I was introduced to Kujenga Amani at the beginning of my PhD program at the University of the Western Cape (Cape Town, South Africa) in 2016. I had just received a research grant from the Social Science Research Council’s African Peacebuilding Network (APN) as a member of the Collaborative Working Group (CWG) on youth gangsters and militias in five African countries including South Africa, Nigeria, Zimbabwe, Cote d’Ivoire, and the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC). As a member of this CWG project, I researched the DRC, focusing on youth networks of peace and violence in Bukavu, the capital city of South Kivu and my hometown. Prior to the fieldwork, members of our collaborative working group met in Cape Town for a workshop which was attended by two SSRC program staff including Professor Cyril Obi. He listened to our presentations, including our research plans, and advised us regarding our research activities and opportunities for disseminating the results of our research. This is when he also told us about the Kujenga Amani online platform. That was my first time hearing about it. Prof. Obi explained to us the purpose of the Kujenga Amani and shared links to some papers published on it. He also explained that, apart from Kujenga Amani, the APN publishes working papers, policy briefs, and other essays within broader research themes and the agenda of the SSRC’s APN: research that contributes to peace and security on the continent. He encouraged us to think about writing for Kujenga Amani. I became very interested particularly because I had never published anything in my name apart from my master’s thesis. I decided to not let the opportunity pass me by. Being inexperienced in writing for publication, I realized that Kujenga Amani and its 1,000-word limit was the right place for me to start, mostly because an academic journal article or a book chapter could have been a very big jump with little hope of making it past the peer review process.

I began working on my first Kujenga Amani essay toward the end of 2016. It was a paper based on my PhD research project and on the themes of ethno-regional tensions and violence among Congolese immigrants in Cape Town.1Vuninga, Rosette Sifa. “Combattants: Activists or Criminals? A Reflection on Ethnoregionalism and Political Violence among Congolese Immigrants in South Africa.” Kujenga Amani, 14 March 2017, https://kujenga-amani.ssrc.org/2017/03/14/combattants-activists-or-criminals-a-reflection-on-ethnoregionalism-and-political-violence-among-congolese-immigrants-in-south-africa/. I was moved by the mentorship of the APN editorial team; they handled my drafts with patience and care and made helpful comments, particularly the very first draft. The process was one of the best mentorships I have ever had. In January 2017, I received the news that my essay was now finalized for publication. I was very pleased and could not wait to write another article. Later the same year, I published another essay on Kujenga Amani which was based on my initial thoughts about my fieldwork research in Bukavu.2Vuninga, Rosette Sifa. “Transforming Youth Anti-Crime Networks into Job Opportunities in Bukavu, Democratic Republic of the Congo.” Kujenga Amani, 9 November 9, 2017, https://kujenga-amani.ssrc.org/2017/11/09/transforming-youth-anti-crime-networks-into-job-opportunities-in-bukavu-democratic-republic-of-the-congo/ The writing skills I acquired through this process also served me very well in the writing of an APN Working Paper that was over 30 pages based on my research fieldwork in Bukavu as part of our APN Collaborative Working Group fellowship project.3Vuninga, Rosette Sifa, “Everyone Is Doing It”: The Changing Dynamics of Youth Gang Activity in Bukavu, Democratic Republic of the Congo,” APN Working Paper, (Social Science Research Council, February 2018), https://www.ssrc.org/publications/everyone-is-doing-it-the-changing-dynamics-of-youth-gang-activity-in-bukavu-democratic-republic-of-the-congo/

My very first Kujenga Amani publication was well received by other research funding institutions that have a shared vision with SSRC’s APN. This is generally thanks to the ways in which the SSRC uses its social media platforms to promote its fellows’ works. Thus, when I was awarded the Harry Frank Guggenheim Foundation’s (HFG) Young African Scholar fellowship, I remember the HFG’s program officer at the time, Karen Colvard, saying to me after I introduced myself during the fellow’s workshop, “Rosette, I have heard so much about you from the SSRC. I have seen your work.” This was in March 2017, just a few days after my paper was published on Kujenga Amani. It was still the only publication I had but it had already earned me good publicity and helped establish my reputation as a young researcher.

Contributing essays to Kujenga Amani trained me in the basics of scholarly writing for publication. I learned how to narrow down a research topic and question and to organize my ideas to flow into arguments that are backed up with evidence and rooted in literature. The process also taught me how to reach conclusions that are not just rooted in a clear research methodology, but which are also policy-oriented. The latter is important as it gives me a voice, almost like a role, in being part of the solution to the problems I was researching, which I need to reach my aspiration to become a researcher-activist.4Thomson, Susan. “Scholar-Activist? On Relational Accountability and an Ethic of Dissemination.” In Ansoms A., Bisoka A., & Thomson S. (Eds.), Field Research in Africa: The Ethics of Researcher Vulnerabilities (Woodbridge, Suffolk, (GB); Rochester, NY, (US): Boydell & Brewer): 117-143. The former is needed in all research-based academic writings including much larger academic papers such as journal articles, book chapters, and working papers like the one I produced regarding my research on youth networks of peace and violence, published by the SSRC in early 2018.5Vuninga, Rosette Sifa, “Everyone Is Doing It”: The Changing Dynamics of Youth Gang Activity in Bukavu, Democratic Republic of the Congo,” APN Working Paper, (Social Science Research Council, February 2018), https://www.ssrc.org/publications/everyone-is-doing-it-the-changing-dynamics-of-youth-gang-activity-in-bukavu-democratic-republic-of-the-congo/

My first publication with Kujenga Amani introduced me to the peer review process, including comments to expect from reviewers and ways of addressing them. These skills improved with time as I continued to utilize them in more challenging academic writings such as my PhD dissertation and academic papers for publication. I was able to submit a good application for the Next Generation Social Science in Africa (Next Gen) Dissertation Completion Fellowship in 2020 and was awarded the fellowship. I have just completed my PhD this year. Today I have a publication list that includes peer-reviewed journal articles, book chapters, working papers, and a book review.6See for example, Vuninga, Rosette Sifa. “Youth Gangsters: Negotiating Power in Intimate Relationships among the Youth in South Africa.” Politeia 39, no. 1 (2020); Vuninga, Rosette Sifa. “Establishing Kinship in the Diaspora: Conducting Research Among Fellow Congolese Immigrants of Cape Town.” In Ansoms A., Bisoka A., & Thomson S. (Eds.), Field Research in Africa: The Ethics of Researcher Vulnerabilities (Woodbridge, Suffolk, (GB); Rochester, NY, (US): Boydell & Brewer): 63-84; Maringira, Godfrey and Rosette Sifa Vuninga. “Beyond Xenophobia: Migrants-Locals in Socio-Economic Spaces in Cape Town, South Africa,” in Christopher Isike and Efe Isike (eds.) Conflict and Concord – The Ambivalence of African Migrant/Host Relations in South Africa (London: Palgrave Macmillan, 2022). Many of these developed out of research collaboration with other APN grantees and alumni, most of whom also wrote for Kujenga Amani in the early stage of their academic writing. SSRC’s APN has also exposed me to other academic learning platforms, expanded my networks by nominating me for conferences and workshops, and kept in touch with my academic progress.

As a member of the APN family, my role is to encourage others, particularly new members, to make use of the opportunities that the APN avails to help them grow in their scholarly and practitioner aspirations. The APN, I trust, will continue to provide both platforms for publications ranging from short essays such as those published in Kujenga Amani and policy briefs to peer-reviewed journal articles and books that contribute to understanding the root causes of various socioeconomic and political crises and the subsequent insecurities in economic development and governance on the continent. I am certain that the APN will continue to provide both mentorship and fellowship awards to deserving scholars and practitioners to facilitate their research and contribute toward influencing peacebuilding in their communities. I also trust that the APN will continue to give scholars opportunities and platforms to promote the visibility of their work, expand their networks, and build collaboration with fellows across Africa and the world.

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