AfREC Postgrad Fellow completes productive fieldwork trip to the US and Africa

AfREC Postgraduate Fellow Seth Appiah-Mensah, a UWA PhD candidate in Political Science & International Relations (School of Social Sciences), recently completed a productive research fieldwork trip to the United States and three African countries to inform his project on African peace and security.

Seth is also a veteran peacekeeper and UN staff member. Prior to coming to UWA in October 2017, he was the Chief of Mission Support Planning Service at the UN Office to the African Union (UNOAU) in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia. For over ten years, he worked in the Department of Peacekeeping Operations at UN Headquarters in New York where he played a lead role in the planning and management of several UN and African Union (AU) missions, such as UNAMID (Darfur), MINURCAT (Chad), AFISMA (Mali), MISCA/MINUSCA (CAR) and AMISOM (Somalia). He also served in peacekeeping operations in Liberia (ECOMOG) and Sierra Leone (UNAMSIL).

Seth was a member of the Ghana Armed Forces (Navy) for more than 23 years and held senior positions, including Commanding Officer Ghana Navy Ship YOGAGA, Military Advisor AMIS (Darfur) and the Aide de Camp to the President of Ghana (2002-2004). He has published articles on maritime security and peace and security issues across Africa in international journals. Seth has a masters degree in maritime policy from the University of Wollongong, Australia. He is also graduate of Britannia Royal Naval College, UK, US Naval War College, Ghana Institute of Management and Public Administration (GIMPA), Ghana Armed Forces Command and Staff College, Command and Staff College, Jaji, Nigeria.

Below, Seth reports for AfricaNarratives on his recent PhD research field trip:


As part of my PhD project, I spent the first year of my candidature combing through extensive literature to develop my theoretical framework and thesis statement, which is to interrogate the concept and practice of security partnerships in Africa with the aim of identifying how pan-African responses to grave circumstances, such as political violence, can be more efficient and effective. In my second year, I then embarked on fieldwork from 14 January-30 March 2019 to validate and, in most cases, challenge some of these theoretical ideas. My fieldwork took place in four countries: the United States, Ethiopia, Nigeria and Gabon, with the last two being my research case studies.

In the United States, I met more than 90 per cent of my target sample, including several UN officials who work extensively on Africa. I also met with several academic experts in New York and Washington, D.C., to obtain their insights on my topic.

I then flew to Addis Ababa, Ethiopia’s capital and home of the African Union, landing on the same day the annual AU Summit was taking place. All attempts to visit the AU compound during the summit to see African leaders at work failed miserably as the AU had gone high-tech this time round and provided delegates with photographic ID for this year’s summit (although I later learnt I did not knock on all the right doors). However, after the Summit I co-located to the AU Commission and the rest, as they say, is history. I met with key people working on different aspects of the African Peace and Security Architecture (APSA) and other senior AU and UN officials. The collaboration was excellent but very time consuming as most meetings couldn’t be confirmed ahead of time. I also engaged with academics and other analysts from the Institute of Peace and Security Studies (IPSS) at Addis Ababa University, and Amani Africa.

I took the opportunity to call on the Australian Ambassador to Ethiopia, H.E. Peter Doyle, at his office. I was also highly honoured to meet with the former Ethiopian Prime Minister, Hailemariam Desalegn, who graciously shared his views on the African security landscape.

Coming just days after the Nigerian elections, my visit to Abuja, Nigeria’s capital, was at serious risk of being cancelled if there had been any significant post-electoral violence. Thankfully, the situation normalised quickly and my meetings with the Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS) staff as well as with academic staff of the National Defence College went very well. I also met with the former Foreign Minister of Nigeria and former ECOWAS Commissioner for Political Affairs, Peace and Security, Mad. Salamatu Hussaini-Suleiman. Following an email request, Gen. Abdulsalami Abubakar, the former Nigerian Head of State, invited me to his hometown in Mina, three hours’ drive from Abuja. This was the highpoint of my trip because as one of Africa’s most respected elder statesmen, I was highly honoured and elated to sit at his feet for two hours to tap into his words of wisdom.

Whilst in Africa, the situation in Gabon also became tense due to a coup attempt by few soldiers. I monitored the situation through the UN Office for Central Africa (UNOCA), which gave me additional clearances and assurances to proceed. I met with the Special Representative of UNOCA, François Fall, whose mandate includes strengthening the capacity of the Economic Community of Central African States (ECCAS) in the area of peace and security. At ECCAS, I was hosted by the Director of Political Affairs and Early Warning Mechanism, Ambassador Hamuli, who facilitated all my engagements with the Deputy Secretary-General of ECCAS and the Planning Elements of the Standby Force (FOMAC).

Surrounded by 15 military, police/gendarmerie and civilian components of FOMAC, I conducted a one-and-half hours focus group interview in Frenglish (French and English) as my interlocutors spoke no English. The little French I studied in high school and in the military saved the day but as I left the conference room vowing to register in French classes as soon as possible. As you may be aware, most Anglophones suffer from what Francophones call the Englishman’s disease–lack of proficiency in French.

My time with FOMAC seemed like a whole day and by the time I was done I was totally drenched in my own sweat. Despite the challenges, the social interactions of the group brought some ‘magnified moments’ about the precarious nature of the sub-region’s security architecture.

Being my first academic fieldwork trip, I was initially a bit anxious not knowing how things would pan out, but the regular Skype chats with my supervisor, Dr David Mickler, always helped to calm my nerves and plan the next steps. Tips from Prof. Loretta Baldassar’s course ANTH4101 Advanced Qualitative Methods: Interviews and Focus Groups also came very handy. Overall, it was a great learning experience for me as I was able to reconfirm or dig deeper into some issues but, at same time, learn new things about the continent I thought I knew very well.

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