  I see the APN program in the future as an essential platform and framework for building a policy-engaged scholarly community that is focused on addressing emerging crises in Africa.

Since 2020, the quality and number of my publications have increased, and my scholarly work has become more visible.  I have also applied the experience from APN training to winning other academic awards. For example, I successfully became a laureate of the Institute on Democratic Governance of CODESRIA.1https://codesria.org/spip.php?article2997&lang=fr My interviews have also been published in international magazines such as Jeune Afrique2https://www.jeuneafrique.com/1191566/societe/guerre-lafrique-premier-continent-ou-un-drone-a-abattu-une-cible-humaine-de-facon-autonome/and Africa Report,3https://www.theafricareport.com/105600/libya-a-human-target-is-shot-down-for-the-first-time-by-a-drone/ as well as APN’s blog, Kujenga Amani.4https://kujenga-amani.ssrc.org/2021/09/10/an-interview-with-erick-sourna/ I have also participated in several international conferences on peace and security issues,5https://zasb.unibas.ch/en/news/details-492/call-for-applications-challenging-conflict-research-in-africa/ and published several articles.6Erick Sourna Loumtouang, 2022, “Régimes d’historicité et perception de l’altérité non peule au Nord-Cameroun entre le XIXe et le XXe siècle,” In François-Xavier Fauvelle et Clementine Gutron, Passés antérieurs. A travers les strates de l’histoire en Afrique, Paris, Editions Petra, https://www.editionspetra.fr/livres/passes-anterieurs-travers-les-strates-de-lhistoire-en-afrique; Sourna Loumtouang, 2021, “Frontières, sécurité et souveraineté en Afrique postocloniale,” in Parfait Akana, Réflexivités africaines, Yaoundé, Muntu Institute Press –Jimsaan, https://www.africanbookscollective.com/books/reflexivites-africaines; Erick Sourna Loumtouang, 2022, “Frontières et artificialité: retour sur un mythe et ses implications sur le développement au Cameroun (1960-2010),” Canadian Journal of History, Volume 57; Issue 2 (Accepted, Forthcoming). In February 2022, I successfully hosted a seminar on the use of drones in the context of the war against terrorism in the Sahel and Lake Chad Basin.7https://www.irsem.fr/agenda-enhancer/agenda/drone-et-technologies-a-l-ere-de-la-lutte-contre-le-terrorisme-au-sahel-et-dans-le-bassin-du-lac-tchad-2001-2022.html I have also been admitted as a resident fellow of the Institute of Advanced Study of Nantes (2022-2023).8https://www.iea-nantes.fr/fr/

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