Wright State business professor, Carnegie African Diaspora fellow authors University World News post

Tin by tin: Promoting African research and scholarship


Wakiuru Wamwara, associate professor of marketing in the Raj Soin College of Business, won a prestigious Carnegie African Diaspora Fellowship. (Photo by Erin Pence)

Academics who recently attended the Carnegie African Diaspora Fellowship Program (CADFP) alumni convening in the United States deliberated on issues that are important and relevant for education in Africa.

We were privileged to be in a room full of other diaspora academics whose passion and commitment to enacting change on the continent was palpable.

We deliberated on questions such as how the Africa academic diaspora can be engaged in resource mobilisation to support research projects in African universities. The task of developing partnerships and engagement is daunting.

Even so, it is the responsibility of all African academic diasporans to engage whenever possible in order to advance research and teaching in Africa.

There are many paths to engagement, and I will provide some personal examples.

Travel to Africa and engage

• Participate in research conferences, either as keynote speakers, presenters or session chairs, as well as discussants. (I was a keynote speaker at the Association of International Schools in Africa (AISA) conference hosted by the Multimedia University of Kenya and also at the Africa International Business Management (AIBUMA) conference hosted by the University of Nairobi);

• Teach a short-term course(s) face-to-face or online (I taught face-to-face in the executive MBA programme at Dedan Kimathi University of Technology, Kenya);

• Serve as a guest speaker (I was the guest speaker at an event at Africa Nazarene University (ANU), Kenya);

• Mentor PhD students (I participated in PhD colloquiums and mentored PhD students at Dedan Kimathi University of Technology);

• Support graduate student mentoring (I attended masters thesis defences and developed graduate student supervision manuals for KCA University and ANU);

• Apply for programmes such as the Carnegie African Diaspora Fellowship Program (I was a CADFP fellow at ANU and KCA University);

• Conduct research methods workshops, grant writing and graduate supervision workshops (I conducted workshops at both Africa Nazarene and KCA universities);

• Conduct a review of postgraduate certificate programmes (I reviewed proficiency certificates in research design, methodology, data analysis and report writing at ANU); and

• Apply for Fulbright specialist and other Fulbright programmes (I am on the Fulbright specialist roster whereby I can engage in capacity development in projects all over Africa).

Women role models

I would like to encourage women diasporan academics to seek opportunities to return to Africa for capacity development.

I am keenly aware of the importance of my participation in programmes such as the CADFP, the Fulbright and Semester at Sea.

Similarly, I am mindful of the saying in Africa, “When you educate a woman, you educate a village”.

I have always been cognisant of the fact that my presence in the halls of academe in an African context is motivational to younger female scholars who can see themselves in my story.

As Africa continues to lower the literacy gap between men and women, it is important that the girl child is surrounded by women who can serve as role models.

Online post-COVID engagements

The COVID-19 pandemic made it impossible for many diaspora academics to travel to Africa for capacity development.

Nonetheless, the positive externality of the pandemic is that most African universities developed online capabilities that will facilitate virtual support by diasporans.

At the recently concluded CADFP Alumni Convening in Washington DC, United States, I presented a paper titled ‘Collaborative Faculty Training and Mentorship Post-COVID Pandemic’.

While I presented ways to continue virtual collaboration with African institutions, it is noteworthy that there is no substitute for the human connection and networking that organically occurs when scholars are in-country.

Nonetheless, all of the activities that I previously engaged in can be replicated in an online environment. For example, workshops and seminars can be developed for online delivery to students and faculty in many different countries.

Online courses can be intentionally designed to accommodate participants from different disciplines, institutions and countries. Having this diversity of thought will no doubt expand and improve teaching and research outcomes.

Scholars can present research in virtual conferences organised on the continent. In addition, diaspora academics can mentor graduate students and serve as guest speakers using online platforms.

Giving back while in the resident country

In 2017, I made a deliberate decision to serve Kenyan scholars and was elected treasurer of the Kenya Scholars and Studies Association (KESSA).

KESSA is a US-based non-profit organisation that seeks to promote scholarly scientific and research work in or on Kenya through exchange of ideas and collaboration.

As the treasurer, I was in the unique position of soliciting and negotiating funding for our annual conferences. At KESSA conferences, scholars from Kenya, the US, Canada and other countries share ideas to improve research and educational outcomes in Kenya.

As a KESSA team we purposefully seek funding from private individuals, companies and government agencies to support Kenyan graduate students as these students represent the future of research in Kenya.

Through KESSA, there has been a push by Kefa Otiso, the former KESSA president, and others to engage the Kenyan government to develop a programme similar to CADFP that would bring scholars to Kenya for capacity development.

It is my fervent desire that programmes such as the CADFP can be replicated by other African countries and that Kenya’s Diaspora Fellowship Program will be implemented.

Nationally sponsored programmes can have the added benefit of bidirectional exchanges that will facilitate African scholars from the continent to travel outside of the continent to share expertise with those in the diaspora, resulting in mutually beneficial collaborations.

Kidogo didogo hujaza kibaba

The personal journey and examples presented here illuminate ways for young African diaspora academics to see where they can begin their journey of giving back.

In Kiswahili we have a saying: Kidogo kidogo hujaza kibaba – which means: “little by little, you fill the tin.”

Therefore, my wish is that we seek ways to do our part in filling the ‘tin of knowledge’. If we each do our kidogo (little), we can improve educational and research outcomes on the continent ‘tin by tin’.

African institutions and governments can provide the resources and structures to source and fill the ‘tin’.

It is only through the spirit of harambee (let us pull together) and ubuntu (I am because we are) that we can make important strides. Our collective efforts will transform our continent.

Nothing of substance is ever achieved without others, therefore consistent with African tradition, I would like to acknowledge those who have enabled my work in Kenya. First, I would like to acknowledge the important role of the Carnegie African Diaspora Fellowship and the Fulbright programme to support the African academic diaspora in engaging African universities. I also want to acknowledge the role that KESSA members have played in mentoring scholars in Kenya and the US. I am indebted to Dr Renson Muchiri (KCA) and Dr Rose Karimi (ANU) for their joint application to the CADFP which enabled me to do work at their institutions. I am grateful to Professor Muruku Waiguchu and Dr Peter Muchiri for inviting me to work with Dedan Kimathi Technical University graduate students. Much gratitude to Professor Ndirangu Kioni, the vice-chancellor of Dedan Kimathi Technical University, a visionary who committed resources that supported our collaboration. My gratitude is also extended to Professor Maurice Amutabi for his invitation to the AISA conference and to Dr Nixon Muganda for his invitation to the AIBUMA conference. Finally, none of the aforementioned activities would have been possible without the support of Wright State University and, in particular, Thomas Traynor, the dean of the Raj Soin College of Business, and Professor Kendall Goodrich, my department chair, for their unwavering commitment to my international research and teaching activities.

Wakiuru Wamwara is an associate professor of marketing at the Raj Soin College of Business, Wright State University in Dayton, Ohio, US. The views expressed in this article are her own and not those of her employer. She can be reached at lwamwara@wright.edu.

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