The history of statehood in East Africa: a Q&A with Stephanie Wanga

Stephanie Wanga is a PhD student in the Department of Government 

My research is my own contribution, given my skillset, to the political and economic self-determination of my continent.
Stephanie Wanga 747 x 560
Stephanie Wanga

What are you currently researching?

I’m looking into the history of statehood in East Africa, with a temporal focus on the mid-twentieth century to the present day. If independence (via an independent state) was to secure “freedom” for us, as East Africans, I try to fill out the content of what such freedom entails, and whether the state secures/secured it, and whether there might be promising alternatives to the state.

It is not quite anarchist (although I do, separately, work on anarchist thinking in Africa), but it is friendly to anarchist thought, while also asking: what does a (African) state that works well look like? If we can’t find what we are looking for in the state, where else might we look? Of course, that also implies the question: what are we—East Africans—looking for? It is a work that engages multiple fields—history, political theory, philosophy, political economy, and popular culture.

Why did you choose this area of study?

I have a vested interest in the success of East African polities. It’s where I was born and raised, so I care about what it takes it to make it a place where people can not only secure their basic needs but also lead happy lives. I want much more than the bare minimum for us and I hope I do work that is ambitious, even in uncomfortable ways.

Political theory allows me a lot of intellectual freedom and room to experiment. The focus on East Africa was primarily because the thesis needed a high degree of specificity, but I am invested in the wellbeing of the whole continent and its diaspora, so a lot of the motivation was Pan-Africanist as well, given the connectedness of our struggles.

What does your research mean to you/what do you hope to achieve?

My research is my own contribution, given my skillset, to the political and economic self-determination of my continent. I don’t think that such self-determination will be achieved or even mapped out in a single thesis, but I hope it adds to all the other conversations going on about the matter, and that incrementally we begin to move towards a goal we become more able to visualise the contours of. I hope I add to the kind of debate that helps shape history. It’s therefore a kind of intangible hope I have, but I want to be equal parts ambitious and pragmatic.

You have recently been appointed to the Student and Early-Stage Research (CSESR) Board for CIVICA – the European University of Social Sciences. Can you tell us a bit more about CIVICA and what this role involves? What attracted you to this position and what do you hope to achieve in the role?

The CSESR board aims to further engage students in the governance and implementation of CIVICA's activities and encourage bottom-up initiatives that strengthen interaction and collaboration within the alliance.

I applied because I thought I’d bring a particular perspective as an international (as in outside of the EU) student looking to engage with European universities—given the constraints we face in terms of movement (visas, racial issues, etc…) and how this affects planning, etc... I’m trying to see if I can find a way to use my contributions here to make CIVICA’s practices as inclusive as possible of all its constituents.

What advice would you give to other PhD students or early career researchers on the most effective way to approach research and keep stress levels down?

I think they should always start with very modest goals even within the frame of a highly ambitious career plan (I have the trouble of always wanting to fix the world immediately!) and find GOOD supervisors. That’s most of the battle! I'm really glad I have an excellent team of supervisors. 

In a few words, what is the best thing about studying at LSE?

Meeting Liam Kofi Bright, one of my supervisors, was the absolute best thing to happen during my LSE journey. He wasn’t in my department, so I first met him later on in my first year, but he’s made so much possible for me at LSE. Having someone who engages with African philosophy with the kind of care, openness, respect and rigour that he approaches it with has been very inspiring for my own work. That support—the humour, the encouragement, the wisdom, the presence—has been absolutely vital for my journey at LSE.

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