Security scholar, and author of ‘The Loneliest War: Nigeria’s Strategy Against Boko Haram’, and ‘Beyond the War’, Dr Jumo Ayandele, thinks decolonization is fast becoming an overused term in the international relations field: ‘In the international relations space, there’s been this recurring question of “how do we decolonize the international relations curriculum?” And I have to ask—what does decolonization mean?’
First Draft is our interview column, featuring authors and other prominent figures on books, reading, and writing.
Our questions are italicized.
What books or kinds of books did you read growing up?
I read a lot of crime and legal investigative thriller books when I was growing up. My dad travelled a lot, and this was before there was WIFI on planes or at most airports. So, he came back with lots of books, by authors such as John Grisham and David Baldacci. And after reading these books, he would always pass them on to us. We were also introduced to self-help books—I don’t think any Nigerian dad who read did not have Rich Dad, Poor Dad. But I quickly learned that I gravitated towards fiction. I needed to immerse myself in another reality that helped in expanding my worldview. I found non-fiction books a bore. Ironically, now all I read are academic publications, articles, journals, and maybe one or two memoirs. I really need to make time for reading fiction, because I really love doing it.
What’s the last thing you read and disagreed with?
Where do I start from? Do tweets count? If they do, I will say the last thing I disagreed with was the justification of the National Assembly’s decision to decline citizenship to foreign-born husbands of Nigerian women on the grounds of culture and the patriarchal society of Nigeria. I would also say the many hot takes about the role of FemCo during and after ENDSARS. This was actually one of the reasons why I wrote, with my co-authors, Chioma Okafor and Dr Oyedele, the article published in The Republic on feminists protests and politics in Nigeria.
Book-wise, I don’t think I’ve come across anything yet that I strongly disagree with. I like to think that I am usually up for being challenged in my assumptions and biases, but I haven’t really read any book, at least recently, that I disagreed with.
The last thing I disagreed with was the justification of the National Assembly’s decision to decline citizenship to foreign-born husbands of Nigerian women on the grounds of culture and the patriarchal society of Nigeria.
What’s the last thing you read that changed your mind about something?
Two books. The first is William Germano’s From Dissertation To Book. I’m working on turning my dissertation into a book. Germano’s book is a practical guide. Nobody teaches you how to write a book coming out of your PhD programme, but you’re expected to do that if you want to be in academia. I had somewhat of an idea of what I wanted to write, but reading the book really helped me to consider other factors and issues that I was previously not considering; factors that are important in crafting the story that I want to tell. I really want to focus on African perspectives in the global conversation on peace and security. This book really helped in shaping exactly what I wanted to say and how I wanted to say it.
Then the second book is The Black Academic’s Guide to Winning Tenure Without Losing Your Soul. I got this for Christmas. It’s a book that showed me that I am not alone in navigating this ivory tower of academia. There are so few of us (Black academics) in this space, and even fewer women, and even fewer Africans, talk less of an African woman in the international relations and security space. So having to navigate that world without losing the essence of who you are in order to fit into the Western conception of how to express your issues, while also ticking the unspoken required boxes, is quite the challenge. It was a life changing book because it made me realize that as a minority, as a Black woman, as an African, there are ways to navigate the space without losing the essence of who I am as a human being and as all the identities that I identify with.
What is your writing process: edit as you write or draft first, then edit?
I have to edit as I write, and it makes the writing process much longer. But I’ve accepted that this is part of my process. And, because there are so few Black academics in the international relations and security space, especially women security experts, I am very conscious about what I put out there. I am very conscious about what I say, and the assumptions that I make, and I always ensure that the words that I use in expressing myself in my assessment of African conflict and politics are very clear. I don’t want to be misconstrued. And I know that words matter. So, I don’t mind editing and re-editing so that my arguments are clear.
There are so few of us (Black academics) in this space, and even fewer women, and even fewer Africans, talk less of an African woman in the international relations and security space.
What’s the greatest book on politics and/or security you’ve ever read?
I’m still waiting to read one, to be honest. We have many Western classics on politics and security. There are also books on African politics and insecurity from a Western standpoint, but they all use Western methodologies. I’m really still waiting for a book about Africa by an African that uses decolonization frameworks, and really explains contemporary security challenges facing the continent, and uses a historical perspective also. Maybe that’ll be my book. Maybe that book, the greatest book on politics and security, will be my book.
But I have found that, because my niche is African politics and security, reading memoirs and autobiographies of African past leaders has really been helpful in how I understand the space. So, I am currently reading Obasanjo’s My Watch, and I am hoping to use the text from the book for my next academic project. I want to improve the understanding of African armies, and what we mean by military professionalism, because it means something different for African military officers and another for the West. And this is exactly why there isn’t a consensus about how to understand or assess military effectiveness or policy effectiveness, especially in the context of non-armed groups and violent incidents in the continent.
Will Russia’s invasion have any noticeable impacts on regional security across Africa?
Russia’s military is involved presently with Mozambique and Al-Shabab, and in the Sahel too—Mali has called for the Wagner group, which recently arrived there. So, with the various economic sanctions and measures that are being imposed on Russia right now, there may be implications on counterterrorism efforts in Sahelian states such as Mali, Burkina Faso, in Niger, and also in Mozambique. However, what this impact is, remains to be seen. Russia is a big partner in bilateral arms trade. So, I’m very curious to see how this might impact the exchange and purchase of weapons, especially in counterterrorism efforts.
Because my niche is African politics and security, reading memoirs and autobiographies of African past leaders has really been helpful in how I understand the space.
What is the most meaningful piece of writing advice you’ve ever received?
Writing is a muscle; just write. And the advice that I always give everybody is that slow progress is better than no progress—my dissertation taught me that. It’s better to write even one sentence or two sentences versus not doing anything and leaving the words in your head. And a perfect manuscript, be it a book, be it an article, be it a dissertation, is a done one. Just write.
What’s one thing we should always think about when we write about conflicts and/or security issues?
Definitions matter. And as Africans, it is important that our words tell our own stories from our own perspective. What you say, how you say it, it matters. And this would help in really addressing the deliberate or unconscious bias that the West has towards us, especially in conflict coverage and in its analysis, which we’ve seen recently with Russia and Ukraine.
Slow progress is better than no progress—my dissertation taught me that.
What’s an overused/underused term in your field?
I think there is a term that is both overused, and underused—and it is decolonization. The term is not quite over-flogged yet, but I think we’re getting there. In the international relations space, there’s been this recurring question of ‘how do we decolonize the international relations curriculum?’ And it’s interesting, because some of us have been asking this question way before this recent push that started about six months to a year ago. And I have to ask—what does decolonization mean? Is decolonization being defined from a global south perspective? Or is the definition still from a Western standpoint? I usually find that it’s the latter not the former.
What is your favourite topic to write or read about these days?
African security and conflict, specifically from a human security perspective. The UNDP’s 1994 Human Development Report really changed the way that I view security. It has really shaped how I write and how I analyse security issues on the continent. When it comes to understanding security, we are often trained to view security from a state centric point of view or an institutional point of view. This is changing now, but traditionally security has always been confined to national security. The UNDP 1994 report expanded the ways one could view security, by centring individuals first, and not states. I believe this is a bottom-up approach in solving security issues and challenges. While various arguments that have been made about the non-viability of this approach cannot be implemented, I do not believe the human security approach is a counter to states or institutions, but instead should be viewed as complementary. It’s only going to help national security if you also look at it from a human security standpoint, from a bottom-up perspective. So, it’s a win-win.
What does decolonization mean? Is decolonization being defined from a global south perspective? Or is the definition still from a Western standpoint?
What should we expect you to write about next?
My earlier responses link to this—my book. And I’m hoping to explore the human security perspective with my book, and to really explore the understanding of violent extremism in Africa and security in Africa, what the challenges and the opportunities are.
Question from Yemisi Aribisala: What did you find you were most grateful for in the Pandemic years?
The pandemic is not even over yet. But I would say, exposure and access. The pandemic changed a lot of things. When the pandemic first started, it resulted in a rise in virtual workshops. And this is sad, but following the George Floyd incident, there was a push to centre Black voices, at least in the United States. This resulted in more exposure and access for Black and African voices. This time period has allowed me to really share my research findings and perspective, and to centre African voices in the global conversation on peace and security. But this is happening because something bad happened, because of racism—that’s the unspoken truth.
And secondly, time with my family. The pandemic really brought us closer together. I think growing up and being an adult and having to adult during this period is hard and I can’t not be grateful for having that family support system. I finished my PhD smack in the middle of the pandemic in 2020, and navigating that process has not been easy. But I’m grateful for where I am and for all of God’s blessings and the opening of doors⎈
We want to hear what you think about this interview. Submit a letter to the editors by writing to [email protected].