Written by Dr Fred Nyongesa Ikanda (2010 Scholar from Kenya, PhD Social Anthropology, University of Cambridge). Fred was the alumni winner of the 60th Anniversary (2019) Taylor & Francis Commonwealth Scholar Best Journal Article Prize. He was awarded a conference grant to attend and participate in an academic conference he otherwise would not be able to attend.
I used my conference grant to present a paper at the 3rd Biennial Conference, African and Africana Knowledges: Past Representations, Current Discourses, Future Communities, held at the United States International University-Africa in Nairobi, Kenya in October 2019.
Organised by the African Studies Association of Africa (ASAA), the conference brought together academics, policy makers, publishers, and other research practitioners to discuss current challenges and opportunities facing Africa. Notable speakers included Divine Fuh, Head of Publications and Dissemination, Council for the Development of Social Science Research in Africa (CODESRIA); Stephanie Kitchen, Managing Editor, International African Institute; Walter Bgoya, Publisher, Mkuki na Nyota Publishers, Tanzania; Francois van Schalkwyk, Trustee, African Minds; Kimani Njogu, Director, Twaweza Communications; and Veronica Klipp Publisher, Wits University Press. Speakers participated in plenary sessions on a wide range of issues revolving around publishing challenges and ways in which research and policy can speak to each other.
Presenting on the refugee panel
I presented my paper on ‘The role of humanitarianism in sustaining refugee vulnerability: Case of Somalis at Dagahaley refugee camp in Kenya’ as part of the refugee panel. In this paper, I de-emphasise the vulnerability aspect of refugee life and space by giving a multi-dimensional account of Dagahaley camp in north eastern Kenya where Somali refugees reside. My paper seeks to deepen our understanding of the causes and consequences of forced migration flows in Africa and contributes to policy discussions on finding relevant and durable solutions to the problem of forced migration in Africa.
By raising academic curiosity on what keeps camps in African countries hosting refugees for so long, the paper generated an interesting debate around the issue of durable solutions. At Dagahaley camp, for example, refugees and their host communities belong to the same ethnic group and have overlapping experiences and relations. For humanitarian actors, however, a standardised approach to crises does not pay attention to these local nuances and complexities. One informative outcome of this discussion was that there is a need go beyond increasingly elusive prescriptions of so-called durable solutions, such as return to places of origin, integration in host communities, or resettlement in third countries, in recognition of the fact that there are different realities on the ground.
I benefited immensely from attending this conference through the opportunity it presented to network with researchers and practitioners working in areas of mutual interest. As a result of this engagement, I have been invited by Stephanie Kitchen, Managing Editor of AFRICA Journal of the International African Institute, to chair a panel on ‘Forced migration and vulnerable livelihoods’ at the forthcoming ASAUK international conference, taking place in November 2020 in Cardiff. I have also been invited to present my research at further international conferences and contribute to a book chapter in a forthcoming volume on ‘Ethnographies of the state and democracy in Africa’ edited by Wale Adebanwi, Rhodes Professor of Race Relations and the Director of the African Studies Centre, School of Interdisciplinary Area Studies, and Fellow of St Antony’s College, University of Oxford. My conference attendance has expanded the visibility of my research and allowed me to gain feedback from a range of humanitarian practitioners, policy makers, academics, and people with a general interest in the current refugee crisis.
The papers presented as part of the refugee panel were informative for my ongoing work and I am now working closely with some of my fellow presenters to find ways to collaborate in future. This conference therefore provided a platform to discuss ways of positively transforming vulnerable livelihoods and fostering partnerships with like-minded individuals and institutions. The conference also strengthened my research and professional capacity as a lecturer and researcher in the area of publications and collaborations.
I wish to thank the CSC for providing the opportunity to attend this important conference.
To find out more about the ASAUK international conference, visit the ASAUK website.
The formal call for papers for the full conference will close on 22 March. Visit the call for papers and panels webpage for more information. To find out more about the Fred’s panel click on the AFRICA: Journal of the international African Institute stream.