I used to be an international security wonk and, at the time, it made perfect sense that foundations would generously fund people like me—scholars sitting in western universities or think tanks—to help make the world a safer place.
But something is a bit wrong with that picture. Wouldn't it actually make more sense to fund researchers who live and work in regions with conflict? Assuming funders could identify such folks, these are the people who would really know a thing or two about security.
A number of funders do exactly that, and to its credit, the Carnegie Corporation, which is the protoypical funder of people like my former self, is generously backing a new venture called the African Peacebuilding Network, a research group that was started in 2012.
The idea of the APN is simple: To fund African researchers doing important work on conflict and security and help them connect with each other and the broader global community of security experts. Very cool. Just to be clear, this isn't about whisking these analysts off to Europe or the U.S. to do their work. Most of the activities take place in Africa, as the APN explains, through "cooperation with African research organizations and networks, such as the African Leadership Centre (ALC) based in Nairobi, Kenya, and the Council for the Development of Social Science Research in Africa (CODESRIA) based in Dakar, Senegal."
That said, the African Peacebuilding Network is actually run out of the Social Science Research Council in New York City by a program director there, Cyril Obi, who spent years at the Nigerian Institute of International Affairs and then the Nordi Africa Institute in Sweden. Judging by his impressive bio, Obi is one of the godfathers of African security studies and will know exactly how to spend the $2 million, two-year grant that Carnegie laid out last year to scale up the field where Obi has spent his entire career.
The vision behind the APN is that stronger African security scholarship can help address that continent's many conflicts, and also that this knowledge can be useful globally. This makes a lot of sense. If you want to know how to prevent wars or stop them once they are underway, Africa is a prime place to dig for insights and knowledge. And, wow, wouldn't it be neat if many more African security wonks were circulating around in global policy circles sharing knowledge from their continents? That seems to be a key hope of the African Peacebuilding Network.
This is definitely money well spent. Right now, Carnegie is the sole funder of the APN. It'd be great if other funders follow their lead in supporting this venture.