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IWD 2020: Celebrating Eka Ikpe

International Women’s Day is an opportunity to celebrate women and their achievements in the world. We spoke with Dr Eka Ikpe about her experiences as an African woman, researcher and Senior Lecturer at King’s.

Eka Ipke

Why did you get into academia? 

Curiosity – especially about the complexity of Global South contexts. There were some nagging questions about the world around me, like the structural differences that seem immutable across vast swathes of the globe. Even though these seemed explicable and normal, the main arguments proffered were not always convincing.

As I have journeyed through academia, I am increasingly enriched by the awareness that I have much to learn and that this is perhaps what is most constant about being an academic. It is a privilege to have a vocation that is about knowledge, questioning, power, history and difference.

Why do we especially need to hear more from African women’s voices?

African women are a fundamental part of our shared world, which cannot possibly be functional when these voices are underestimated, rendered invisible, dismissed or silenced. And yet, it is the status quo and so easy to fall into doing so. – Dr Eka Ikpe

The African Leadership Centre Fellowships for African women is a programme that was established to challenge this state of affairs. I was the founding Head of Fellowships programme, which now has about 50 alumni. They have gone onto work in academia, regional institutions (including the African Union) and taken up ministerial positions in governments across the continent.

Women, indeed African and African diaspora women, have long offered their voices to addressing critical concerns in the world. The challenge has been how these thoughts and ideas are recognised as legitimate knowledge – sometimes they are deemed significant in private spheres but not necessarily so much in public spheres.

This is of course a structural concern that has a lot to do with power hierarchies in knowledge systems that prominent thinker, Claude Ake, describes as driving the dominance of Eurocentric explanations of African contexts. This is reinforced by the influence wielded by patriarchal social systems and norms.‘Hear[ing] more from African women’ is a journey of seeking out what has been said across time in both so-called formal and less formal spaces and recognising the variation of knowledge and ways of understanding the world that these can equip us with.

Scholar, poet and activist, Audre Lorde, declares that it is not the responsibility of the ‘othered’ to educate but that we all have the responsibility to strive to comprehend the range of complex and varied lived realities in order to produce collaborations that will help us tackle our shared human challenges. I ascribe to these viewpoints and admit that these are processes and journeys as opposed to a set destination.

What is it like being an academic at King’s?

My favourite days are often dynamic, with opportunities to discuss, challenge and be challenged. I also get to share current research and research ideas with colleagues (at King’s and beyond) and to seek out prospects for collaborations. Great days are also made up of sharing and exchanging knowledge in classrooms, as well as with research students and with a rich range of backgrounds.  

One of the best things about my job is being part of a larger whole that is built upon a mission to produce critical knowledge, and build and transfer change, transformation and progress. I very much enjoy the exchanges of ideas in research fora and in the classroom that can offer complex and sophisticated readings of the world around me. I am privileged to be able to focus on Global South contexts, especially African spaces and to work with my colleagues within these spaces to centre the lived realities and experiences in these parts of the world as sources of knowledge.

Has there been any challenges/bias/stereotypes that you’ve had to overcome as a woman scholar?

Yes, there are all of these things in the life of a female scholar, including for me. My experience has been particular as a black African woman but also mediated by structures associated with my socio-economic background, nationalities, educational background, belief system, sexual orientation, family life and a whole range of other factors. There is the privilege of being welcomed and recognised as bringing important ideas to build upon collectively. Then there are the rare but profound instances of being underestimated and dismissed. I am still learning how to manage and counter these situations without judging myself too harshly for not coming up with an eloquent, quick and witty comeback!

I have found it valuable to have safe spaces for sharing and reflecting on these experiences, learning lessons and being bolstered by peers and senior colleagues.  I have been incredibly fortunate to be based within a fiercely supportive space and have often felt very protected and secure as a result.

What is your research about?

There are two main areas of work that have defined my journey: the role of the state in development processes and outcomes; and peacebuilding and development in Africa.

My work on the state and development has focused on advancing the analytical utility of the developmental state discourse to address agriculture, insecurity and foreign investment and their links to industrial development while considering cross-learning across Africa and Asia.

My work on peacebuilding and development has contributed to critiquing the dominant liberal peacebuilding framework from an interdisciplinary standpoint across development economics, international relations and political economy. I have engaged a range of themes including the economic impact of conflict; post-conflict reconstruction; state fragility; international interventions and initiatives; gendered analyses and; single-issue priorities such as demining.

What’s your advice to other women looking to get into academia?

We have a great deal to offer so please come on through! Our experiences will be different due to a range of factors across socio-economic background, nationalities, migration, ethnicity, educational background… so while we share a lot, we are such a diverse group.– Dr Eka Ikpe

My journey has been mine, but I have found it helpful to be steadfast and committed to the subjects and themes that I have sought to engage, build upon and evolve. It has been essential to build solidarity with likeminded colleagues, female and male, as critical sounding boards, collaborators and most importantly for moral support. This is of course a long-term endeavour.


In this story

Eka  Ikpe

Eka Ikpe

Director, African Leadership Centre

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