February 26, 2022

Day

SSRC Symposium at UCU: Scholars speak out on experience

By Jimmy Siyasa

“It can be scary for your work to be criticized by other scholars; you never really outgrow that fear. But we have to be okay with others finding loopholes in your research work.”

Those words constituted the closing remarks of Dr. Emilly Maractho, convener of the 2022 Social Sciences Research Council (SSRC) symposium themed “Ideology, Identity and State Formation in East Africa”, held at Uganda Christian University (UCU). Emilly is the Director of Africa Policy Centre (APC) at UCU. She noted that the debates and discussions- laced with incisive criticism of some papers- that ensued during the symposium were crucial and relevant, especially to the scholars who had presented.

Emilly also reminded fellow scholars that academic criticism and/or rejection of one’s research should not be taken in bad faith, but instead, embraced as “cause” for the researcher “to go back and revisit your research”.

The two-day symposium started on February, 24-25, 2022, and attracted scholars from at least four universities including: Makerere, Kyambogo, Mbarara University of Science and Technology (MUST) and Uganda Martyrs University. They presented various papers, both complete studies and those underway; 14 papers were presented all together, on divergent topics, but all converging at the general theme.

Day two of the symposium started with a percipient keynote address by Prof. Apuuli Phillip Kasaijja, Associate Professor in the Department of Political Science and Public Administration at Makerere University. He dissected the sub-theme “Resource-based Conflicts in Uganda”, crowning his presentation with a call upon the scholars in attendance to work hand in hand with policymakers in order to ensure that their research findings eventually, directly inform policy in the country.

Prof. Apuuli Phillip Kasaijja was a keynote speaker at the symposium. Photo/ Andrew Bugembe.

“People are doing a lot of original research. But it will not be helpful if it does not influence policy. It should be able to…,” said Prof. Kasaijja, arguing that part of the cause of this trend is an ‘unhealthy’ division between academics and politicians. He urged the two to forge common ground for coexistence because the former do research that the latter [ who don’t do research] need [because it is backed by empirical data] to make informed policies make policies.

The air inside the UCU Principals’ hall was rife with upbeat intellectual discourse as the different scholars presented their studies for peer-review, and therefore, scrutiny.

Jimmy Siyasa caught up with some of the scholars to learn their experience from the symposium and reflections on its significance and relevance to Uganda’s academic and policy landscape. [Photos by Andrew Bugembe]

This is a very important conference. I am very grateful to the convener because it is very important for us scholars to meet and share our experiences on our journey as academics, but also on how to impact policy and practice in our country. Other scholars [from other universities] should take the initiative to be part of such arrangements because it is one of the best ways to mentor the younger generation of scholars.

Dr. Resty Naiga, Lecturer in the Department of Development Studies, College of Humanities and Social Sciences, at Makerere University

The symposium was fantastic and a great opportunity to meet some of the scholars we had taken long without meeting. It was also a good introduction to the research of other scholars and insights from their fields of study. It really rejuvenates and helps us to also shape our own thoughts. I noticed that some of the people here are rich in methodology and different things, although, interestingly, much of the work presented was related. Generally, there was a lot to learn from each presenter. We have left different people challenged to revisit their work and to work harder, while encouraged that they are on the right track. We hope these papers will be published eventually, and the knowledge disseminated because we have agreed on polishing the works for publication.

Dr. Robert Ojambo, Senior Lecturer and Head of Department of History and Political Science.Kyambogo University

First of all, I love the UCU environment. Perfect. I thought Makerere was the highlight of everything [a University should be in Africa], but this is a beautiful space [for thinking and studying]. As far as the conversation in the symposium is concerned, I felt at home because the scholarly topics and faces I interacted with were familiar. The debates were top-quality debates. So, I am happy, I enjoyed every bit of it and was not disappointed at any point.

Yosef Sintayehu Jemberie, Ph.D. Candidate at Makerere Social Research Institute (MISR)

Fascinating papers! Fascinating presentations. The keynote today [Day two] was on-point for me. High-level engagement! I was inspired by some of the young people, the students inside the room who were asking very critical questions without feeling intimidated by the PhDs and Professors present. It was good watching some of the students I mentored present papers. When we come together from different backgrounds, we have a larger conversation, otherwise, we are always talking to each other and there is nothing new. For me what excited me was hearing from people coming from elsewhere [other universities]. We should think about organizing research panels in order to generate synergy that often comes in handy when writing grant proposals as a panel as opposed to individual effort.

Dr. Pamela Kanakhwa, Lecturer Department of History, Archaeology, and Heritage Studies at Makerere

This symposium was excellent because it has brought us together, and the focus on “State, security…” was very clear and relevant. The presentations were great and everyone participated. This symposium is going to take us a long way into academia, specifically exiting gaps in the available literature. Most researches were empirical, others desk studies, but were all informing policy and existing gaps we have in knowledge as a country.

Dr. Specioza Twinamatsiko, Lecturer, MUST

For me, this was a fascinating experience. I would like to thank the Africa Policy Centre at UCU for organizing this symposium. My major highlight is the experience of sitting in an interdisciplinary conference: People have different approaches to research. So, this was very fascinating and exciting for me. Secondly, I am happy to have disseminated my finding about the experiences of children living with violent caregivers. I am grateful that I was able to attend.

Herbert Twinamatsiko, Ph.D Candidate, MUST

The symposium brings to us the academic engagement that we have been missing for a long time. It has enabled us to; sit down, discuss, theorize, and think beyond the boundaries, and critic one another’s work. That is my major highlight. It was an opportunity to interact with fellow scholars and I think we should have it more often. It is a platform to speak a common language; when you speak to most of the people out there sometimes, it is like you are speaking Greek; because you are talking about theory, methodology, informing policy, etc. It is like you are speaking to the wrong audience. But here, you are able to engage, wrap your head around concepts and how they can be applied in real life, societies and our community for their betterment.

Dr. Ronald Kalyango Sebba, lecturer in the School of Women and Gender Studies Makerere University

As Africa Policy Centre, this is why we exist; to do research that informs policy and therefore, these were insightful and relevant discussions. I am happy with this meeting and that it happened. I have gotten to meet and know people who are passionate and knowledgeable about their field. I hope that we are not going to stop this conversation here and I look forward to the time when we can have an annual symposium.”

Dr. Emilly Comfort Maractho, Director, APC, UCU

Background

The symposium convened the inaugural Uganda Fellows of The Africa Peacebuilding Network (APN) and the Next Generation Social Sciences in Africa (NextGen), both programs of the Social Science Research Council (SSRC), courtesy of APC, UCU, which collaborated with the former institution(s). The APC is a Think Tank at UCU which aims at advancing research and evidence-based policies in Africa, whereas the SSRC is an independent, international non-profit organization that fosters innovative research by supporting scholars through its Africa-related programs.

The symposium brings together former Uganda-based grantees of the two programs to present and receive feedback from their peers on their latest research projects. Open to the wider university public, the symposium shall involve paper presentations from the alumni.