This year commemorates the 10th anniversary of the African Peacebuilding Network (APN). It is an opportunity to celebrate the contribution of the program to peacebuilding scholarship and document its role in the transformation of the careers of many African early and mid-career researchers based in the continent. Recent decades have witnessed increasing calls for decolonizing knowledge production in Africa by giving voice and providing resources to African scholars to produce and publish original research with the aim of transcending Eurocentric approaches that have dominated the study of the continent.1Crawford, G. Mai-Bornu, Z and Landstrom, K. (2021). ‘Decolonizing knowledge production on Africa: what’s still necessary and what can be done.’ Journal of the British Academy, vol. 9, no. Supplementary Issue 1, pp. 21-46.

In this context, the APN has filled a vacuum and offered a much-needed opportunity not just in funding fieldwork-based research that boosts the contribution of African scholars to the production of knowledge on peacebuilding, but also in training these scholars on scholarly writing, disseminating their findings, and increasing their impact on the broader research community and policy circles. In doing so, the network has promoted a critical approach that challenges the liberal peacebuilding agenda and emphasizes the agency and perceptions of local actors and the importance of building not only strong state institutions but also peaceful social and human relations.

As an alumna of the APN’s Individual Research Grant, I have experienced the program’s contribution to capacity building and career growth in practice. I started my post-doctoral research on transboundary water conflicts and hydro politics in the Nile basin in 2015 with a few largely desk-based publications. It was only through the APN’s individual research grant two years later that I was able to spend several months in the three Eastern Nile countries—Egypt, Ethiopia, and Sudan—conducting interviews, collecting data, and holding consultations to explore the perceptions of policymakers, civil society organizations, and the business community on broader regional cooperation in the Nile Basin and dig deeper into the reasons why this cooperation between the riparian countries fell short of initially high expectations. The findings of my project have been published in various peer-reviewed journals and books and contributed to the scholarly discussion on the assumed, but not much tested, relationship between water conflict, cooperation, and broader regional integration.2Tawfik, R. (2018). “Eastern Nile Cooperation at a crossroads: the costs of missing another opportunity”. Kujenga Amani, March 14; Tawfik, R. (2019). ‘Beyond the River: Elite Perceptions and regional cooperation in the Eastern Nile’. Water Alternatives, vol. 12, Issue 2, pp.655-75; Tawfik, R. (2020), Conflict and Cooperation in the Eastern Nile: the role of business. African Peacebuilding Network Working Paper No. 26, New York: Social Science Research Council.

The APN’s role in promoting the scholarship of its grantees also means that the program’s relations with them never end with the conclusion of the grant period. A milestone in my career was the APN’s support of my nomination for the African Studies Association’s (ASA) Presidential Fellowships in 2018. The fellowship enabled me to attend the annual meeting of the ASA for the first time and give a series of lectures at New York University (NYU), Columbia University, New York, and Rutgers University, New Jersey, an experience that enhanced my exposure and gave me the opportunity to present my research to new academic audiences.

In addition to its role as a knowledge producer, grant provider, and capacity builder, the APN truly acts as a network connecting scholars with common interests from the various regions of the continent. I have personally benefited from the connections I made through the APN in different ways. Bridges built with other grantees during the training workshops helped me find a host institution in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia that significantly facilitated my fieldwork. The social capital nurtured through these connections and sustained after the end of the grant period is a living example of bottom-up peacebuilding through developing cooperative relations between think tanks and creating an epistemic community that speaks with one voice. At a time when hydro-political relations between Egypt and Ethiopia were tense, my research visit at the Institute for Peace and Security Studies (IPSS), University of Addis Ababa and discussions with its vibrant research community indicated that non-governmental relations could provide another avenue for continued cooperation.

My APN-funded fieldwork and the publications based on it have helped in projecting me as an expert in Nile hydro politics and opened the door for new publications co-authored with noted and more senior scholars in the field.3Cascão, A.E, Tawfik, R. and Zeitoun, M. (2019). The Nile and the Middle East: interlinkages between two regional security complexes and their hydropolitical dynamics. In: Jägerskog, A., Schulz, M. and Swain, A., eds., Routledge Handbook on Middle East Security. New York and London: Routledge. It also facilitated my development of a new curriculum on political ecology that I taught for the first time at the Faculty of Economics and Political Science, Cairo University, in which I introduced students to the political economy of conflicts around natural resources in general, and water resources in particular.

The role of the APN as a network is also evident in collaborative projects which bring various cohorts of grantees and their mentors together to produce collective work that reflects the program’s critical approach to African peacebuilding. The collection on the Politics of Peacebuilding in Africa,4Tieku, T. K., Coffie, A. Setrana, M. B. and Taiwo, A., eds (2022). The Politics of Peacebuilding in Africa. London and New York: Routledge. to which I contributed a chapter on environmental peacebuilding using the case of the Eastern Nile by drawing on my APN-funded fieldwork, is just one recent example.

In acting as a network for African peacebuilding researchers, the APN strives to equally reach out to the five regions of the continent, including North Africa. I was warmly welcomed into the network as the first Egyptian grantee and have since then tried to disseminate the APN’s calls and encourage other colleagues to benefit from this career-transforming experience. Since language is critical for the process of decolonizing knowledge production, it is worth investing in the future in expanding connections with scholars publishing in local African languages, including Arabic, and translating their proposals and research findings to reach a wider readership. This could help overcome the language barrier and increase the number of applications from scholars who produce quality research and have strong connections with their communities but are held back by their inability to publish in foreign languages.

As the APN moves to expand its network in the next decade, it would also need to reach out to young researchers in emerging or younger universities and research centers in different African countries to build their capacities to write competitive funding proposals. In this respect, it is worth encouraging applications to the Collaborative Working Groups not only from researchers from different countries but also from senior and junior scholars from different institutions inside the same country.

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