Graham Oluteyo Amakanji is a Lecturer at the Department of Peace and Conflict Studies at Masinde Muliro University of Science & Technology (MMUST), Kenya. He is an early career scholar and a recipient of the Social Science Research Council’s Next Generation Social Sciences in Africa Program’s 2021 Doctoral Dissertation Research and 2022 Doctoral Dissertation Completion Fellowship awards. Graham is also a Rotary Peace Fellow at the Rotary Peace Center- Makerere University, Uganda, and is quickly establishing himself as a trailblazing researcher, particularly in the field of Afrocentric trans-disciplinary studies. His research thesis, “Calibrating Homegrown Extremism over Intractable Communal Land Use Conflicts in Mount Elgon Region of Western Kenya,” focused on the intricate interplay between peace and climate change, shedding light on the critical issues surrounding land use and natural resource conflicts, as well as the complex dynamics of governance, homegrown extremism, and development studies.
Next Gen: Please describe the central argument of your doctoral dissertation. What is its main contribution to knowledge in your field?
Graham Oluteyo Amakanji: The thesis posited that the end of the Cold War was marked by a surge in violent intra-state confrontations, leading to an increase in the number of extremist militia groups and armed non-state groups. In the discourses of homegrown extremism, Africa has epitomized the global picture regarding homegrown extremism and natural resource conflicts ranging from: warlordism in Liberia (1989-2003) and Sierra Leone (1991-2001), including conflict over mineral-rich territories. Examples of mass violence include the genocide in Rwanda in 1994, conflicts between pastoralists and sedentary farmers in Darfur in Western Sudan (2003-2005); and Boko Haram attacks in North East Nigeria, which are partly provoked by religious ideological narratives surrounding the politics of relative deprivation and extremism in the Sahel region. The insecurity in the region is fundamentally tied to weak governance, inequalities, and scarcity of resources, among others. Peaking in 2016, these violent contestations are on the upsurge as a domino effects of population explosion, urbanization, adverse effects of climate change, and deteriorating land quality.
Guided by the Pragmatic Africanacity philosophy, this thesis represented a departure from the conventional Euro-American-dominated discourse on extremism. It is asserted, using the Mount Elgon Region as a case study, that a new phase of violent extremism over land and resource distribution may be imminent. This emerging dynamic, coupled with existing security challenges posed by conventional extremist organizations, is poised to reshape the global, regional, national, and local counter-violent extremism architecture.
The study aimed to integrate Afrocentric perspectives into the discourse on homegrown extremism by challenging Euro-American-centric narratives that have long dominated the field. It sought to stimulate scholarly discussions on extremism that deviate from conventional Euro-American paradigms, particularly by emphasizing the need to pay close attention to the specificities of unique Afrocentric contexts.
Furthermore, the thesis contended that strategies for counter-violent extremism (CVE) in Kenya and Africa have been skewed towards addressing external Euro-American interests and Western framed security narratives, primarily focusing on combatting groups like al-Shabaab and al-Qaeda in collaboration with Western allies. This focus has led to the neglect of crucial locally rooted drivers of homegrown extremism such as inequalities, struggles over ownership and access to land and natural resources, access to political power and governance, and conflicts linked to marginalization and the inequitable distribution of state services. It is further argued that a Euro-centric approach to violent extremism contributes to the cyclical nature of extreme violence in the African continent. The consequences of such conflicts include societal destruction, extensive loss of lives, property damage, and, sometimes, apocalyptic destruction of the social fabric.
In conclusion, the thesis posits that extremism ought to be context-dependent, underscoring the necessity to tailor counter-extremism policies to Africa’s unique circumstances for effective conflict prevention. As the anticipated surge in conflicts looms, understanding and addressing the root causes of homegrown extremism becomes imperative for achieving local, regional, and global peace, security, and development, including Kenya’s Vision 2030, the Sustainable Development Agenda 2015-2030, and Africa’s Agenda 2063.
How did the Next Gen fellowship program impact your doctoral journey?
Receiving the Next Gen Fellowship awards and participating in the program’s activities have been transformative and indispensable aspects of my doctoral journey, culminating in my graduation on December 1, 2023. The Doctoral Dissertation Research Fellowship in 2021 and the Doctoral Dissertation Completion Fellowship in 2022 have profoundly impacted various dimensions of my academic and research experience in the following ways:
i. Accelerated Completion Times:
The financial support provided by the fellowship awards significantly accelerated the completion of my doctoral research. Without this award, my fieldwork, data analysis, and scholarly writing timelines would have been considerably longer. The investment made by the Next Gen Fellowship program has not only propelled my individual academic journey but also highlighted the need for postgraduate support and research initiatives in African universities by African governments. This also underscores the point that substantial advancements in academic research and completion times can be achieved with relatively modest investments.
ii. Peer Learning:
One of the benefits of the Next Gen Fellowship program has been the opportunity for peer learning. Engaging with doctoral colleagues from across the African continent and around the world has enriched my scholarly perspectives. Learning from fellow scholars’ diverse experiences and approaches has been intellectually stimulating and broadened my research scope.
iii. Mentorship by Top African Scholars:
The mentorship provided by senior and highly experienced African scholars based within and outside the continent has been a beacon of inspiration throughout my doctoral journey. Their guidance and insights have shaped my research and writing and instilled a sense of purpose and commitment to contributing meaningfully to the field of peacebuilding.
iv. Research Methods and Writing Workshops:
Participation in research methods and writing workshops facilitated by the Next Gen Fellowship program has significantly enriched my writing skills. The workshops provided a space for presenting our research, peer-to-peer learning, and mentorship. They also granted us exposure to develop or skills in applying practical research tools, methodologies, and constructive feedback that enhanced the quality and clarity of my research output. This training has been instrumental not only in the completion of my dissertation but also in establishing a strong foundation for future research endeavors.
v. Keynote Guests and Decoloniality:
Including keynote speakers in the program has been a highlight, shaping and influencing my quest for decoloniality in knowledge production. Exposure to diverse perspectives and voices has prompted a critical examination of conventional narratives and a commitment to challenging existing power structures in academia. This emphasis on decoloniality aligns with a global movement towards more inclusive and equitable knowledge production.
vi. Opportunities for Networking:
The Next Gen Fellowship program has provided unparalleled opportunities for networking in publications, research collaborations, professional development, and career progression. The connections established during the fellowship have opened doors for collaborative research projects, publication opportunities, and potential avenues for career advancement. The expansive and dynamic network created through this program is a valuable asset that extends beyond the fellowship period.
In conclusion, the Next Gen Fellowship program has been a pillar of support, fostering my academic growth and contributing significantly to the successful completion of my doctoral degree. As I step into the next phase of my academic career, I carry with me not just a doctoral degree but a wealth of experiences and connections that will undoubtedly shape my future contributions to scholarship in Africa. The Next Gen Fellowship program serves as a testament to the potential for optimism, collaboration, and positive change within the African and global academic community.
Now that you have completed your PhD, what are your plans for the future?
Completing my PhD marks a significant milestone in my academic journey, and as I embark on the next phase of my career, I am fueled by a strong commitment to contribute meaningfully to society. While completing a doctorate is a significant achievement, I recognize that the true impact lies in the decades ahead, where applying my expertise can make a lasting difference.
In line with my dedication to academia, I plan to utilize my PhD in three core areas: teaching, collaborative research, and community outreach. These pillars align with my passion for Peace, Security, and Development Studies, and I see them as integral to fostering positive change in pursuit for sustainable peace.
- Teaching: One of my primary goals is to impart knowledge and inspire the next generation of scholars in the field of Peace, Security, and Development Studies. By teaching, I aim to share the insights gained during my doctoral journey and nurture a new cohort of individuals committed to positively impacting global peace.
- Collaborative Research and Innovative Projects: Engaging in collaborative research initiatives will be a cornerstone of my post-PhD scholarly endeavors. I plan to contribute to the development of sustainable peace policies through innovative projects that bridge academia and real-world applications. By collaborating with fellow researchers, institutions, and policymakers, I aspire to be at the forefront of generating impactful solutions to contemporary challenges.
- Community Outreach Programs: Recognizing the importance of connecting academic knowledge with societal needs, I intend to spearhead collaborative, high-impact, and self-sustaining community outreach programs. These initiatives will bridge academic research and tangible improvements in local communities, fostering a sense of shared responsibility for peace and development.
Additionally, my ambition extends to pursuing post-doctoral studies. I am eager to delve deeper into studies on preventing homegrown extremism and peacebuilding, further advancing my expertise and contributing to cutting-edge research within the field. I see this as a continuous journey of intellectual growth and an opportunity to stay abreast of evolving trends and challenges.
Looking further ahead, I hope to become a Professor of Peace and Conflict Studies. This aspiration is driven by a profound desire to provide leadership in shaping the academic landscape, mentoring aspiring scholars, and influencing the discourse on Afripeace and conflict. I believe combining teaching, research, and community engagement is pivotal in creating a holistic and sustainable impact.
Indeed, while completing my PhD is a significant achievement, I view it as a stepping stone toward a more impactful future. Through teaching, collaborative research, community outreach, and ongoing academic pursuits, I am committed to advancing peace, security, and development studies, with the ultimate goal of making a positive and lasting difference in society.
What advice do you have for upcoming doctoral students?
- Upcoming doctoral students should build a strong support system.
Embarking on a doctoral journey can be a lonely experience. Identify someone, preferably a peer ahead or at the same stage, to keep you grounded and on track. Having a support system provides valuable encouragement and helps you to better navigate challenges.
2. Embrace Criticism with an Open Mind
Expect a myriad of constructive and occasionally destructive criticism. Keep an open mind, recognizing that diverse feedback is crucial for growth. Accept some, reject some!!
3. Set Deliberate Milestones
Develop a deliberate plan by setting milestones for each year of your doctoral program. This approach creates a roadmap for progress, ensuring you stay on track and accomplish key objectives within specified timeframes.
4. Establish a Routine
Developing a routine is essential for managing the demands of doctoral studies. Create a schedule that accommodates research, writing, and self-care. Consistency in your routine fosters productivity and helps maintain a healthy work-life balance.
5. Have Fun and Maintain Balance
Amid the rigors of doctoral studies, remember to have as much fun as possible. Taking breaks, celebrating achievements, and enjoying life outside academia is okay. I personally found that maintaining a level head was aided by embracing moments of joy, including socializing, and having a vibrant social life. Your positive mindset will be your greatest asset throughout this fulfilling academic endeavor.
Consider embarking on the doctoral journey at a younger age when resilience and energy are abundant. Your youth can be a tremendous asset in navigating the challenges of doctoral studies. Best of luck on this exciting and rewarding adventure!
Graham Oluteyo Amakanji’s published works:
Amakanji, G. O., Okoth, P. G., & Maloba, E. W. (2023). The Cursed Promised Land? Demographic Risk Factors for Homegrown Extremism in the Squatter Enclaves of Mount Elgon Region of Western Kenya. Journal of Asian and African Studies, 0 (0). https://doi.org/10.1177/00219096231197777
Amakanji, G. O., Okoth, P. G., & Maloba, E. W. (2023). Leveraging Devolution as a Pathway to the Management of Homegrown Extremism over Intractable Land-use Conflicts in Chepyuk Settlement Schemes, Kenya,” Journal of African Conflicts and Peace Studies: Vol. 5: Iss. 2, https://digitalcommons.usf.edu/jacaps/vol5/iss2/4.