Summer in Chad: Ismaël Maazaz reflects on fieldwork


This is an excerpt – read Ismaël’s full account on the University of Edinburgh African Studies blog.

By Ismaël Maazaz, MSc student in African Studies

Thanks to a Global Development Academy (GDA) scholarship, I was lucky enough to conduct fieldwork in N’Djamena, Chad over the month of June 2015. A friend of mine, Mathilde, working for the CILONG, a centre of liaison connecting together NGOs, kindly hosted me and helped me gear myself up for my research. I was rapidly embedded in a crew of Chadian and French residents who made my stay amazingly human.

I was especially impressed by the diversity of N’Djamena’s settlement; the particular location of Chad at the crossroad of Africa explains the motley crowds one observes in the streets. N’Djamena is not only an internationalised city due to the presence of NGOs, multinationals or U.N agencies on the ground. It is also because of various waves of migrations gathering nationals from all Africa’s corners. Having lunch with a Guinean medic narrating his staggering experience of humanitarian work in Central African Republic, jabbering about politics with the Sudanese manager of a café in classical Arabic, which this man masterfully commanded, or discoursing on Chadian military history with a Cameroon-born officer who went through the murky troubles of rebellions: here are a few of the situations one could be brought into, by keeping one’s ears and mind open. The variety of religious faiths, and manners of living them, also strikes the foreigner used to more monolithic expressions of beliefs.

I was warmly welcomed by 17 interviewees who openly shared their views with me on a wide range of topics relating to my research. I rarely felt I should avoid any sensitive aspect, and their replies would often go beyond my questions, sometimes turning interviews into lively debates on the future of Chad. I agreeably found a great deal of my Chadian interlocutors passionate about politics and history.

Obviously, Chad has its stains of dark, especially now. Boko Haram carried out its first deadly attacks in the capital city when I was there and the security context is deteriorating. I could witness increased restrictions being imposed by the military and the police; foreign nationals limited their movement to “imperative professional duties” and various NGOs went a step further, barring their employees from leaving their residence.

Yet, as long as one follows the rules prescribed by common sense and N’Djamena’s residents, things are likely to be fine. Well, there is not much individuals can do anyway. “Be cautious” is not a really meaningful word of advice, my friend Mathilde remarked. One of the sentences I would hear on a frequent basis was: “We’re not gonna stop living because of this”. Indeed, what else can one do, than simply continue his or her life in spite of tragic events?

Chad leaves me with the bittersweet and contradictory taste of a place filled with individually fantastic people embroiled in a turbulent context, which oversteps all of us. If Chad’s future is riddled with uncertainties, I am convinced that more researchers should pay attention to it, since it may be geopolitically decisive for the larger Africa.

Summer in Kenya: Edinburgh students visit iHub

Nairobi city centre

Nairobi city centre

A team of undergraduate and postgraduate students from the University of Edinburgh are visiting Nairobi – Africa’s technology and innovation capital – in July 2015. In collaboration with the Global Development Academy and led by Dr Jamie Cross, four students who won the Smart Data Hack for International Development will visit iHub, home to some of the world’s most cutting edge tech solutions to development problems.

Dr Cross describes the trip on Vice President for International, Professor James Smith’s blog, Africa 2015: 

 ‘The students won the opportunity after building a bespoke search engine to help development professionals filter news on technology trends…This is a great opportunity for (them) to learn from technology professionals amid the spectacular Kenyan backdrop.’

Read more here.

Summer in Ghana: ECA and Modern Space

Conserving W African Modern

Edinburgh College of Art’s Architecture lecturer, Dr Ola Uduku, is currently in Ghana leading a workshop on conserving West Africa’s great modern buildings. Part history, part preservation, this work is uniting African and Western scholarship and practice to reclaim Africa’s recent urban design past. More information is available on partner website DOCOMOMO, and stay tuned for updates!

UK ELECTION #DevelopmentDebate: GDA Brings Together Top Party Representatives 

On 29 April, the GDA hosted its first-ever UK Election debate on global development issues. Representatives from Scotland’s top five parties spoke in front of an audience of over 100 staff, students, and members of the development community in Scotland about their party’s stance on international development. Surprising levels of agreement were achieved between (L-R): Iain McGill, Conservative candidate for Edinburgh North and Leith; Claire Baker MSP (Labour) Shadow Cabinet Secretary for Culture, Europe and External Affairs; Michael Moore (Liberal Democrats); Humza Yousaf MSP, Minister for Europe and International Development (SNP); and Patrick Harvey MSP, Co-Convenor of the Scottish Green Party (outside photo frame). 

All parties applauded the UK achieving the 0.7% target for Gross National Income percentage dedicated to aid – an effort led by Moore through a Private Members Bill. Gender equality and empowerment for women and girls were also high on all speakers’ priority lists for international development. More of the keen audience questions can be explored through the twitter feed, #DevelopmentDebate. The packed debate marked an inaugural collaboration between the GDA and co-sponsors, ONE, the anti-poverty campaign, and NIDOS (Network of International Development Organisations in Scotland), with future plans to address the sustainable development goals for the post-2015 agenda in the works.

Read more coverage here and here.

Photo credit: Chris Mitchell/ONE

EUID Guest Post: Our Year in Review

1514215_637765942953904_1340803496_nA letter from Edinburgh’s International Development Society incoming and out-going Presidents:

EUID’s 2014/15 year began with an entirely new committee, which made up for its lack of prior experience with plenty of enthusiasm. Our main objectives were to make EUID’s activities more accessible to undergraduates and to enhance its social media presence, both of which were achieved quickly as our first event in David Hume tower was a full house. Afterwards, we looked to structure our schedule to cohere to the Millennium Development Goals, which were due to expire. Particular highlights included a panel discussion on the different ways local gender dynamics affect work in the field. This included the GDA’s very own Zoe Marks as well as representatives from Mercy Corps and International Service.

The highlight of our year was International Development Week, in which we toiled to organise 12 events within one week. This included events with Edinburgh’s finest professors, World Development Movement, International Alert, the OECD, the German Government and, perhaps most importantly, soup purveyors, Union of Genius. As this year slowly tailed off with exams and essays occupying the committee members’ brain cells, we were able to relax slightly and interact with less obvious organisations such as the Swahili Club. Now that the term is finally done, we can thank all of the individuals and organisations (far too many to name here) that have engaged, helped and funded us, and attended our events. We also thank our outgoing committee members – Ines, Tina, and Marie – who worked tirelessly and cheerfully to make EUID as innovative, accessible, and fun as possible.

Looking ahead to 2015/16, we want to keep growing. 2014/15 has seen event attendance and on-campus visibility rise significantly. We want to keep going from here. We have expanded our committee from 5 to 8 members, hoping to express each member’s talent, enthusiasm and interest in development by implementing a wider range of development-related events. New event ideas and new partnerships will hopefully push the development discussion into new areas of student life. In this vein, we are planning events with Friends of MSF, Engineers Without Borders, the Scottish Government and local MSPs.

We plan to continue engaging with development by using a local and global perspective, casting an accessible, yet critical light over current issues. We are hoping to work more closely with the GDA and NIDOS (and its associate NGOs) to relay academic and practical expertise to students of all and any academic background, showing how active Edinburgh and Scotland are in development. Following our successful workshop-style events last year, we plan to emphasize how active students can be at and through Edinburgh University. By introducing them to the wonderful volunteering societies and NGOs we have been exposed to and contacted by, as well as by organising careers talks, we will offer a platform by which students can be active in international development.

We are very proud to stay on board with EUID, a project we want to see grow even more this coming year!

Alastair (Vice-President) & Chris (President)

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EVENT: 13 May 2015, Reflections on the Nepal Earthquake

Place: 50 George Square, Screening Room G0.4, Edinburgh, EH8 9JY

Time: 17:00 – 19:00

Date: Wednesday, 13 May 2015.

Chaired by Dr Jeevan Sharma and Professor Ian Harper

A 7.8 magnitude earthquake hit central Nepal on 25 April 2015 at 11.56 local time and was followed by a series of aftershocks. Details of this devastating event are still emerging with more than 8,000 already declared dead with more than 20,000 injured and 8 million people estimated to be affected. Just this morning, Tuesday 12 May, another series of major aftershocks wracked the country. A major humanitarian response is underway, involving local people, the Nepali State, and bilateral, multilateral and international humanitarian relief organisations.

Please join us for a series of brief presentations and discussion on the Nepal Earthquake and its impact,  as we express solidarity with the affected population, and those working in Nepal in response to the crisis.

With the outpouring of support for Nepal, we will provide some seismological context, and historical, political and social background to the humanitarian response, and issues emergent since the 25th April.