My APN postdoctoral journey started after I received a fellowship award in 2020 to conduct research on a project titled “In Search of Peace: Emerging narratives and linguistic options for managing Anglophone-Francophone crises in Cameroon.” It enabled me to engage in multidisciplinary research and teaching based on a combination of perspectives drawn from the humanities and social sciences. I conducted the research with a context-sensitive mindset that acknowledges the heterogeneity and volatility of the research across different scholarly disciplines. The Anglophone conflict that is ongoing in Cameroon is a complex problem that requires bringing insights from multiple disciplines. For example, I made use of a framework1Norman Fairclough, Discourse and Social Change (Cambridge: Polity Press, 1992). that integrates three dimensions in the Critical Discourse Analysis (CDA) approach to analyze participants’ texts—discourse-as-text, discourse-as-discursive-practice, and discourse-as-social practice—as well as Communication Accommodation Theory (CAT) and Giles’ (2008) approach to understanding language in conflict.2Howard Giles, “Communication accommodation theory: ‘When in Rome…’ or not!” In Engaging theories in interpersonal communication, edited by L. A. Baxter and D. O. Braithewaite (Thousand Oaks, CA: Sage), 161-173. This was a combination of a theory that concerns behavioral changes (CAT) with an analytical approach (CDA). The combination was very helpful in developing a critical mindset that greatly enriched the quality of my research and scholarly writing. My goal was not only to complete the project, but also to develop a better understanding of African peacebuilding research, its narratives, and practices.
I was able to achieve this by gaining relevant experience, based on training and mentorship received during APN training workshops, and developing connections with my peers from other African countries. The workshops and interactive sessions, particularly the one-on-one consultations with the mentors, were always very insightful. The highly experienced mentors and facilitators provided excellent guidance and I left the workshops with highly sharpened research and writing skills which would continue to serve me well beyond the project. I also benefitted from the plenary sessions of the workshop. For example, Dr. Godwin Murunga’s keynote lecture on “Africans Writing Africa Back into the Mainstream” helped me to better appreciate the mission of the Council for the Development of Social Science Research in Africa (CODESRIA), particularly in the areas of scholarly research and publication, including how very little is known by African researchers about its publishing platforms. We also got valuable information about writing publishable journal articles based on presentations of journal editors, which made me reflect on the other project I was also doing at the time about the visibility of African knowledge in Africa and how knowledge can be decolonized and made more accessible. I was also inspired by Prof. Francis Nyamnjoh’s keynote lecture titled, “Transforming the Worlds of African Scholarly Writing and Publishing: The Politics of Knowledge Production, Mobility and Conviviality,” which centered on the need to transform the world of African scholarship and publishing in a convivial manner.
Presenting my research findings in seminars, workshops, and conferences to wider audiences and networking with other researchers and peers increased my understanding of other disciplines. The funding I received from the APN provided the resources for fieldwork in Cameroon and broadened opportunities for professional development and networking. It also afforded me the opportunity to collect data that will be useful for my career as a researcher.
Conducting research in an ongoing conflict context was challenging. Visiting the conflict-affected areas and conducting interviews was difficult due to kidnappings and insecurity. However, my research assistant on the ground helped in the collection of data in areas affected by conflict. Every crisis presents an opportunity to re-think research practice3David Mwambari, “The pandemic can be a catalyst for decolonization in Africa,” Al Jazeera, April 15, 2020, https://www.aljazeera.com/opinions/2020/4/15/the-pandemic-can-be-a-catalyst-for-decolonisation-in-africa; Elisio Macamo, The Taming of Fate: Approaching Risk from a Social Action Perspective Case Studies from Southern Mozambique (Dakar: CODESRIA, 2017). as it opens a “process of redefinition”4Mark Cave and Stephen M. Sloan, Listening on the Edge: Oral History in the Aftermath of Crisis (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2014). and adaptation. I had initially planned to conduct focus group interviews with linguists and language planners. This was not possible because people were afraid to speak as a group because they were scared to lose their jobs or be targeted by separatists and security operatives of the Cameroon government. When I read the article cited above (shared during the training workshop) and the presentations discussing reflexivity in the research process, I decided to meet some respondents individually in their offices.
I combined the knowledge developed during my APN fellowship with that of the Institute for Advanced Study in the Humanities (IASH), University of Edinburgh, which came in handy when I applied for endorsement from the British Academy as a potential leader in academic studies and research. With the support of the APN, I was subsequently endorsed by the British Academy as a potential academic leader and relocated early this year to the UK with my family. I have also taken advantage of the opportunity to expand my networks and connections in the UK while conducting research with the University of Edinburgh and presenting my research findings to different audiences across the world. One such connection established is with Prof. Jenny Mander (Director of the Centre for the Study of Global Human Movement, Newnham College, University of Cambridge) who, after listening to the presentation of my APN-supported research findings, believed the research on the emerging narratives on the Anglophone/Francophone peacekeeping efforts in Cameroon would be self-evidently relevant to her center’s research that focuses on the dynamics of storytelling in relation to patterns of inclusion and exclusion across cultural and linguistic boundaries. She asked if I would be interested in being named as a partner in a webpage (still under construction) that she is planning to create. Since then, we have been in constant communication and I am waiting for the webpage to go functional.
- 1Norman Fairclough, Discourse and Social Change (Cambridge: Polity Press, 1992).
- 2Howard Giles, “Communication accommodation theory: ‘When in Rome…’ or not!” In Engaging theories in interpersonal communication, edited by L. A. Baxter and D. O. Braithewaite (Thousand Oaks, CA: Sage), 161-173.
- 3David Mwambari, “The pandemic can be a catalyst for decolonization in Africa,” Al Jazeera, April 15, 2020, https://www.aljazeera.com/opinions/2020/4/15/the-pandemic-can-be-a-catalyst-for-decolonisation-in-africa; Elisio Macamo, The Taming of Fate: Approaching Risk from a Social Action Perspective Case Studies from Southern Mozambique (Dakar: CODESRIA, 2017).
- 4Mark Cave and Stephen M. Sloan, Listening on the Edge: Oral History in the Aftermath of Crisis (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2014).