This summer I had the pleasure of attending APSA’s 8th annual Africa Workshop in Nairobi, Kenya. For two weeks I was on campus at United States International University-Africa (USIU) for an intensive program on “Conflict and Political Violence” led by John F. Clark (Florida International University), Pamela Mbabazi (Mbarara University of Science & Technology), Kennedy Mkutu (USIU), and Beth Elise Whitaker (UNC-Charlotte). The co-leaders and I were joined by 26 PhD students and early-career faculty from universities across Africa and the United States.
Even as a bystander to the daily lectures and debates taking place, it was an enriching experience. Vibrant discussion on questions such as ‘What is the role of the state in creating grievances that result in violence?’, ‘When are different levels of analysis most useful in studying violent conflict?’, ‘What explains the success or failure of peace agreements?’, were made all the more interesting (and sometimes contentious!) by the varied mix of methodological approaches, focus areas, and countries represented among the participants. Throughout their sessions, co-leaders grounded substantive analysis of these topics in a discussion of different methods used across the literature; the approach has been well received. Early in the first week, after a session by Jason Giersch (UNC-Charlotte) on “Being a Consumer of Quantitative Research,” one participant told me it was an “A-ha!” moment for him. Another spoke of a whole new body of literature that he had been turned on to as a result of the extensive reading list that we assigned. Perhaps most useful, though, was the quality time allocated for presenting, critiquing, and workshopping the research manuscripts brought by each participant.
For a much needed respite from the intense program, and a strategic move to avoid the traffic and #Obamainkenya fervor that gripped Nairobi over the weekend, we embarked on an overnight visit to Amboseli National Park in southern Kenya. Open our return, we visited the entrepreneurial data collection/tech network Ushahidi (www.ushahidi.com) and attended a public symposium on “Avoiding the Resource Curse in Kenya” with guest speakers Professor Peter Anyang’ Nyong’o (Senator of Kisumu County) and Mr. Elijah Odondi (Deputy County Commissioner from Lokichar, South Turkana).
After 4 years of managing the Africa Workshops, I’m looking forward to the next phase of this year’s program: the scholarship, expanded networking, and general support that take place after everyone flies home to their own institutions. As with past Africa Workshops, participants will use the coming months and years to refine their research into completed dissertations, peer reviewed journal articles, and monographs. Some may develop new course syllabi or organize local workshops of their own based on this experience. Ultimately, the real benefit of APSA’s Africa Workshops is the interconnected community of 230 alumni that are actively advancing political science research and adding to our discipline – not just in Africa, but across the world.
Manager, International Programs
American Political Science Association