Maureen Cherongis: Reflections of my masters research journey
By Maureen Cherongis
The moment I stepped at the United States International University – Africa (USIU-A) to pursue Masters in International Relations, I had a clear and resolute vision of the specific trajectory my research would follow.
My research journey has been shaped by a deep desire to challenge dominant narratives that perpetuate colonial legacies and to ensure that the diverse heritage of Africa is authentically represented. From the onset, my research topic was ignited by a powerful idea: ‘who owns the story.’ research. This study was conceptualized by Jess Crombie and David Girling in partnership with Amref Health Africa guided me to seek out the voices and perspectives of Kibera’s residents, to challenge the dominant narratives perpetuated by International Non-Governmental Organizations (INGOs), and to advocate for more equitable and ethical portrayals of developing countries.
My research interest was also driven by my passion to promote and advocate for authentic narratives and images that reflect the multifaceted identities and community voices as well as challenge prevailing stereotypes and misrepresentations that have long dominated.
My efforts also revolve around the critical exploration of decolonizing storytelling through challenging the dominant narratives that perpetuate colonial legacies and promoting authentic narratives that reflect the multifaceted identities and histories of African people.
I immersed myself in the works of prominent scholars in the field of decolonization, post-colonialism and related areas. The literatures of Ngugi wa Thiong’o, Ademola Kazeem Fayemi , Sabelo J. Ndlovu-Gatsheni, Frank Fanon, Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie, Achile Mbembe and Bagele Chilisa among others became my everyday cup of tea.
My research objectives explored the techniques and impact of International Non-Governmental Organizations (INGOs) in visually representing developing countries, while also striving to decolonize these techniques.
Reflecting on my Master’s journey, I remember sitting at a coffee shop meeting with my supervisor, Dr. Nicodemus Minde. At that time, my research topic was in its nascent stages, a mere skeleton of an idea. Dr. Minde’s guidance and expertise breathed life into my research. He listened attentively, asking probing questions, and offering insights that transformed my concept into a focused and meaningful research topic.
It was through this process of inquiry and reflection that we settled on the topic that would become the cornerstone of my Master’s journey. My topic was titled: Decolonizing visual representation of developing countries by International Non-Governmental Organization (INGOs): A case of Kibera slums.
That was just the beginning of a series of consultations that would play a pivotal role in shaping my research. With each subsequent meeting, whether in person or through phone calls and emails, my research vision continued to crystallize.
Nevertheless, my coursework of my Master’s program provided a strong theoretical foundation, introducing me to critical theory, postcolonial studies, and great scholars that were helpful in my research.
Investigating the visual representation of Kibera slum by International Non-Governmental Organizations (INGOs) was a daunting yet captivating endeavor. Kibera often portrayed through a lens of poverty, despair, and victimhood, deserved a more nuanced narrative.
My research methodology involved a qualitative design approach, including interviews with key informants from International Non-Governmental Organizations (INGOs) and government representatives, as well as conducting Focus Group Discussions (FGDs). This approach yielded a rich and diverse data that I analyzed to uncover patterns, themes, and nuances in the narratives and practices related to decolonization and ethical storytelling in Kibera slums.
One of the most pivotal and eye-opening moments during my research journey was engaging with experts in the field. Conversations with scholars, academia, communications and fundraising professionals, photographers and videographers provided invaluable insights that sharpened my perspective and guided my approach. Their guidance served as a compass, navigating me through the complexities of decolonization and visual representation.
Yet, the heart of my research lay in the Focus Group Discussions (FGDs) with the communities in Kibera. I met incredible women and men who shared their perspective wholeheartedly. These dialogues were not just research exercises; they were profound exchanges of stories, experiences, and aspirations. Listening to the residents of Kibera was a privilege that brought to light the resilience, strength, and agency that often remained concealed behind the prevailing narratives of poverty and despair.
The FGDs in Kibera slums offered moments of mutual learning and empowerment. It was in those discussions that I witnessed firsthand the transformative potential of amplifying marginalized voices. The participants shared their stories, challenges, and dreams, and I saw the power of visual representation as a means to honor their agency and dignity.
During my research experience, I encountered challenges and setbacks, as is often the case in research. However, these obstacles only fueled my determination to persevere. Balancing work commitments and meeting research submission deadlines posed significant challenges. Sacrificing weekends for research underscored my dedication and determination to achieve my academic goals. In addition, presenting my findings and defending my work before a committee of experts was a nerve-wracking yet fulfilling experience. Nevertheless, I embraced the challenges and cherished the moments of insight and discovery that came my way.
In the years ahead, I look forward to furthering my research, contributing to the academic community, and making a positive impact in challenging stereotypes, amplifying marginalized voices, and advocating for more ethical and inclusive representations of developing countries.
In a nutshell, my research journey was full of excitement, surprises, challenges, and uncertainties. When you finally reach the end of your Master’s program, you will have the opportunity to reflect on your journey with a profound sense of accomplishment and pride. You will see how far you have come from those early days of uncertainty, and you will appreciate the growth, knowledge, and skills you have acquired along the way.
Maureen Cherongis is a chartered public relations practitioner with a wealth of experience spanning over seven years in the realm of strategic communications and international relations. She is committed to changing the African narrative by showcasing compelling stories that reflect the efforts of improving Africa’s development agenda. As a passionate advocate for ethical storytelling and the decolonization of narratives in Africa, she is dedicated to promoting authentic, inclusive, and equitable narratives that accurately portray the multifaceted and evolving story of Africa.