I applied for an APN Individual Research Grant in 2017 primarily as a means of dealing with the lull that often follows the completion of a PhD. I decided to explore something different from the topic of my PhD research but within the scope of an issue I am passionate about—human security. My PhD had focused on the determinants of crime patterns in urban spaces, but there was another major occurrence in my everyday life and within my environment that agitated my mind. This had to do with the ways farmer-herder relations had metamorphosed into violent confrontations and how the conflicts seemed to persist despite the efforts to manage or resolve them. This situation raised questions in my mind about the relevance, suitability, and sustainability of interventions applied in the management or resolution of these conflicts. I built my APN research proposal around these questions, aiming to explain why peacebuilding measures used in managing farmer-herder conflicts in central Nigeria were not yielding the desired results. I was excited when I read about my selection for the award and also appreciated the encouraging feedback I received from the program on my research proposal. My cohort of fellows participated in an APN workshop in Accra, Ghana to discuss and strengthen our proposed research methods preparatory to conducting fieldwork. The second workshop, which focused on writing and publishing our research outputs, was held six months later in Rabat, Morocco.
The APN workshops were insightful and enriching; we learned about a wide range of topics, such as applying a postcolonial methodology to African peacebuilding, understanding qualitative methods in peacebuilding research in Africa, linking academic work to policy-engaged research, balancing an African perspective to peacebuilding while connecting research on the continent to global debates, and the effects of gender on the methodological and ontological questions in conflict and peacebuilding research. My participation in one-on-one sessions with my mentor Amy Niang (a 2013 APN fellow) helped provide a sharper focus for my research while also inspiring me to reflect on new research ideas for further exploration.
The APN program opened doors of opportunity for building networks and collaborating with scholars on the continent. With my selection as a fellow of the APN, I scored several of my “firsts”— the first time I participated in a conference roundtable, organized a conference panel, published a policy briefing note and blog articles, and attended both the International Studies Association (ISA) and African Studies Association (ASA) conferences. The APN provided funding that enabled me to participate in these international conferences. These funding opportunities gave me a platform to present my research findings, engage with a wider audience, and receive feedback that helped shape my research ideas. My participation at these conferences was also a training ground for me in communicating my research ideas effectively.
The APN Program Director nominated me to participate in a roundtable discussion at the ISA conference in San Francisco, USA in 2018 alongside other APN fellows like Amanda Coffie and Richard Alemdjorodo. The discussion focused on “Africa and the global refugee crisis: traversing the terrain between global power and a continent’s capacity to respond.” Following up on the roundtable panel, I co-authored a policy briefing note with the other participants that was published by the APN. I co-organized a panel with Mary Setrana (a 2017 APN fellow from Ghana) at the 2018 ASA conference in Atlanta, USA, which was sponsored by the APN, titled “Harnessing unbounded social energies of farmer-pastoralist interactions in changing environments for conflict transformation in Africa.” The panel had presentations from three other former APN fellows across different cohorts and African countries, namely Fekadu Beyene (2017 APN fellow, Ethiopia), Pamela Khanakwa (2015 APN fellow, Uganda), and Musa Abdul-Jalil (2015 APN fellow, Sudan). The papers from this panel were developed further and published in 2022 as a Special “Forum” Issue in the African Studies Review with Mary Setrana and me as Guest Editors. In developing the papers for publication, we received immense support from Dr. Cyril Obi, the APN Program Director, who reviewed all the papers and sent us feedback before the initial submission to the African Studies Review.
In 2019, I co-organized another panel with Samaila Suleiman (2019 APN fellow, Nigeria) at the ASA conference in Boston titled “Discourses that make or mar: engaging history, identity and the narratives of violence and African Peacebuilding.” Again, the APN sponsored the panel, and it featured presentations from former Next Gen and APN fellows like Sifiso Ndlovu (2015 Next Gen fellow, South Africa), Chantal Ingabire (2017 APN fellow, Rwanda), and Edmore Chitukutuku (2019 APN fellow, Zimbabwe). The papers were submitted to a high-ranking journal and are undergoing review. What is commendable is that fellows are given the opportunity to propose the panel themes, review the abstracts, and play active roles as presenters or discussants on such panels. This was a learning process for me and the APN team provided the needed support every step of the way. At the ASA conference in Boston, I also presented part of my APN research on a panel for ASA fellows organized and sponsored by the Carnegie Corporation of New York (CCNY).
An invitation to publish my research on the Kujenga Amani blog was another opportunity presented by the APN that further strengthened my ability to communicate my research. The first was in 2018 when I published a summary of my APN research; the second was in 2019 as part of a special issue on the elections in Nigeria where I contributed a piece on how displacement had affected the participation of victims of farmer-herder conflicts in electoral processes, leading to the disenfranchisement of eligible potential voters in parts of Nigeria. Through the conference panels and special publications on Kujenga Amani, the APN facilitated collaboration and knowledge exchange between fellows from different cohorts, programs, countries, regions, and disciplines. This has helped to build networks and advance a culture of interdisciplinary research among the community of APN and Next Gen fellows.
Based on my shared research interests and friendship with Mary Setrana, which grew from our first meeting at the APN workshop in Accra, I was invited to participate in a workshop organized by the Scalabrini Institute for Human Mobility in Africa (SIHMA) and to publish a paper in the African Human Mobility Review in 2019. My paper reflected on the practical and policy implications of the migration of pastoralists in Africa. Again, in 2021, on Mary Setrana’s invitation, I contributed a chapter (based on my APN research) titled “Why peacebuilding fails: the experience of managing conflicts between farmers and herders in Nigeria” to the book, The Politics of Peacebuilding in Africa, edited by APN mentors—Thomas Kwasi Tieku, Amanda Coffie (2016 APN fellow), Mary Boatemaa Setrana (2017 APN fellow), and Akin Taiwo.
Overall, my APN-funded research has enabled me to contribute knowledge on the changing dynamics of the interactions between farmers and herders in Nigeria and provide an understanding of why the peacebuilding interventions may have failed, highlighting drivers like identity and belonging that are given less attention in the extant literature. With the added visibility given to my research through presentations at conferences and publications on the blog and journals, I have received emails from scholars from various parts of the world asking about my research. In addition, I have also received invitations from individuals and journal editors to review drafts and articles for publication.
The APN has also given me an opportunity to contribute to the growth of the program by acting as a peer reviewer for manuscripts submitted for consideration for publication in the working paper series. Generally, the APN has helped me to transform the scope of my research beyond urban studies to connect human security in a broader context. Through the provision of funding and opportunities to participate in various scholarly and policy-related platforms, the program has facilitated the visibility of my research and helped to nurture and transform my passion for research/scholarship. With the knowledge and experience gained so far, I have been able to mentor and advise colleagues on how to produce proposals that have been accepted by the APN and other fellowships. I am also using the experience to teach research methods at the undergraduate and postgraduate levels at my institution. I hope that in the next decade, the APN will expand the number of fellowship awards made each year, sponsor more early-career researchers to present their research at international conferences, support researchers to publish the outputs of their APN-sponsored research as open-access materials for more visibility, and sponsor collaborative research projects by former and current fellows such as edited books and special issues of peer-reviewed journals to sustain the networks and encourage mentorship.