Ep. 103: A conversation with Cyril Obi of the African Peacebuilding Network

Joining us in conversation this week is Cyril Obi, program director of the African Peacebuilding Network, to talk with Rachel about the geopolitics of oil in Africa, his work with the Next Generation Social Sciences in Africa Program, and the great work of the African Peacebuilding Network.

And if you’re still looking for gifts for your African studies friends, check out this week’s news wrap where Kim and Rachel share the books we should be reading. In other news, we talk Ghanian elections, all of the happenings in the Sahel, and Malawi being selected as the country of the year.

Listen to the episode below!

Our Guest

Books from the Episode

Western Sahara: War, Nationalism, and Conflict Irresolution by Stephen Zunes and Jacob Mundy

Travelling While Black: Essays Inspired by a Life on the Move by Nanjala Nyabola

Development, (Dual) Citizenship and Its Discontents in Africa: The Political Economy of Belonging to Liberia by Robtel Neajai Paile

Global Norms and Local Action: The Campaigns to End Violence against Women in Africa by Peace Medie

The Governance, Security and Development Nexus: Africa Rising edited by Kenneth Omeje

Peacebuilding in Contemporary Africa: In Search of Alternative Strategies edited by Kenneth Omeje

South Africa’s Post-Apartheid Military: Lost in Transition and Transformation by Lindy Heinecken

The Postcolonial African State in Transition: Stateness and Modes of Sovereignty by Amy Niang

Community of Insecurity: SADC’s Struggle for Peace and Security in Southern Africa by Laurie Nathan

War-Time Care Work and Peacebuilding in Africa by Fatma Osman Ibnouf

Researching Peacebuilding in Africa: Reflections on Theory, Fieldwork and Context edited by Ismail Rashid and Amy Niang

Other Links and Articles

The Politics of Pandemic Othering: Putting COVID-19 in Global and Historical Context” by Kim Yi Dionne and Fulya Felicity Turkmen

Ghana’s Election Was Largely a Referendum on President Akufo-Addo’s Economic Vision” by Richard Aidoo

Echoes of the Sahel (8 December 2020) by Clingendael Institute

The U.S. Recognized Moroccan Sovereignty over the Disputed Western Sahara. Here’s What That Means.” by Jacob Mundy

SK Global & Mazur Kaplan Company Pick Up Peace Adzo Medie’s Novel ‘His Only Wife’” by Anthony D’Alessandro

Which Is The Economist’s Country of the Year?” by The Economist

Are Women ‘Really’ Making a Unique Contribution to Peacekeeping? The Rhetoric and the Reality” by Lindy Heinecken

The Mandate Effect: A Typology and Conceptualization of Mediation Mandates” by Laurie Nathan

The Great Lakes in Africa: Regional Politics and Dynamics” by Aymar Nyenyezi Bisoka

Environmental Conflict, Traditional Institutions, and Durable Peace in Niger Delta” by Abosede Babatunde

Local Perspectives on Food Security in Nigeria’s Niger Delta” by Abosede Babatunde

The Geopolitical Consequences of Oil in Africa: The Case of Nigeria” by Cyril Obi

Oil and the International Politics of the African State” by Cyril Obi

Previous Episodes We Mentioned

Ep. 91. A conversation with Peace Medie about gender and conflict in Africa, writing research and fiction, and more

Ep. 102: A conversation with Noah Nathan about the Ghanaian election

Transcript

Kim: Welcome to Ufahamu Africa, a podcast about life and politics on the continent. I’m Kim Yi Dionne, your host, and I’m joined by my co-host, Rachel Beatty Riedl. Hi, Rachel.

Rachel: Hi, Kim. So, today we have a news wrap talking about Ghana elections, all of the happenings in the Sahel, how many new books and more, and then we turn to this week’s episode, which features a conversation with Cyril Obi, where we talk about excellent research by members of African Peacebuilding Network, and some of the most pressing research agendas that he sees in African peace, security and development, as well as Cyril’s ongoing research on the geopolitics of oil in Africa, including a really interesting discussion on how the energy transitions in the world will play out in Africa and with what consequences. So, from Nigeria to Angola as major oil producers, and the switch to mineral producing countries such as Zambia, DRC, and many others where the necessary materials are located for batteries, and tech products that are really fueling the future. And one other note of consequence of big shout out to Kim and our wonderful Ufahamu Africa production assistant, and UCR PhD student, Fulya Felicity Turkmen on their recent IO article, The Politics of Pandemic Othering: Putting COVID-19 in Global and Historical Context. So, to all of our listeners, this one is great to check out. It’s free to download right now at Cambridge Core. And it’s really an amazing set of analysis on previous pandemics to historicize pandemic othering and blame and to enumerate some of the consequences of this for politics, policy and public health. So, definitely check it out!

Kim: Thanks, Rachel. Yeah, there’s, you know, there’s a bit in that article about Africans in China, and how a lot of people talk about pandemic othering, particularly in the COVID-19 pandemic, thinking about Chinese or Chinese diaspora or maybe even people of Asian descent. But, you know, this kind of pandemic othering happens as well to Africans in China to Africans in Italy. And I know that our friends and fellow podcasters Judd Devermont and Travis Adkins had a recent episode about Africans in China on their Race and Diplomacy podcast and we’re going to talk about that in our next episode, but I’m grateful that you brought it up, and I hope our listeners have a chance to read it while the PDF is still free. Talking about our recent episodes, I wanted to draw our listeners’ attention to last week’s episode when you were talking about the Ghanaian elections with Noah Nathan. There’s a new piece in The Monkey Cage at the Washington Post by Richard Aidoo where he, you know, reflects on what the 2020 Ghanaian election means, right. And the winner, you know, incumbent President Akufo-Addo, how his first term rhetoric and policies really centered on economic development, and how his campaign promises in 2016 and also this year in 2020, were to build a Ghana beyond aid, right. So, looking beyond foreign aid and dependency on foreign assistance in order to develop. And his piece looks at what Akufo-Addo’s win means for economic progress in Ghana and in Africa more broadly, and it’s a great piece and it draws on his own work on political economy. And, you know, we don’t really get a firm outlook on what might happen in the post pandemic economic setting. But, you know, I think there’s some optimism about Ghana’s development agenda, even if we’re not convinced quite yet that’s going to be in the absence of foreign aid.

Rachel: So interesting, Kim, I’ll be excited to check that out and also really see what the next four years will bring for Ghana. It’s such an important case, study of democracy and democratic resilience of transition. And a model of economic reform, thinking back from Jerry Rawlings is kind of leading attempts with structural adjustment and then economic development under the NPP and the like. So, this will be an interesting case to continue to follow over the next four years. I also wanted to give a quick roundup of happenings in the Sahel, and this is courtesy of the Clingendael Institute, which came to my attention via This Week in Africa, thanks to Jeffrey Paller. So, I wanted to kind of go over a few of the happenings there to give our listeners an update. And the first issue of note is really that French forces are scaling back across the Sahel and particularly in Mali, which is due to both domestic pressure on President Macron as well as rising anti French sentiment in the region. But a leading general of the G5 has warned against this strategy saying that the G5 field forces really rely heavily on French airpower, communications and surveillance to fill gaps in their own technical capacities and field forces. Now the G5 encompasses Burkina Faso, Chad, Mali, Mauritania and Niger. So, it’s really quite an interesting set of regional players working together to overcome previous boundaries and barriers that have been centered on kind of domestic responses. EU Special Forces have also recently arrived and they’re in the region and the UK is just deployed 300 troops to support the UN mission in Mali, in particular with reconnaissance capability. Now the Malian Prime Minister Moctar Ouane has asserted that government’s intention to pursue dialogue with jihadist groups. So, in that sense, there is room for negotiation which is a bit of a change in tactic. In Bamako, The National Transition Council was installed this weekend with Colonel Malick Diaw is president and the opposition coalition in Mali that had led antigovernment protests. The M5RFP had led these protests before the August who have refused to sit on this Transitional Council because they were denouncing the high number of military members that have been appointed to it. So, this really marks a concern at the opposition about the nature of the Transitional Council. in Burkina Faso, The International Organization for Migration and the European Union and the government have together launched the construction of a reception center for migrants in the country. And in Niger, electoral campaigns for presidential and legislative elections on December 27 have kicked off. So, keep an eye out for future updates on those Niger elections.

Kim: There was a lot of foreign relations in that round up on the Sahel and it’s making me think of, you know, in last week’s episode, we talked about what was happening in Morocco, right. US President Trump’s decision to formally recognize Western Sahara as part of Morocco and Morocco’s claim over Western Sahara, even though it is disputed territory. And there was a piece again in The Monkey Cage of The Washington Post this time by Jacob Mundy, who’s an associate professor of Peace and Conflict Studies at Colgate University, where he writes in greater depth about, you know, what this what this recognition by Trump in his administration means and what players we should be looking to and actually one serious player that he talks about is France and Macron. And, you know, what’s happening in Morocco, you know, this kind of unilateral recognition by the United States might also invite some counter meddling from other powers like for example, Russia and this was something that the democratic representative from New York Eliot Engle has warned in his criticism of the administration’s move. For our listeners who want to understand more about what’s happening in Morocco and the Western Sahara, Jacob Mundy’s co-authored book with Stephen Zunes, titled Western Sahara: War, Nationalism, and Conflict Irresolution is going to be republished by Syracuse University Press in paperback in 2021.

Rachel: Awesome Kim, that’ll be a great resource. And I feel as though this newsletter and this type of book really give an in depth look at a region that is so little discussed and so little understood. So, that’s one to look out for. I’m also excited about a new book out, speaking of new books, which is a top book of 2020, from an author and journalist that we have quoted here on the podcast many times, Nanjala Nyabola. Her new book is titled Traveling While Black: Essays Inspired by Life On the Move. And this book is insightful on so many levels. It’s talking about migration, mobility and border crossings, both literal and figurative. It’s talking about identity, belonging, othering, and perception. And it’s talking about learning and teaching. So, I’ll quote the book description here to give you a taste, which I’m sure will also make you want to read the book, “What does it feel like to move through a world designed to limit and exclude you? What are the joys and pains of holidays for people of color, when guidebooks are never written with them in mind? How are black lives today impacted by the othering legacy of colonial cultures and policies? What can travel tell us about our sense of self of home, of belonging, and identity? Why has the world order become hostile to human mobility, as old as humanity itself when more people are on the move and ever”. So, this is really a book about exploring the world and confronting complex realities and challenging common assumptions. I can’t wait to read it and hopefully to speak with Nanjala about it in more detail soon.

Kim: Indeed, it’s on my winter break reading list at the top of my list. I’m really looking forward to reading. I’ve been reading some of the excerpts that have been published to celebrate the book’s launch and I can’t wait to have it in my hands and be able to mark up the margins as much as one can. Another book that’s available for pre order as Robtel Pailey’s Development, (Dual) Citizenship and Its Discontents in Africa. Now, it’s officially going to launch in January 2021. And you can read a marketing excerpt of the introduction chapter in her book, if you go to the Cambridge website, where, you know, the cover is already out, and our listeners can take a look at it. I think it was last week Rachel that you had mentioned her work on, you know, politics in Liberia. And so, it’s just fitting that now you know, after these elections are over that, we have some more of her work, a longer bit of her work for us to read.

Rachel: Absolutely. And speaking of guests and new books out, we want to circle back to Peace Medie, whose book His Only Wife was just picked up by SK Global and The Mazur Kaplan Company, which means that it is going to be run as a TV series. So, we’re so excited about this development, a huge shout out. And actually, Peace was mentioned by Cyril this week as one of the APN African Peace Building network’s, illustrious alumni. So, there are many connections to Peace this week. Congratulations! We’ll be looking forward to seeing that.

Kim: Congratulations to Peace. I also want to give congratulations to Malawi, where everyone knows my heart is but also known as the warm heart of Africa. It is The Economist’s country of the year. And the subhead on that is that The Economist is calling Malawi the most improved country. And, you know, in a long overview of really the challenges that have faced democracy all around the world this year, Malawi stands out. So, as The economist writes, “Democracy and respect for human rights regressed in 80 countries between the start of the pandemic and September, according to Freedom House, but the only place where they improved was Malawi. And, you know, as all of our listeners, regular listeners know, Malawi gets a lot of love on this podcast. But it also, you know, in part of what’s happened here is is a reflection of their recent experience of politics in Malawi, how these 2019 elections were deemed unsatisfactory, I would say by many Malawians, who then regularly took to the streets to call for a new election. And then we see, you know, after some serious challenges in the court, we see, you know, the first time in Malawi, that election is overturned, and a new election is held in June 2020. And then we get a new president in Malawi. And so, it was to this reboot election in June of 2020 that The Economist points to and says, you know, a fair rerun in June booted out Mr. Mutharika, that was the former president and installed the people’s choice Lazarus Chakwera. They write, “Malawi is still poor, but it’s people are citizens, not subjects, for reviving democracy in an authoritarian region. It is our country of the year”. So, for these reasons, you know, I think it’s really great that Malawi is finally getting the recognition that it deserves, and not just the country or its government, really the people of Malawi who are the reason why democracy is so strong and healthy and a model really for the rest of us to look up to.

Rachel: Absolutely. So true, Kim. We think, in so many cases about the ways in which citizens are claiming democracy and requiring it and holding their leaders accountable not only in terms of their demands, in terms of policy, but also in terms of the process and making sure that elections are reflecting their will. So, for all of this and more, we’ll post links to our website hufa ufahamuafrica.com Cyril, thank you so much for being on our show, Ufahamu Africa. I wanted to ask you today, given your role on many editorial boards, including African Affairs, African Security Review, African Conflict and Peacebuilding Review, among others. And as the program for the African Peace Building Network and The Next Generation Social Scientists in Africa program, what do you think are the most pressing research agendas in African peace and security and development research?

Cyril: Thank you very much Rachel for having me on this program. There is a lot that you could say has to be done. But I think the first thing is to acknowledge that there is a lot of research that is taking place on the continent about African peace and security related issues. So, the first thing is, let’s acknowledge a lot of work is being done. And African peace scholars are actually increasingly being published in what you consider to be the top ranked journals. And this is something very good and the journals themselves have been quite proactive in opening up opportunities for Africa based scholars to publish. There have been all kinds of capacity building initiatives at the sidelines of major international humanities and social science and professional conferences. And also, programs like the APN, and Next Gen have writing components in their fellowship awards. And this is in no small measure, actually we are seeing the effect of all these efforts in terms of the improved quality, and the number of submissions. But there are still some challenges in terms of issues around quality and access to literature. But this is a project that is ongoing, but the indications are that a lot is being done. Now back to what you would consider to be the gaps. Well, I think the first gap in the area of African peace and security is looking at the question of theorizing. Theorizing peace and security from an African perspective. I think in this regard, the practitioners and the institutions have done a lot of work or given the change in trajectories of conflict and peace on the continent, we have a very interesting situation where the dynamic of conflict is fast outpacing the response time of policy institutions like the African Union, the regional economic communities. So, for these organizations to actually respond in a timely manner, the knowledge has to be there for them to tap into. So, I will say one of the areas where we have a gap is what are called African perspectives to peacebuilding in relation to the changing trajectories of peace and security on the continent, and the gap between research and policy in that regard. That will be something that is useful. But again, there are some scholars who have already who are APN alumni, who are already taking on this challenge. And so, we are seeing some of this, but we still feel that there’s room for some progress. The other issue has to do with what I call comparative studies of regional peace and security architectures. There is a lot on The African Peace and Security Architecture in particular that has been published in the leading journals. But when it comes to intra African comparisons, like comparing ECOWAS to IGAD, like comparing NCDC to ECOWAS, like comparing ECCAS, that is the Central African Regional Organization to, for example, the Arab Maghreb Union or things like that. You see that there are some gaps in that regard. So, this would be something that would require some urgent attention. The third issue I want to flag is what I consider to be emerging new politics of peace and security in Africa, in the light of new actors, whether they are non-state actors or whether they are international state actors, or whether they are transnational non state actors. And just to talk about the state actors, you will see that in terms of the emerging geopolitics of Africa, there are new actors. We have the traditional actors, which will be the European Union and at the bilateral level, the leading countries would be Britain, France, to some extent, Belgium, Italy, and Spain and Portugal. More of Portugal and Spain. And you see that there are new actors, and the new actors will be countries like China. New actors will be not so new but acting in a new way will be India. And then we really don’t have much in terms of looking at what Turkey is doing in Africa, around African countries and North Africa. We also need to have more knowledge about what the United Arab Emirates is also doing in East Africa and North Africa. We also want to look at countries like Malaysia, like Brazil, like Korea, which are relatively new actors, which are coming into the African continent, and actually impacting peace and security issues in different regions of the continent. This is another area you could describe as a gap. Also, because of the issues of language, in terms of English language, there are also some gaps in terms of what African scholars researching in English, in certain language blocks, particularly useful for Africa, will be North Africa, as well as countries like Equatorial Guinea, countries like Guinea Bissau, Mozambique, Angola, which actually have a lot of presence in terms of the peace and security landscape and the scholarship has not really been done in English, even from comparative perspectives. We are not seeing much in people comparing what is happening in countries in Southern African countries or West Africa, for example. And yet, what we are witnessing is increasing transnationalization, both in terms of threats and in terms of interests across the countries of the region. And that dynamic is not being sufficiently captured, a lot of focus is still on countries and regional economic groupings. What we need is the greater building of what I call scholarly connections, so we can have a holistic image of what the issues are for the continent. The other issue we want to talk about is what I call New Generation of Peacebuilding in Africa. A lot of the international peacebuilding is from outside and goes from top down and is basically evolving state actors. But there’s also a lot of innovation that is taking place what below the radar of the state, including non-state actors, including civil societies, including local communities. And we need the scholarship to bring this out, so, that we can have examples of best practices that can be disseminated across both the scholarly and policy worlds. So, that actions can begin to recognize that there’s something happening out there. Sometimes you may want to see “Oh, it’s micro studies”. But some of these micro studies are really very interesting because you can actually begin to connect the dots at a macro level and also what I call top-down approaches to peacebuilding need to engage with what I call grassroots up perspectives to peacebuilding to have it truly, truly, African peacebuilding. You may call it a kind of hybrid, but the experience is showing us that international solutions be either not work or may not either not be sustainable. And there is always a question of local buy in. And you cannot continue to sideline local knowledge in the various countries. African scholars need to be able to have the tools and the theories to deal with this. And that goes back to the original gap I mentioned about the need to increasingly theorize African perspectives of peacebuilding, closely related to that our research tools. We need to have research methods that address the specificities of the African peace and security landscape but without throwing away the baby and the bathwater of what you call global, international, universal principles of peacebuilding. So that is also something that the new generation of peacebuilding in Africa something is different, that is happening and that nuanced perspective to these new emerging forms of a complete new generation of actors. And this will also take us to what the youth are doing. You just saw what happened in Nigeria with EndSARS. You saw what happened in Sudan with the uprising that led to the fall of Bashir. And what happened in Mali, you will begin to see that there’s a new generation, not just a new generation of perspectives, but a new generation of actors, young people who have a stake, both in the present and the future, and who are organizing using new technologies. These dynamics need to be careful because the peace and security landscape in Africa is so exciting. It’s so fresh, there are so many new ideas. And these new ideas need to be captured. Go on to digital media and technologies. There is a debate ongoing in Nigeria, for example, on how to regulate social media, and various African countries in East Africa, in Central Africa, West Africa have made attempts to police social media as a way of asserting the hegemony of the state and state control, not allow social media to become a tool for what they consider to be treason. So, you begin to see that this has a direct implication on peacebuilding. It also has a direct implication of conflict between the state and those it considers to be its enemies, who are increasingly not physical bodies, or people operating behind keyboards or smartphones. So, this is also a gap that that I think, would need to be addressed. And finally, the issue of the moment, COVID-19 peace and security, peace development and security in Africa, that there is a lot of interest in what is happening. But Africa, you know, box the trend, in terms of the fact that you know, people say all the infrastructure, the health infrastructure is so poor, people are really going to die from COVID. And as it turns out, the the mortality rates in Africa are not that high, compared to other regions of the world, including those that have the infrastructure, they have the facilities, they have information and have the size. What does this mean for peace and security in Africa? Whether they are looking at elections, whether they are looking at development, whether you’re looking at the disastrous impact of COVID-19 on the economies, or what it means for the capacity of the states, and as well as regional organizations to do peacemaking, peacebuilding, peace mediation, things like that. So, I think I’ve spoken extensively about the gaps, you would almost wonder what is left to be done. But in spite of this a lot, a lot is being done. But these are some areas that could do some more attention.

Rachel: Absolutely. I mean, this is such a wonderful, wonderful landscape of areas of great importance, laying out research agenda. So, for all of our students, all of our graduate students, you know, scholars, people who are interested in studying Africa, you know, they think this will be a really a wonderful set of questions to pursue, and I love that you’ve laid them out for us so well. In fact, you know, I’m thinking about all of the ways in which graduate students that I’m advising now are touching upon these questions or not, and you know, the ways in which they’re yet to be addressed.

Cyril: They should also look at the role that diasporas play in peace and security in Africa. That’s one area that I did not mention, but it’s a gap that needs to be seriously engaged.

Rachel: Exactly. Such an interesting question. And, you know, to this point, and thinking about what students are doing and how research is coming up through this pipeline, and, you know, filling into these areas. Can you tell our listeners some more about the African Peacebuilding Network which you direct? What is the mission? Can you tell us about some of the scholars and the work that they’re doing that you think is most exciting? And what policymaking partners are you working with? You know, where do you think it’s kind of headed from here to take on these big questions?

Cyril: Thank you very much. As you know, the APN was established in 2012, but became really active in 2013. Its mission is to support independent, high quality research on peacebuilding related issues in conflict affected African countries and region. So, the first thing is to produce independent high quality research. And this has to be done by African scholars who are based in Africa. And the second mission, you would say is to integrate such knowledge into the work of institutions as well as international and multilateral institutions like the United Nations, like the African Union, like ECOWAS, NCDC, ECCAS, the East African Community, and so on and so forth. So, it’s basically research, policy engaged research. That is a research that is going to produce knowledge for two broad consequences. The first consequence has been the scholars. And the second constituency, the policymakers, practitioners who are domiciled in institutions. And these institutions as you know, have historically been the institutions that have actually implemented or designed peacebuilding interventions in Africa, what basically you should call international peacebuilding. And so, we hope that by creating a body of people, who then produce a body of knowledge on direct field-based research, which is empirical and have very high quality, and well theoretically framed, that this will then shape the kind of policies in Africa and towards Africa, in relation to this whole issue of international peacebuilding. So, the third thing would be to build a network of the scholars across countries. But one of the things I’ve discovered over the years is how little scholars even in neighboring countries or neighboring regions, know about each other, their work and as well as the challenges that they face, the countries that they come from face. That’s one of the things is actually to build a network of knowledge and network of scholars, and to have a distinct African voice within the continent, and one that is capable of projecting into global discourses and discussions around peacebuilding in Africa. So, that would be the third dimension. The fourth dimension will also be to inform advocacy, hoping that we can ground advocacy first to prioritize what we think are in the interests of Africa, to ground advocacy to have the information, the necessary information. And by networking, we’re not just networking ideas, we are networking individuals, to get researchers to actually meet, interact, and work with civil society partners, as well as institutional partners, both in terms of universities, but more importantly in terms of multilateral regional organizations, as well as national organizations also, but taking actions that could be broadly integrated as peacebuilding.  These four things broadly, would define the mission of the African Peacebuilding Network, which as you probably know, we are not here today but we are getting close to the place. But already, it’s very obvious the impact that our scholars are having in terms of just to mention a few terms of scholarship and in terms of policy and research. When you look at the book by Peace Medie, on women and peacebuilding in West Africa writ large, you see, this is an APN fellow whose book has been a defining intervention. The work of Kenneth Omeje who has written a book on peacebuilding in Africa, and also brought in some other APN fellows, and alumni as contributors. You begin to see the impact that this book tries to define African peace peacebuilding from an African perspective and captures the evolution, the achievements and the challenges facing peacebuilding on the continent. Now, you can also look at the work of Lindy Heinecken, of the Stellenbosch University who has done work on on women, soldiers, and peacekeeping in South Africa. She’s published a book that is also definitive. You can look at the work of Amy Niang on state building, and state politics in in Africa. We also know the work of Laurie Nathan, who has also done work on mediation, which is actually connecting research to actual practice. He is also one of APN alumnus. And then another innovative intervention has been by Fatma Ibnouf, who is a Sudanese scholar based at University of Khartoum, who has made this very interesting intervention just published by Palgrave Macmillan, on care work arrangements in a time of war, looking at the role of women and care work in a war affected territory. Very useful and you can see it’s really innovative because you typically wouldn’t expect work like that. Through her work, we now know that women are very, very important key actors in in conflict affected regions. They do all the care work that taking care of the wounded, taking care of the sick, and also engaging in economic activities to take care of their families. Aymar Nyenyezi Bisoka has also done a lot of very interesting work, looking at the Great Lakes region, and the dynamics of conflict from the ground up. So, these are some of some of our scholars, not forgetting the work of Abosede Babatunde, who has done a lot of work on the Niger Delta and has done quite a lot of contributions in terms of theorizing conflict, in terms of writing about the conflict. And so, these are just to mention a few. There are many others who have done real work, but in terms of defining the discourse of African peacebuilding, the APN is coming out with a book that actually explores theoretical and methodological issues in peacebuilding in Africa and 90% of the chapters in that book are written by APN alumni. The book is expected to be published on the 30th of November. And I can tell you that when that book is published, it’s really going to redefine the landscape of knowledge production in relation to African peacebuilding. And it’s going to really authenticate the work and capture the work that the APN has been doing since 2013. In the voices of the various fellows of various alumni on the program. So, yes, APN has had some impact in terms of knowledge production. In terms of engagements, we have engaged with the Africa Program of the Wilson Center, we have engaged with the Carnegie Endowment for International Affairs in Washington, DC. And we had a very, very interesting roundtable, Search for Common Ground. And out of that series of meetings, which involves consultations with high level policymakers at the State Department, we are going to publish a joint report, which will be coming out again either by December or early next year. So, we’ve done policy engagements with the African Union, with the Economic Community for West African States, East Africa. And we have a book that is jointly published on peacebuilding development economic integration issues in Southern Africa. So, we have out of this process, the APN, has really been directly or indirectly involved. Either way, we’re counting books published by our fellows, and the books that have come out through institutional partnerships with the Nordic Africa Institute, with the Economic Commission for Africa. I would say that we have no less than a dozen books in the past couple of years. So, the program is really coming of age, and the outputs are now beginning to crystallize, and which I hope to really consolidate the impact that it’s been having on the field in this past six to eight years.

Rachel: Absolutely, Cyril. For all of our listeners, we’ll post links to the new book that’s coming out by the APN. And also, the scholars that Cyril has mentioned, of course. Peace Medie was a guest Ufahamu Africa, in Episode 91. So, we will continue to make our list of future guests from your fellows and scholars as well, that would be a great partnership for our listeners to continue to learn from the APN network. Cyril, I also wanted to ask you a bit more about your own research, which has been on extractive industries, thinking about the resource curse and its relationship to conflict. I’m wondering how you see the changing landscape of the industry of natural resources, right, geographies, in which resources are being mined from the earth are changing in many ways, in the kind of the push away from oil and petroleum, and towards the need for renewable energy materials, things that, you know, make our smartphones and are used for electric cars. The battery industry is really booming in terms of thinking about different shifts in the energy industry. So, I’m wondering how you see those kinds of shifts in natural resources impacting the continent, you know, West Africa, East Africa… How do you see it changing the ways in which natural resources impacting politics and society?

Cyril: Thank you very much. Coincidentally, I just published a journal article on the geopolitics of oil in Africa, which quickly followed the one that I did previously looking at the militarization of politics in the Niger Delta. And there are two parts in response to your question, there is what I call the unfolding trajectories, and then the structural issues. I will start with the unfolding trajectories. One of the arguments I’ve made in my 2020 journal article is that the world is undergoing or is on the threshold of a new energy transition. And the last transitions took place somewhere towards the end of the 19th century and the first decades of the 20th century. And I characterize that as a transition from coal to oil. But now, we are at the thresholds of yet another energy transition. And it’s a transition away from fossil fuels particularly, or to what I call the renewables and low or non-carbon sources of energy. And that transition is upon us. What it therefore means is that in the common tickets, the consumption of oil is going to be drastically reduced. Some estimates claim that 50% of global oil is consumed by the transportation sector. And of course, you do know that the byproducts of oil then go into other industries. Of that 50%, it’s estimated that 25% go to what is consumed by the automobile industries, people who drive cars around. One of the things you will notice that increasingly, now car manufacturers either producing hybrid cars, or electric cars. And that’s the sign of the future. Well, where am I going with this? What I’m trying to tell you is that as time goes on, African Petro states, that is those countries in Africa that rely on oil exports for 90% of their foreign exchange earnings, as well as over 70 to 80% of their national revenues, are going to find themselves without a market for their oil. That is if the oil does not run out first, which because oil is a finite resource. And yet, these are countries that are monocultural economies. And so, this is a trap of cultural economies. And so far, the efforts to diversify have either been halfhearted or not even done at all. So, that’s a structural issue. In my article, what I did argue, is that, given the imminence of the energy transition, if African countries do not quickly address this challenge of an energy transition that will render, particularly the oil exporting countries, put them in crisis. Because let’s face it, oil endowment has redefined some African countries, not just in terms of their economies, but in terms of what you would consider to be their political clout and their place in the international political economy and the things that have been done. More fundamentally, the nature of the states, that the Petro states, the states of oil producing countries have two characteristics in the African continent. One is that political power over the states has always been controlled by small minority of elites, I call them petrol elites. The second issue with this particular states is that they have been able to rule by creating a wide patronage network, and by being very close to what I call oil consuming countries, that are also closely aligned to the big oil companies that control the technologies of oil extraction. These are broad structural issues. So, what happens? If you observe what is happening among the big oil companies, they are transitioning from oil companies, to energy companies. So, that again, has to do that with the impact on the nature of the partnership with African Petro states. Now, if Africa Petro states don’t have oil, which is a commodity of strategic and economic importance, what do they bring to the table of international politics? What happens to their cloud, but more fundamentally, what does it do to the states themselves and their capacity to own? So, my argument is that without any form of diversification, all dependent African states, in the next decades will go into deep crisis. And that is something that is both is not being a doomsday prophet, is just the reality that given the way these things are structured, if these days don’t have that strategically reach of oil endowment, when oil loses that strategic importance, then there will be crisis, particularly if they have not used the oil endowment to create the economic and social and political infrastructure that is so necessary for them to continue to develop. But my article ends on an optimistic note that, yes, this is what is happening so far. But there’s still time, I will say, a window of one or two decades for African Petro states to get their act together. But it will require a new kind of vision, a new kind of probably a new generation of visionary leaders, that will renegotiate the social contract, and begin to transform, not reform, transform the economies, both structurally and in terms of the things that those economies can do. And African people have shown the states that there is a lot that can be done to produce wealth, or more fundamentally, to share the wealth that is produced in an equitable and inclusive manner, which is a challenge for some of these Petro states that the work that is being produced is leading to inequality, and inequity. So, and that has to be addressed. I think the next thing is then to look at the structural issues on a fundamental basis. The challenge really is that Africa has been designated as a producer of raw materials for the global markets. And whether it is palm oil, whether it is rubber, whether it is peanuts, whether it is gold, whether it is bauxite, or whatever, the challenge with the oil industry has always been that a lot of the African oil producing countries export crude oil to the global market. They don’t have control over the crisis of oil. And anytime there is a boom, they enjoy a huge inflow of wealth. And anytime the cycle busts, they go into recession. And the constant expansion and contraction of those economies without any real productive activity is creating deep internal economic crisis, and with major traumatic social ramifications. So, how do you restructure these economists? Let’s look at what we’ll call the next new kids on the block. The next new kids on the block will be renewables. And when you’re talking about renewables, you’re looking at solar, you’re looking at hydro, or you’re looking at wind. Those are the renewables. But there is the other dimension of solid minerals, which you use in producing the machinery and the technologies of the renewables, which you also use in producing batteries. Because the energy transition is going to go from fossil fuels to electricity. What are these minerals? I think there is a shopping list, it’s very long, but I want to isolate a few: lithium, rare earth, graphite, nickel, cobalt, copper, silicon, bauxite, manganese, will be some of the critical minerals, where investments are going to rush in, in line with the transition away from fossil fuels. Now, the question you should ask is, what does Africa feature in terms of the endowment of these resources? And is there a coincidence between the countries that are currently endowed with oil and the countries that are going to be endowed with these minerals that are going to have and already have and are going to increasingly have strategic value in the global markets going forward? Already, when you look at the pattern of investments into these minerals, you will see that a lot is being done. When you look at something like lithium. I’m not very sure how much of lithium we have in Africa, but in terms of rare earth, we have a lot in Republic of South Africa, Angola, Malawi, and probably Tanzania. In terms of graphite, you have Madagascar, Tanzania, Mozambique, Guinea. Nickel, we have in South Africa, Zimbabwe, Namibia. Cobalt, of course, you know, the world’s largest place would be the Democratic Republic of the Congo. Some occurs in Central African Republic and Zambia. Copper will be approximately the same thing. And you ask yourself, which of these countries is the major oil producer in Africa? And so, what you’ll begin to see is that, well, this country’s we able to avoid the structure our trap that is producing raw materials for the next energy transition? Or would they be able to add value, which has always been the challenge that we had from a structural perspective? Or will there be actually able to sell energy? The world’s largest producer of batteries now will be China. And they have the technology, they have the know-how. And until the recent push back from the United States in terms of importation of batteries, you will see that the global market is already being defined. And Africa is not really in any position of structural advantage, other than the endowment of some of its countries. How is this different from what happens to Africa in the current age? Africa, as I said, produce oil for the global markets. There is the ironical situation of Nigeria, which is the continent’s largest oil producer, an oil exporter, but it imports refined petroleum products, because its major refineries have problems, or do not produce even enough to meet domestic demand. Its petrochemical industries are also operating below optimal levels. So, right now, the news that came out last week was that Nigeria would import refined products from neighboring Niger Republic, at a time where huge oil integrated oil industry is being completed in Lagos. And so, you find yourself wondering how far the structural impediments would continue to cripple potential. So, the challenge for Africa in the face of the impending energy transition now is not just that the oil producing Africa states would lose the little comparative advantage they had in terms of being endowed with such a strategic natural resource, as we will no longer be the cheapest and most sought-after energy commodity in a couple of decades. For that the new minerals, which will then take the place of oil, in terms of strategic importance, are not located in the same order for all producers. But beyond that, and not beginning to challenge this position of structural disadvantage, which would increasingly tap into the ability to add value to natural resources in country, on the continent, before these things are exported to other parts of the world. The flip side of the argument is that if Africa is able to develop the technologies and develop the political will to harness the full potential of this minerals, the next energy transition will then benefit our countries fully. So, it goes back to the trajectories and the challenges that are emerging from it. And it then goes back to interrogating the structural underbelly, the structural issues, that define Africa’s place in the global political economy. And it’s not going to be easier because globalization, as you know, is a good thing. But at the same time, it is deepening inequalities between the rich and the poor, across countries, within countries and within regions.

Rachel: Absolutely, absolutely right. In the ways in which these resources are available. There are structural questions of how they are being used. And the deep grooves already established between the exportation of these minerals, particularly to China to feed this new energy transition. So, I think those questions that you lay out Cyril are really apt and, you know, putting us on the horizon for understanding the transitions ahead, since there will be this dramatic shift right across the continent in terms of where the strategic resources are located. Now, I want to flip topics a little bit and talk about another program that you direct, which is The Next Generation Social Sciences in Africa program, which I believe was launched in 2011. Can you tell our listeners a little bit more about that, and for African PhD students in particular, what to look out for in this program?

Cyril: Well, thank you very much, I would say that The Next Generation Social Sciences in Africa program is, is a senior sibling of the APN. And in this regard, its main goal is to strengthen tertiary education in Africa by offering a sequence of fellowship opportunities for promising PhD candidates to complete their PhDs in the fields of peace, security and development. The next gen let’s call it next gen. The Next Gen operates in six African countries, that would be Ghana, Nigeria, Tanzania, Kenya, South Africa, and Uganda. And you should either be a citizen, or you should be resident in any of these countries to be eligible to apply for the fellowship award. Now, notice that the emphasis is on the word of the sequence of fellowships, and that is that at every critical step in the doctoral journey, Next Gen fellowships of resources, as well as mentorship and training opportunities for those people who are able to get these awards. There are four fellowship opportunities. Three of them are targeted at the doctoral journey. And the last one is what I call the icing on the cake, which is supposed to consolidate the PhD. We are proud to say that The Next Gen has successfully supported 100 candidates to complete their PhDs in various African universities, which is no mean feat. But to go back to the fellowship opportunities, the first will be dissertation proposal fellowship, which supports candidates who are writing proposals. The other one would be dissertation research fellowship awards, which support literature review and field-based research. So, apart from the dissertation research fellowship, we have the dissertation completion fellowship, which then supports to be able to complete the write down your thesis, and that way, we are able to help and support this. The background to this series of fellowships lies into areas that in the in the 1990s, in the late 1980s and the 1990s, there was what we call brain drain from a lot of African universities, and the professors, a lot of professors, left universities, either to travel outside the country or continent in search of the proverbial golden fleece, or some of them went into the private sector, or went into the public sector, because of the low level of wages being paid to university faculty across the continent. And, so, we had a situation in which a good proportion of people teaching in universities did not have PhDs. And so, this was one of the background factors that was that was taken into consideration. And it was it was really very important that universities and tertiary education in Africa should be strengthened and in essence, restocked with the new generation of highly trained, competent PhD holders. And we did realize the second background thing is that we did realize that university faculty who are engaged in teaching universities were usually overburdened with teaching and administrative chores. And so, we believed that creating, giving resources that will enable them buy time off teaching and then equipping them with the latest tools for research, and also putting them in contact with one another across countries would actually boost the competition rates. One of the things I’m happy to announce is that a lot of the faculty who have come into the program and have received the award, were then able to complete their PhDs in relatively record time. And so, they have now gone back to strengthen universities and, you know, help us achieve our goal of strengthening tertiary education on the continent. The other thing is that even those that did not have jobs, after completing their PhDs with the support of The Next Gen fellowship, are now getting employment. For those who are faculty, and got their PhDs, now experienced professional development, because they get promoted, and more of them are becoming heads of department. Just like in the APA, we now have a situation in which faculty who got the award are now becoming deans of faculties, deputy vice chancellors, and becoming people in high level administrative positions. And so, you can see that The Next Gen is doing quite well, and is actually intervening at a very critical aspect, both in relation to completing PhDs, and the broader picture of enhancing professional development among university faculty on the continent. So, to then go on is the whole question of the post doctoral writing competition fellowship, which then supports former Next Gen fellows to actually begin to translate some of their chapters or are some of the findings of their doctoral thesis into articles that will be published in high quality internationally peer reviewed journals. So, it’s not just enough to finish the PhD and put it in a shelf and admire it every morning, it’s actually more important that there should be visibility for the production, for what is produced out of the thesis. So, in this way, original, empirically based research will then find its way into international journals, give visibility to the work of African scholars. And this also then emphasizes the complementarity between Next Gen and APN. They are both programs that deal with knowledge production, that want to make knowledge produced by African scholars, globally visible, and actually succeeding in doing this, but more importantly, to project African voices into global scholarly discourses. That will be something that can, that the Next Gen does. The next gen does this with emphasis or issues related to peace, security and development in an interdisciplinary manner, which opens up the doors to people from across disciplines, and then helps to produce a network of PhD holders across the continent. So, in this regard, Next Gen is also another highly successful program that is actually helping to support the knowledge production on the continent, and actually building what I will call research scholarly communities that are hinged upon the value of research excellence, innovativeness, and commitment was networking across countries.

Rachel: Absolutely. I love that, you know, the infrastructure of it, and especially the networking, the contact, we’re all inspired when we have the opportunity to talk to each other, you know, other people who are engaged in similar research, like these conversations. And so, really creating those channels, I think is so exciting. And we can’t wait to talk with more Next Gen scholars on the podcast as well. So, we’ll give a shout out to them each time. Now, so, we always end our podcast by asking our guests what they’re reading, what they might like to share with our listeners. So, I was wondering what you have on your list.

Cyril: What am I reading? I have a bad habit of reading several things at the same time. It’s the book that is produced by APN scholars. That’s what I’m reading. It’s called Research and Peacebuilding in Africa: Reflections on Theory, Fieldwork and Context. It’s edited by Ismail Rashid and Amy Niang.

Rachel: Fantastic! Yeah, we’ll share that link to our listeners. And I’m really looking forward to reading it and seeing this collection of the APN network in terms of the chapters and all of the contributors to it.

Cyril: Thank you, Rachel.

Kim: Thanks for listening to this week’s episode of Ufahamu Africa to find any of the articles, books or links we talked about on today’s episode, head to ufahamuafrica.com. We are also available on Spotify, Apple podcast, SoundCloud, and Stitcher. This podcast is produced by Megan DeMint, with help from production assistant Fulya Felicity Turkmen. We are generously supported by the Carnegie Corporation of New York and receive research assistance from Cornell University and the University of California Riverside. Our music is courtesy of Kevin Mcleod. Until next week, safiri salama!


7 thoughts on “Ep. 103: A conversation with Cyril Obi of the African Peacebuilding Network

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