Bi-Annual Fellows Workshop

United States International University-Africa

Nairobi, Kenya – Fellows from the Social Science Research Council’s (SSRC) Next Generation Social Sciences in Africa (Next Gen) program gathered in Nairobi, Kenya, during the second week of January for the 14th bi-annual fellows workshop.  The event was held in partnership with United States International University-Africa (USIU-Africa), and in collaboration with the SSRC’s African Peacebuilding Network (APN) program, which held its grantees workshop from January 9-11, 2019.

28 doctoral dissertation proposal development and research fellows from eight African countries were joined by five dynamic workshop facilitators and convened in Nairobi for the three-day event.  The workshop was designed to help early-career faculty engage in scholarly reflections, research and writing.  Activities included a series of plenary lectures along with working and one-on-one sessions with facilitators on interdisciplinary perspectives relating to peace, security and development.

During the workshop, dissertation proposal development fellows worked on creating networks while refining, developing and strengthening research questions.  They also learned to align research questions to methods, engage key literature in their fields, and finalize their dissertation proposals.  Dissertation research fellows focused on further developing and strengthening their research while engaging with key literature in their fields, preparing to embark on fieldwork-based research, and developing their capacity for scholarly writing, including academic publications.

Professor Paul Zeleza, vice-chancellor of USIU-Africa, opened the workshop on the first day with a brilliant keynote titled “Reckoning with the Pasts and Reimagining the Futures of African Studies for the 21st Century.”  He presented an engaging history of the development of African Studies and the struggle to decolonize the humanities and social sciences in Africa and ended with a call to action urging the discipline to confront its “racialized and racially fraught” history and abandon Euro/America-centric African Studies.

The following day, a panel chaired by Ron Kassimir, vice president of programs at the SSRC, was convened to discuss “The State of Social Science Research in Africa: Interdisciplinary and Comparative Perspectives.”  Panelists included Dr. Mutuma Ruteere, director of the Center for Human Rights and Policy Studies (CHRIPS), Steve Ouma Akoth, director of The Pamoja Trust, Anthony Diala, a senior lecturer at the University of the Western Cape, Joyce Omwoha, a lecturer at the Technical University of Kenya, and Charles Ukeje, a professor at Obafemi Awolowo University. The panel included a conversation between the panelists and fellows in which questions were raised interrogating the practical limits of social science research and how knowledge could be disseminated more broadly.

On January 9, workshop attendees participated in the first-ever joint session between APN and Next Gen, designed to build synergies between the two programs and foster new connections between fellows and grantees.  This inaugural and historical event was headlined by a distinguished keynote from Ambassador Macharia Kamau, the Kenyan Principal Secretary in the Ministry of Foreign Affairs.  In his keynote, Ambassador Kamau stressed the importance of peace, security and stability and how fundamental they are in the transformation of peoples’ lives for the development of society.  He notably stated that, “We live in an over-securitized and over-militarized world that has led to an underappreciation for peacebuilding initiatives that help sustain new democracies that create more inclusive societies.”

After the morning’s joint session, fellows and grantees from both programs visited the national Commission for Science, Technology and Innovation (NACOSTI) where they were given a brief but illuminating presentation on how the organization was working to integrate science and technology into the daily lives of Kenyans.  Representatives from NACOSTI also discussed the process of being granted clearance in Kenya to conduct research, which many bourgeoning research fellows found profoundly helpful.

Ron Kassimir, who represented the SSRC at both workshops, remarked that, “With the quality of the discussions, and the warm collegiality with which the participants engaged each other, the workshop exceeded our (already) high hopes.”