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What Legacy is WGAPE Striving to Create?

Amy Shipow, CEGA’s Senior Program Associate of the Global Networks team, reflects on the history and future direction of CEGA’s Working Group in African Political Economy (WGAPE) — and how local partners will be at the helm of driving this growing academic community forward.

WGAPE 2022 Annual Meeting participants at the University of Rwanda.

“In the next five years, I’d like to see a critical mass of African researchers who are taking ownership. Particularly, indigenous and local knowledge being captured to inform policy. Can we see more institutional capacity [for this] in the next five years? I think it is very possible.” — Anthony Mveyange

At this year’s 2022 Africa Evidence Summit, Anthony Mveyange, the Executive Director of the Partnership for African Social and Governance Research (PASGR) and Spring 2015 CEGA Fellow, shared his vision for the development research space, in which African scholars could engage governments to stimulate demand for rigorous research, co-create research agendas with policymakers, and enhance the relevance of their research.

Currently, Africa-based scholars face significant barriers to equitable participation in social science knowledge production. Africa-based scholars are systematically undercited and are underrepresented as authors and editorial board members in top academic journals. Relative to American and European universities, African universities are underfunded, limiting the production of original scholarship. These inequities are particularly acute in the study of political economy, where there are steep resource and time commitments necessary to carry out fieldwork-intensive research.

The Working Group in African Political Economy (WGAPE) was founded by CEGA Founder and Faculty Co-Director Edward Miguel and CEGA affiliated professor Daniel Posner (UCLA) and has since been supporting African and Africa-based scholars conducting rigorous research on the political economy of Africa. Central to WGAPE’s mission of fostering new collaborative relationships and increasing the policy impact of presented research is integrating African institutions into WGAPE’s leadership and administration. In 2019, WGAPE held its first meeting on the African continent at the University of Cape Town and this July, held its annual meeting in partnership with the University of Rwanda. Not only was the meeting hosted in Rwanda, but 59% of attendees were African scholars, all of whom were funded by CEGA to attend.

These collaborations have propelled CEGA to think about how African institutions can eventually host WGAPE meetings, and more importantly, drive the process from end to end. CEGA’s long term vision for WGAPE is to grow it into a self-sustaining group rooted in Africa. Here’s how we are making this vision a reality:

CEGA has offered staff and operational support to other institutions hoping to host a WGAPE meeting. For example, CEGA coordinated the RFP release and submission and paper review for the April 2022 WGAPE Meeting at Cornell University. Together, CEGA and Cornell’s Einaudi Center invited twelve scholars from across the globe to present their papers. Abiola Oyebanjo, whose first international research conference was WGAPE at NYU in Abu Dhabi, was invited back to present a paper. Now involved in Evidence in Governance and Politics (EGAP) and CEGA’s Fall 2022 Visiting Fellowship, Oyebanjo demonstrates how WGAPE’s integration of Africa-based scholars into academic networks deepens research trajectories.

“I wouldn’t say it was any one connection, but rather knowing friendly faces at various conferences, APCG meetings, etc. WGAPE lends to a general sense of community.” — Abiola Oyebanjo

In addition to participating as attendees, African and Africa-based scholars have joined WGAPE’s Organizing Team and Executive Committee. Amma Panin (University of Louvaine) has joined our Organizing Team, and Carolyn Chisadza (University of Pretoria), Justice Mensah (World Bank), Aimable Nsabimana (University of Rwanda), and Mai Hassan (Massachusetts Institute of Technology) are a part of our the Executive Committee. CEGA believes that such linkages with African experts can work toward rectifying the power imbalances that exist in the global development community.

Hosting WGAPE on the continent remains our ultimate priority as most international conferences on the study of African politics and economics are hosted in the Global North, making it expensive and time consuming for Africa-based scholars to participate. Laura Barasa, one of the 2021 WGAPE Small Grant research recipients and Cornell WGAPE paper presenter, is actively supporting our vision for a rich WGAPE community on the continent, by stewarding Busara’s upcoming “Working Group in Kenyan Political Economy.”

We are currently identifying African research institutions that might be interested in partnering with CEGA to organize WGAPE moving forward. We’ve found that African-based academics share our enthusiasm for the WGAPE style, but lack time and institutional incentives to support this work.

Our solution: Co-hosting and then handing off organizational ownership of future WGAPE meetings to an African institution.

We hope to invest in the capacity of African institutions to host WGAPE Annual Meetings. In selecting our institutional partners, we will draw on the institutional affiliations of past Africa-based WGAPE participants, sponsor a plenary lecture by a prominent scholar of political economy at the host institution, and prioritize visa-free entry or visa on arrival for nationals of most African countries. At least one author slot and two participant slots will be reserved for scholars affiliated with the institution hosting the annual meeting. This ensures that host institutions benefit from hosting and are part of our investment in the study of political economy at African universities. This African stewardship can lead to better political economy scholarship as well as stronger relationships with universities and policymakers in Africa. It could also contribute to the greater dissemination of results and policy impacts, and shape broader global research norms for North-South partnerships by demonstrating that these partnerships generate higher quality research.

We know challenges lie ahead. For example, the WGAPE administrative structure relies heavily on the uncompensated labor of staff members. There may be less time and fewer professional incentives for these uncompensated services at African universities, which could hamper our recruitment of African institutional partners.

However, we are confident in our existing WGAPE network and other global partners who recognize the value of African-driven research initiatives. We welcome nominations of African institutions and faculty stewards to carry forward the next generation of WGAPE.

In the interim, please apply for or share our current WGAPE opportunity — the Small Research Grant competition. Successful applicants will receive between $6,000 and $9,000 USD to conduct research on the political economy of African development, and will receive feedback from a senior researcher from the WGAPE organizers or executive committee. More information can be found on our webpage and full RFP. The deadline to submit an application is October 15th at 11:59 PM Pacific Time.

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