Within ten years of its existence, the African Peacebuilding Network (APN) has made a significant contribution to the development and growth of many African scholars who are at various stages in their academic careers. The program has been successful in promoting research and discourse on conflict and peacebuilding in Africa, supporting scholars to produce cutting-edge research-based knowledge on the subject, and proffering useful policy suggestions on how to build peace on the continent.
I was fortunate enough to have been awarded the highly coveted African Peacebuilding Network Individual Research Fellowship in 2020. Having my application selected for the award was on its own a great achievement considering the rigor and competitiveness that characterized the selection process. I received the award for my research project on unregulated gold miners in post-apartheid South Africa. These so-called “illegal miners”—Zama Zama—have become a factor in the political economy of mining in South Africa. Their operations have implications for other related issues such as natural resource conflict, immigration, and xenophobia. My research resulted in the publication of an article titled “‘Illegal’ gold mining and the everyday in post-apartheid South Africa” in the Review of African Political Economy (ROAPE). Mentorship and support from the APN on the project enabled me to successfully explore issues from the perspective of peacebuilding.
The APN provided financial support which enabled me to conduct fieldwork in Welkom and Odendaalsrus in the Free State province of South Africa, which eventually resulted in the publication of a journal article and an opinion piece on conducting field research in Africa during the Covid-19 period. The availability of adequate financial resources for a research project is a prerequisite for the successful completion of any research endeavor, especially if the researcher has to spend funds to cover research, travel, accommodation, and subsistence costs for extended periods of time in the field. The fellowship award cushioned me from financial problems throughout the duration of my fieldwork. This is every researcher’s dream and I hope the APN will continue to support the research of African scholars.
The APN hosted two workshops for APN grant recipients intended to assist with research methods processes and challenges that the awardees might encounter in the field, as well as to revise research drafts in preparation for publication and dissemination in journals and books. The workshops provided me with the opportunity to work with experienced and knowledgeable mentors in the field of conflict and peacebuilding. Participating in workshop group discussions, as well as one-on-one sessions with my mentors and fellow grant holders, was an eye-opening experience. I got a chance to meet and interact with my peers from other African countries, exchange ideas and views on new topics, and share interests, which enabled me to broaden my horizons and create extremely useful connections with colleagues from different disciplines. One good example of such useful synergies was when, together with a colleague from the field of linguistics, we found an interesting point of intersection for our different research projects, and we decided to collaborate and co-author a journal article. In addition to this, I am expanding my project on unregulated mining in South Africa into a monograph. This was only made possible by the conditions and environment created by the APN workshops.
The APN workshops emphasized the importance of making one’s work locally and internationally visible. The mentors pointed out that it was not enough to get a journal article published and stop at that point. I remember that we were encouraged to produce a dissemination plan which outlined how our research findings would reach different audiences and impact our fields, policy, and the practice of peacebuilding. Opinion pieces, policy briefs, blogs, and write-ups are also important in simplifying and publicizing one’s academic work. We were encouraged to include these in our dissemination plans. We were also introduced to the Social Science Research Council’s (SSRC) vibrant blog—Kujenga Amani—which publishes various short essays, policy briefing notes targeting policymakers, and working papers for the quick dissemination of findings based on research projects being undertaken by APN fellows. At the end of the two workshops, we learned the importance of packaging our work into different formats for publication so that it reaches a wider audience.
Another crucial element of research methods that I learned as a result of my association with the APN is the importance of flexibility when one embarks on a research project. The commencement of my APN fellowship coincided with the peak period of Covid-19 restrictions, particularly the hard lockdown which restricted movements and imposed social distancing on everyone. This technically meant halting any movement to the field for research purposes and disrupting the implementation of my APN-supported project. However, the APN methodology workshop had adequately prepared us to be innovative and to adapt to prevailing circumstances through various techniques and strategies. This is a skill that will stay with me and that I will continue to use throughout my entire research career. Through the program, I have learned a lot of methodological strategies and techniques over a short space of time.
The APN has created a community of African scholars working on conflict and peacebuilding on the continent in the past decade. Having a network of scholars that you can call upon at any time for co-authorship, external examination, and many other collaborations is every scholar’s dream, which the APN has succeeded in making a reality. As we move into the next decade, the program could produce various other strategies to continuously support fellows even after the duration of their fellowships. This could be done through residence programs to promote mentorship on the expansion of research projects. African scholars will benefit from this kind of support from the program which can be offered at a few selected universities across Africa. This will also foster interaction and collaboration among scholars.