Between October 2020 and June 2022, I led a group of researchers that received the African Peacebuilding Network (APN) Collaborative Working Group (CWG) fellowship award from the Social Science Research Council (SSRC) to conduct an 18-month research project on, “The African Union and the Resolution of Constitutional Crises in Africa.” Our group consisted of five other colleagues: Kwaku Agyeman-Budu from Ghana, Marystella Auma  Simiyu from Kenya,  Balingene Kahombo and Trésor Muhindo Makunya from the Democratic Republic of Congo,  Jean-Baptiste Serugo from Rwanda, and Magdalena Sylister from Tanzania. Our project examined the African Union’s role in resolving constitutional crises and the extent that this contributes to the consolidation of peace, democracy, and constitutionalism in Africa.

I did not know of the existence of the APN program until I discovered it through a Google search for sources of research grants ahead of my return to the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC) after eight years of living and working in Berlin, Germany. I completed my doctoral studies at the Free University of Berlin in 2018 and stayed back in Germany after receiving a fellowship from the Berlin Potsdam Research Group for a research project based at Humboldt University on “The International Rule of Law–Rise or Decline ?” Within this Research Group, I examined issues relating to collective security through the African Union Peace and Security Council (AU-PSC). As my project in Germany was coming to an end in February 2020, I envisaged the APN fellowship as an opportunity to ensure continuity in my research after returning to the DRC. Fortunately, my fellow team members and colleagues enthusiastically accepted my invitation to form a multinational research team to undertake the project.

Since I did not want to extend my stay in Germany, I aimed for an international fellowship that would support me to conduct high-level research in the DRC where the scientific culture had declined over the past three decades due to political crises, armed conflicts, and state decline. Another reason was that I wanted to encourage my colleagues, assistants, and students that everything was not entirely lost and that together, we could re-ignite the flame of scientific research excellence and restore the dignity of Congolese education to the high repute it enjoyed before 1990. I also received encouragement and support from the University of Goma and the Faculty of Legal, Political and Administrative Sciences, Management and International Relations, who agreed to host the APN-supported project.

As a Congolese national and a Francophone researcher, I considered the APN CWG fellowship award an opportunity to build on my Francophone and German research experience, by adding an Anglophone dimension, although I realized during the application process that the SSRC’s program also aimed to foster connections between African scholars and researchers from Francophone, Anglophone, and other language blocs and regions.

The APN CWG experience was a very enriching one. First, the CWG brought together African legal researchers to study a topic at the intersection of constitutional and international law, political science, and African international relations. From a methodological point of view, this was a challenging topic to address even though I had the chance to learn interdisciplinarity from the late Professor Oswald Ndeshyo, who had included me in his research on African affairs between 2007 and 2012 at the University of Kinshasa. Fortunately, APN assigned the CWG two mentors, Professor Kenneth Omeje and Professor Amy Niang, both senior and highly experienced political science scholars, who strengthened our capacity with their guidance on how to conduct field research from an interdisciplinary perspective. A research methodology workshop was convened on January 30, 2021, to enable the group’s members to present their proposals on how they intended to conduct their research. This was the most important moment of the first phase of our project because of the interaction researchers had with the mentors and other participants to plan the ways forward. As the CWG members are legal scholars, some of whom have only a partial background in international relations, this was a very important addition to their skill sets.

Another workshop was held on October 16, 2021, to present and discuss the preliminary results of our research.  It was attended by the host institution and scholars from the DRC and other African universities, such as the University of Yaounde II in Cameroon and the University of Tangier in Morocco. Some policymakers were also in attendance, such as Professor Khabele Matlosa, former Director for Political Affairs at the African Union Commission (AUC). Apart from feedback and insights received by the team members, it is evident that our project contributed to the increased visibility of the University of Goma, within the country and internationally.

Second, the APN CWG enabled me to rebuild my network and consolidate my contacts in the research and policymaking landscape in Africa. Due to my prolonged stay in Germany, I lost part of my connections with many African colleagues, research institutions, and civil society organizations. Regarding my team members, some of whom I met for the first time, such as Jean-Baptiste Serugo from Rwanda and Marystella Auma Simiyu from Kenya, we were able to grow into a small but effective multinational network of researchers, even if all our meetings were virtual due to the Covid-19 pandemic. Given our successful achievement of the goals of our APN CWG, I strongly envision our collaboration on other projects in the future.

Our CWG also successfully reached out in various ways to African policymakers and practitioners. I met some of them at the AU Commission in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia, and invited others to the group’s virtual workshops. Our members and I participated in various events or projects of several partner organizations. Specifically, we participated in the conference co-organized by the SSRC’s APN and the Search for Common Ground (SFCG) on March 23-24, 2021, in which colleagues and graduate students of the University of Goma, the host institution of the APN CWG also participated. They played an important role in the, “Great Lakes Region 2030 Conference on “Consolidating and sustaining peace.” CWG member Trésor Makunya Muhindo presented a paper on “Gendered approach to peacebuilding in the GLR,” while I presented a paper on “Governance of Natural Resources and Peace in the African Great Lakes Region.” These presentations were revised and published online as contributions to a special volume of the APN blog, Kujenga Amani, with me as the guest editor.

Another rewarding experience was the dialogue with representatives of member-states of the African Court of Human and Peoples’ Rights (ACHPR). One of the key problems discussed was the Court’s involvement in constitutional issues and electoral disputes within its member-states. I was invited to this meeting thanks to a member of my team who had shared my contacts with the conveners : the African Court and the NGO Coalition for the African Court. I had the opportunity not only to make a presentation on how to enhance cooperation with the African Court on Human and Peoples’ Rights by providing answers to the concerns raised by participant member-states, but also to facilitate exchanges with policymakers, academics, and the researchers on some of the findings of the APN-CWG project.

Furthermore, I attended several online workshops on African political affairs and constitutionalism. These included workshops organized by the NGO Democracy Works Foundation in July 2021, with a view to validating the findings of investigative reports on political parties and party systems in nine member-states of the Southern African Development Community (SADC). I also facilitated training sessions for civil society organizations on the local implementation of the AU, and ECCAS (Economic Community of Central African States) policy frameworks for Security Sector Reform and Governance in DRC, at the request of the African Security Sector Network (ASSN).

The time of writing this piece coincides with the publication of the research findings of our CWG project in a special volume of the journal “Law in Africa” edited by Nomos, a German scholarly publishing platform.1Law in Africa, vol. 25, no. 1 (2022), https://www.nomos-elibrary.de/10.5771/2363-6270-2022-1/ria-recht-in-afrika-law-in-africa-droit-en-afrique-jahrgang-25-2022-heft-1 I am happy to note that the CWG members contributed top quality research-based articles to this volume and helped in adding to existing knowledge on the field of the African Union’s contributions to constitutionalism on the continent.

I also note that the APN has been a mirror with which one can see, reflect, and project himself into the future as a top-level researcher and expert. With this program, the SSRC also offers a variety of opportunities to Africa-based scholars, whether individual or collaborative fellowships, as evidenced by regular announcements and calls for papers that we receive on a weekly basis by email.

As the AU Agenda 2063 shows, Africa’s development is largely dependent on the progress Africans make in the field of research, education, technological innovation, and science. APN is an outstanding program that is contributing to the actualization of the goals of Agenda 2063 by supporting and promoting the careers, professional growth, and expertise of generations of young African scholars. I strongly recommend the program to other researchers based in Africa who want to join the APN community. In this regard, I advise the SSRC to open regional offices in Africa to be more proximate to the continent and interact closely with African scholars and institutions.

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References
  • 1
    Law in Africa, vol. 25, no. 1 (2022), https://www.nomos-elibrary.de/10.5771/2363-6270-2022-1/ria-recht-in-afrika-law-in-africa-droit-en-afrique-jahrgang-25-2022-heft-1