While mental health plays both positive and negative roles in peacebuilding and peacekeeping, studies about the interlinkages between mental health, peacebuilding, and peacekeeping remain rare, especially regarding rebuilding post-conflict societies. This is one of the lessons I learned while conducting my individual research that was funded by the African Peacebuilding Network (APN). In this essay, I will reflect more on how the connections and publishing opportunities provided by the program impacted my career and how I envision the program in the next decade.

I received the APN individual research grant in 2019, as an African mental health professional and junior researcher. This was a year after I had unsuccessfully applied for the same grant. One may wonder why I remained optimistic and re-applied in the following year.

The motives for re-applying stemmed from my deep interest in the opportunities represented by the APN when the program invited Rwandan nationals to apply for the national research proposal training workshop in the summer of 2018. In its concept note for the workshop, the APN stated that one of the aims of the workshop is “to support current efforts aimed at attracting high-quality applications to APN grants programs, and activities and building strong connections with African universities.” Indeed, it is this statement that first caught my attention and interest. I decided to take my chances by submitting a draft research proposal as this was required for being enrolled in that workshop.

At the time of application, I had no idea how to write a high-quality research proposal. Of course, as a master’s graduate and practitioner by that time, I wrote a research proposal similar to what I had done for my master’s thesis, but I had no clue about what the draft proposal for the APN proposal development and writing workshop should look like. I started searching the internet for information on how to draft a highly competitive research proposal. Based on the information I managed to gather, I had enough material to draft the research proposal around a topic based on issues that were emerging from the community where I served. Based on these initial thoughts from the field which I used in crafting my draft, the proposal successfully served as the basis for my selection to attend the national research proposal training workshop jointly organized by the APN and the University of Rwanda.

The workshop lasted for two days, but it provided me with opportunities to learn more about the research proposal writing process and APN grants. Besides the presentation of the theoretical foundation in research, selected applicants had the opportunity to also interact with APN mentors. It was in the small groups of participants and mentors that I came to identify and understand the topic I truly wished to explore. Through being challenged by the mentors and reflecting on their comments and questions based on my proposal, the topic I wanted to explore became much clearer to me. More importantly, the presentation of Dr. Yolande Bouka about what is considered while reviewing APN proposals was very helpful. Both the interaction with the mentors and this presentation helped me to discover some gaps that were in the draft proposal and, with the experience gained from the workshop, I substantially revised and re-oriented the proposal to fit the APN requirements and re-applied for the 2019 APN individual research grant competition, which I successfully received. The title of the award-winning project proposal was “Intergenerational Transmission of Trauma in Rwanda: The 1994 genocide against the Tutsis in Rwanda and its impact on reconciliation among second generation Rwandans.” This was the first great achievement I accomplished in that same year. This achievement increased my confidence and commitment to doing research because winning this award made me feel much more aware of my newly acquired skills in research proposal writing.

From my point of view, I believe the revised proposal was accepted for the APN grant because of a few factors: 1) focusing my attention on a specific thematic area of great priority to the APN; 2) carefully following up on the feedback provided by mentors on our draft proposals and 3) seeking additional feedback and comments from friends before submitting my proposal to the 2019 APN Individual Research Grants (IRG) competition. Credit also goes to Professor Ismail Rashid who mentored our small workshop group during the APN proposal workshop in Kigali.

Since attending the APN workshop in Kigali, my connections with researchers expanded as well. I established connections with other APN mentors in the same workshop in Kigali, previous grant awardees, my colleagues who won awards in the same year’s competition, and some of the fellows of Next Gen as well. Among the Next Gen fellows, there were some who had previously received the APN grant and whom I sometimes consulted to gain their wise counsel on how complete the APN-funded research successfully.

The APN grant transformed my life and contributed to the development of my career in several ways: besides giving me access to a broader network of scholars and practitioners, it increased my confidence and writing skills, which motivated me to write a PhD proposal and enroll in a PhD degree program at Stellenbosch University in the same year under the title: “Construction of Genocide memories: Narratives of Second-Generation Rwandans.” The crafting of this PhD proposal was informed by some of the findings of my APN research project as well. Additionally, based on my PhD proposal, I applied for and received a doctoral dissertation research fellowship from the Social Science Research Council’s (SSRC’s) Next Generation Social Sciences in Africa (Next Gen) program in 2021. Addressing comments provided by reviewers of this proposal helped me to easily receive the local ethical clearance from the university. The decision to apply for the Next Gen fellowship award was inspired by meeting with some of the Next Gen grantees during the joint APN-Next Gen writing and dissemination workshop held in collaboration with the University of Dar es Salaam in Tanzania towards the end of 2019. Driven by the zeal to get doctoral research support and the encouragement of Next Gen fellows, I worked hard on the proposal and successfully won the Next Gen award. The Next Gen doctoral dissertation research fellowship award went a long way in supporting and completing my fieldwork in good time. I am grateful to the team of  SSRC/Next Gen reviewers for their thoughtful comments and professionalism. I am inspired and wish to develop such skills in the future as well so I can confidently contribute to the promotion of high-quality research and mentor younger researchers who are coming after me.

The APN award has enabled me to contribute to knowledge production by publishing some of my scholarly writing. For instance, in 2020, drawing on data collected during my APN-supported fieldwork, I published an APN policy briefing note.1Marie Grace Kagoyire, “Promoting reconciliation among second-generation among post-genocide second-generation Rwandans,” APN Policy Briefing Note, March 2020, https://www.ssrc.org/publications/promoting-reconciliation-among-post-genocide-second-generation-rwandans/ In addition, in 2022, I re-submitted one co-authored article based on the findings of the APN-funded research to BMC Psychology. This article is currently published as a pre-print by research square under the title: “A calf cannot fail to pick a colour from its mother: Intergenerational transmission of trauma and its effect on reconciliation among post-genocide Rwandan youth.”2Marie Grace Kagoyire, Jeanette Kangabe and Marie Chantal Ingabire, “A calf cannot fail to pick a colour from its mother: Intergenerational transmission of trauma and its effect on reconciliation among post-genocide Rwandan youth,” https://www.researchsquare.com/article/rs-1604980/v1 Similarly, between 2020 and 2022, I successfully published one policy brief, three papers, and, in collaboration with scholars within my networks, two book chapters and one scientific article.3Chantal Ingabire, Grace Kagoyire, Nicolas Habarugira, Theoneste Rutayisire, Annemiek Richters, “They tell us little and we end up being confused”: Parent–child communication on familial experiences of genocide and its aftermath in Rwanda,” Transcultural Psychiatry, 2022: 1–13. DOI: 10.1177/13634615221078483. Grace Kagoyire & Maggie Zraly (2021). Resilience and Ethics in Post-conflict settings: Kwihangana, living after genocide rape, and intergenerational Resilience in Post-genocide Rwanda. A book chapter in A.R. Dyer et al. (eds), Global Mental Health, ethics. https://doi.org/10.1007/978-3-030-66296-7_13. Grace Kagoyire, Marianne Vysma and Annemiek Richters (2020) “The ghosts of collective violence: Pathways of transmission between genocide-survivor mothers and their young-adult children in Rwanda”. Book chapter in, Post-Conflict Hauntings: Transforming Collective Memories of Historical Trauma. Eds. Kim Wale, Pumla Gobodo-Madikizela, Jeffrey Prager. Palgrave Macmillan. Grace Kagoyire (2020) “Promoting reconciliation among post genocide second generation Rwandans. African Peace Building Network Briefing note, number 28, March 2020. Available at http://ssrc-cdn1.s3.amazonaws.com/crmuploads/new_publication_3/promoting-reconciliation-among-post-genocide-second-generation-rwandans.pdf

Furthermore, through one of the co-authors of the published papers who had invited me to co-write a research paper, I presented a paper, on “Intergenerational legacies of the 1994 genocide against the Tutsis in Rwanda” at a webinar organized by the Center for Multi-generational Legacies of Trauma in collaboration with Genocide Survivors Foundation in April 2022 in observance of genocide mourning week in Rwanda. Similarly, I was recently invited by the Association of Psychology Students at the University of Rwanda to “the Peacebuilding Seminar: Relevance of psychology in Peacebuilding,” the main target being more than 300 young university students. Though I also spoke about the interventions that address mental health needs and social cohesion, data collected during both the APN and Next Gen-supported doctoral research fellowship was at the core of my presentation, which complemented the approach of “Multifamily Healing Spaces” that promotes intergenerational healing, social cohesion, and identity development among youth.

Furthermore, APN funding goes beyond financial support for knowledge production, capacity building, and increased access to scholarly and practitioner networks. Its role in empowering fellows and former fellows with information about available research, funding, and dissemination opportunities goes a long way in promoting the visibility of their research and advances their professional development. From my point of view, the program is successfully building a pool of African researchers committed to the production of high-quality research on African peacebuilding. Also, its promotion of interdisciplinary perspectives draws in scholars from diverse disciplines and regions to add their voices to debates for a better and peaceful future. Even if I am not yet an expert in research, this environment has been incredibly supportive of my aspiration of becoming a skilled researcher in the field of Mental Health/Psychosocial Support and Peacebuilding in post-conflict societies. It is, therefore, the reason I am still committed to continuing networking with a range of researchers—younger and older—as a way of bridging gaps and building synergy for advancing peace studies and actions on the continent. It is through advancing communities of scholarship and practice that we can contribute to peaceful societies. As a mental health practitioner working in a post-conflict context, I advocate being an active part of a bourgeoning network at the forefront of envisioning and building peace in Africa. Promoting good health and healthy mindsets are key to nurturing peacebuilding. It is therefore important that peacebuilding studies pay special attention to the mental health of individuals and social and political actors to hope that one day no guns will be needed to keep peace. Even if this might be a utopia or a pipedream, I wish funds allocated by countries to buying guns to fight in the name of peace/security would be re-allocated to mental health and psychosocial support programs to help people have peaceful minds, hence durable peace and non-violence.

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