Introduction

As an early-career scholar, I received the 2021 APN fellowship award at an opportune time. It provided an opportunity to expand my research interests in peace and security in the Horn of Africa. The fellowship has played a pivotal role in envisioning and nurturing an active research and teaching culture in Africa. In my reflections, I focus on two key areas, namely professional development and broadening my research agenda.

Participation in APN training workshops has been useful in improving my writing and dissemination skills. I have learned how to navigate the publication processes of top journals. During the writing and dissemination workshops, mentors sensitized fellows to the importance of citing African-based scholars and adopting African perspectives when contributing to global peace and security discourses. Writing for peer-reviewed publications is a valuable skill when launching one’s early career scholarship. I applaud the APN program for inviting senior scholars who are either editors or members of editorial boards of peer-reviewed journals to give talks and mentor fellows during its writing workshops.1Some of the mentors included Profs. Rita Abrahamsen, Temitope Oriola, and Carli Coetzee. The participation of journal editors in such workshops enabled fellows to learn firsthand about the manuscript submission process and the expectations of editors. It also helped them develop a much better appreciation of strategies on how to better position and package their scholarship for publication outlets. Being supported with how to navigate the publication process is impactful at several levels. One is that, in the long term, it promotes the visibility of knowledge produced by African scholars and helps to bring their perspectives into international peacebuilding literature. The second is to infuse African-based insights and perspectives into theory and field-building in peace, security, and development studies. Drawing on my APN experience, I have also lined up several manuscripts, including several book chapters and journal articles based on my fieldwork data and research findings, for publication.

Our APN-appointed mentors, distinguished senior academics, and editors either delivered keynote lectures or led our small working groups providing guidance, individual feedback, and access to relevant skills and literature. Beyond providing fieldwork support, in the forms of funding and training, having an opportunity to learn from experienced academics and researchers is quite inspiring. Also significant is the opportunity to meet with, build connections and explore collaborative opportunities with peers from diverse disciplines, countries, and regions of Africa. The APN experience is also an investment in the future. Apart from providing useful mentorship in advancing my research journey, it has helped in transferring skills to emerging scholars across Africa.

The APN research methods workshops provided us with the opportunity to reflect on the theories and appropriate field research methodologies for our respective research projects. These timely conversations helped us make informed choices about suitable theoretical frameworks and research methodologies within the social sciences. Insights provided by senior distinguished scholars on how to navigate complex research terrains have been of immense practical value. This knowledge has been particularly relevant in the face of ethical challenges that researchers encounter and have to overcome, including developing innovative safeguards against threats posed by the Covid-19 pandemic and other containment measures such as restrictions on movement.

A key takeaway from the fellowship program is being sensitized to the importance of embedding our research within conceptual debates in African peacebuilding literature. I encountered new perspectives, such as the mind-mapping of our journal papers—posing a central question, showing the gaps, and linking that quickly with our research findings. I found this writing structure innovative and shall progressively apply it in my scholarly works. Networking with our peers from other parts of Africa has been useful in terms of learning the modalities of fieldwork in other contexts and engaging with literature beyond one’s discipline or research focus. I have forged lasting friendships with immense opportunities for networking and engagement in collaborative work such as co-publications and the bidding for joint research grants opportunities in the future. In addition, the APN team has consistently shared information with fellows and alumni on research fellowships and conference opportunities to which they can apply. The information shared is pertinent in expanding and consolidating their research accomplishments, particularly in the field of peace, security, and development.

The APN fellowship has been critical in broadening my research agenda. The opportunity to conduct fieldwork with APN support and receive feedback on my research proposal and research plan during the methods workshop helped in sharpening my research focus, choosing appropriate research tools, and discovering new research arenas in the sub-field of peace and security studies. A useful insight I picked up from my APN mentors, Profs. Kenneth Omeje and Temitope Oriola, was to think of my research project not as a six-month project but as a long-term research agenda that I could broaden to last through the next decade or so. My project was focused on appraising the reintegration of returning foreign fighters in Kenya’s Mombasa County from a peacebuilding perspective. The funding support enabled me to reconnect with the field and partly also continue with an under-researched area that I had identified in my PhD dissertation in 2018. As a three-time recipient of the Social Science Research Council’s (SSRC) Next Generation Social Science in Africa Program (Next Gen) awards that supported my PhD, the APN fellowship award was a transition to a new post-doctoral frontier in my research. I plan to use the data collected during my APN  fieldwork as a stepping stone toward the pursuit of an expanded research agenda in peace and security studies. I see an excellent “pipeline” here between the Next Gen and APN fellowships. As a Next Gen fellow and alumni, I have managed to co-edit and co-publish a book in 2021 with two APN alumni, Drs. Abosede Babatunde and Jacinta Maweu,2Managing Violent Religious Extremism in Fragile States Building Institutional Capacity in Nigeria and Kenya. London: Routledge. 2021 and several book chapters and journal articles.3Critical Studies on Terrorism and the Journal for Deradicalization I plan to stay on that trajectory, and I am forever indebted to the SSRC fellowship programs. During the March 2022 APN virtual writing and dissemination training workshop, my mentor suggested some new areas to explore, including tracking in the historical version, examining the experiences of reintegration, and evolving reintegration experiences beyond my project location of Mombasa. I am also keen to explore opportunities for regional and international collaboration in relation to joint research/publications opportunities.

Conclusion

Going forward, it would be great for the program to organize periodic virtual or in-person events such as alumni reunions where fellows and former fellows can reconnect, exchange ideas, and recharge the spirit of the APN community and solidarity. Such events would also provide the program with an opportunity to take stock of the policy and academic impact of the activities of the alumni. Such convenings of APN alumni can be opportunities for lesson learning and reflections on how to manage an active research career. Other opportunities that can be explored in the future include writing retreats or short visiting fellowships in collaboration with academic centers of excellence and special programs to build the capacity of Africa-based scholars. The visiting fellowships could range from 1 to 3 months and would have clear deliverables such as a journal article, book chapter, or book.

In sum, the APN fellowship has been a game-changer in my research and academic career and that of many African scholars. I will apply the insights, experiences, and professional development opportunities that are shared by the program to support my chosen career trajectory in the domain of peace and conflict studies. I would like to thank the Program Director Dr. Cyril Obi and the excellent APN team for the transformative vision for African scholarship. Long live the APN Program.

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