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The Social Science Research Council’s (SSRC’s) African Peacebuilding Network (APN) and the Next Generation Social Sciences in Africa (Next Gen) programs held their joint Research Methods Workshop in Casablanca, Morocco in partnership with the African Institute for Peacebuilding and Conflict Transformation (AIPECT) on Sept 26-29, 2022.
The event commenced with opening remarks by Dr. Fred Palm, the vice president of the SSRC, and Dr. Cyril Obi, the program director of APN and Next Gen. This was followed by the introduction of SSRC fellows and workshop facilitators by Dr. Duncan Omanga, the senior program officer of APN and Next Gen. Dr. Mohammed Gain, the president of the African Institute for Peacebuilding and Conflict Transformation (AIPECT), introduced the guest of honor and president of the Moroccan Economic, Social and Environmental Council (ESEC) Ahmed Reda Chami, who made his welcome remarks.
The workshop marked the program’s resumption of in-person convenings after the pandemic. It brought together the 2022 cohort of 18 APN fellows and 42 Next Gen fellows from over 15 African countries. Participants benefited from keynote lectures, small working groups, one-on-one sessions, and a joint panel discussion, as well as a day trip to research and policy institutions in Rabat. The three-day workshop provided fellows with the opportunity to present their proposals, chapters, and projects in small workshop groups facilitated by experienced facilitators who were senior and experienced scholars. They also received feedback from and provided feedback to other fellows’ work. The facilitators also held one-on-one sessions during which they provided each fellow with detailed comments and further guidance on refining their research questions, strengthening their research methods, and fleshing out the theoretical frameworks of their proposals before heading out to the field to collect data for their projects.
Prof. Mwenda Ntarangwi, provost in charge of academics, students, and research at NIRUC, a constituent college of the NDU-Kenya, delivered the first keynote lecture on “Social Science Research in Africa in an Age of Disruptions.” The lecture was guided by the key question, “who are you writing for?” while urging participants to “tell the African story.” He outlined disruptions, related to history, economics, politics, culture, digital technologies, and biology, which have shaped social science research in Africa. Recounting his personal experience, Prof. Ntarangwi advised fellows to work hard on their research, scholarly writing, and dissemination of their findings to “change the overwhelming reality of Africans as objects to be studied and represented by others to subjects who study and represent themselves.” He concluded by inviting fellows to consider two approaches to research; the first one being an “Afrocentric framing of research questions and practices” which begins with the “assertion that Africans are subjects and agents of their own lived realities as opposed to being objects within a Western frame of reference.” The second approach pertains to in-depth qualitative research “that allows for a more nuanced understanding of social realities that are lived out and expressed by the people [fellows] study.”
On Day 2, Dr. Thomas Molony, senior lecturer in African Studies at the Centre of African Studies, University of Edinburgh, gave the second keynote lecture titled: “Observations on Observation.” He explored what it means to observe in the context of positionality, that is, the effect of who the researcher is, in terms of identity and background, in relation to the group being studied. He used the example of his participation as an international election observer in the recent Kenyan elections to guide the discussions and research questions, methods of data collection, and the impact of one’s research on knowledge production.
This was followed by a trip to places of interest and two institutions in Rabat: the Economic, Social and Environmental Council (ESEC) and the Rabita Mohammadia of Oulamas (Mohammadia League of Scholars). It was a great opportunity to learn more about Morocco, particularly the work and activities of some institutions in the areas of African development, solidarity, integration, and peacebuilding. At the ESEC, we listened to informative presentations by Younes Benakki, secretary-general of ESEC, and Hashim El Ayoubi, a senior expert in charge of international cooperation, on the institution’s advisory missions for the adoption of a development charter for Africa, including a road map for sustainability, economic cooperation, and regional integration, and the ESEC’s role in exploring the opportunities and challenges facing climate action on the continent. The group also visited the Rabita Mohammadia of Oulamas (Mohammadia League of Scholars) where Yassin Ben Larab, a member of the secretariat general of the Rabita Mohammadia, gave an address on the role of the institution in promoting a tolerant and open form of Islam, organizing conferences and outreach activities, and supporting the research and publications of Islamic scholars. Other aspects of his presentation focused on the promotion of Islamic education and sensitization programs for advancing moderate Islamic values such as tolerance, peaceful co-existence, and reconciliation among young people. He also spoke to the work of the Rabita on the design and implementation of a program directed at the deradicalization, rehabilitation, and reintegration of extremists and returning ex-fighters in Moroccan prisons. Workshop participants also took time off to visit other local attractions and markets in Rabat before having dinner at a traditional Moroccan restaurant.
On the third and final day, the workshop rounded off the one-on-one sessions and held an engaging panel discussion on “Navigating Academic Research and Scholarly Traditions in a Changing World,” moderated by Dr. Duncan Omanga. The panelists were Prof. Ismail Rashid, Kafui Tsekpo, Prof. Nana Akua Anyidoho, Prof. Eunice Kamara, Haydee Bangerezako, and Prof. Gilbert Khadiagala. The panelists critically interrogated what “good research methods” mean in a knowledge economy that is transnational, collaborative, and competitive from an African perspective. They emphasized the importance of history, the politics of knowledge production, and the positionality of African researchers in shaping methodologies that are relevant, valid, and locally rooted in African epistemologies and how to make such Africa-focused research globally competitive and visible.