The Social Science Research Council’s (SSRC’s) African Peacebuilding Network (APN) is an extraordinary initiative. The celebration of APN’s 10th anniversary is an opportunity to shed some light on the contributions of this extraordinary program toward supporting early and mid-career scholars and researchers based in African universities, research institutes, and policy institutions. APN has had a transformative impact on research related to conflict and peacebuilding in Africa through its efforts to improve the quality and outreach of African research and build cross-national and regional networks of African scholars.
In my view, the most important achievement of APN has been its role in opening the door to opportunities for networking. APN helps connect scholars across the African continent and provides them with a chance to network with policymakers and practitioners. There are only a few other initiatives that provide similar opportunities and those that exist focus on Sub-Saharan Africa.
I feel very honored to be a part of APN’s network. When I applied for APN’s Individual Research Fellowship award in 2018, I had very few contacts with African scholars. Now, three years after receiving the award, I have developed connections with colleagues in Sub-Saharan Africa, specifically western, eastern, central, and southern Africa. Though my fellowship is over, my relationship with APN has not ended. On several occasions, I have been invited to APN events and activities to discuss issues related to radicalization and peacebuilding in Morocco and the Maghreb. For example, in 2018 the APN and the African Institute for Peacebuilding and Conflict Transformation (AIPECT) invited me to speak at an international conference on security challenges in Africa. As a panelist at the event, I presented part of my research findings in a paper on terrorist threats across North Africa—receiving invaluable feedback from participating scholars and practitioners.
I also had another opportunity to present my research in 2022 when Dr. Cyril Obi, the program director, asked me in my capacity as president of the Moroccan Institute for Policy Analysis (MIPA)— an independent, transdisciplinary research institution—to collaborate on a set of research and policy-related activities on regional integration, security, and peacebuilding in North Africa. In this regard, we jointly organized a policy webinar on the “Maghreb (non) integration” with scholars presenting different case studies from North Africa. The event was based on a report I published in 2020 on Maghreb Integration. The policy webinar was an opportunity to share the main findings of the report—especially regarding the social and economic integration of the Maghreb countries with a wider audience. In fact, the Maghreb region is one of the least politically and economically integrated regions in the world. It is also facing an increase in the levels of political instability, which is why the webinar aimed at exploring the root causes of the stalled Arab Maghreb Union (AMU) project and tried to address why the Maghreb region’s integration stalled and the implications for political instability and crises of governance on Maghreb societies and neighboring countries. The webinar also explored alternatives and options for breaking the vicious circle that has impeded the integration project. The event signified the start of a collaborative relationship between MIPA and APN and we look forward to its consolidation in the future.
In regard to my experience as a fellow, the APN has a solid reputation as an impactful initiative that provides training, mentoring, and funding to Africa-based scholars to conduct fieldwork while simultaneously strengthening their research and scholarly writing capacities. Specifically, APN’s training workshops are useful for young researchers because it helps them to strengthen the conceptual frameworks and theoretical bases of their empirical research. Furthermore, APN fellows are designated mentors, who are distinguished scholars themselves, that critique and provide useful feedback on their research proposals and writing drafts. For instance, I received valuable help from both my mentor and APN scholars on my draft paper about Morocco’s Salafi-jihadis deradicalization programs. These comments were centered on both conceptual and comparative levels, which helped tremendously in improving the quality of the paper and pushed for additional reflection on the topic. As part of this capacity building, I was able to develop my writing on how Salafi-jihadi individuals were deradicalized in prison, leading to its incoming publication in a peer-reviewed journal.
Since my APN fellowship ended, I have been active on social media to encourage other African scholars to apply. Without a doubt, APN provides a great opportunity for young scholars across the continent. Yet, the representation of fellows from North Africa is still lagging behind other regions. This situation may be explained by the dominance of the French language in academia in the Maghreb region (Morocco, Algeria, and Tunisia). Language is important in the decolonization of knowledge production; that is why it is worth seeking ways of addressing the challenges posed by the language in non-English speaking conflict-affected African countries. Another option is for scholars to receive support to translate their research findings into English. Such an opportunity would empower Maghreb scholars by giving them the chance to publish in their local language(s) and English simultaneously.
The APN has been an extremely unique experience in my research career. I thank Dr. Cyril Obi and the entire SSRC for their endless efforts and dedication to this project. Without their support, this network of African scholars would not be recording lofty achievements. I hope that in the next ten years, the APN’s fellowship will extend across Africa and provide more opportunities for scholars from underrepresented regions and countries. I also look forward to the creation of a continent-wide APN fellows’ alumni community to connect different cohorts of APN fellows.