Meet our Researchers: Dr Fredrick Ajwang

11 May 2020

We speak with Dr Fredrick Ajwang a Postdoctoral Researcher at University College Dublin’s School of Politics and International Relations (SPIRe). Fredrick carried out his PhD studies at the Open University under the supervision of David Wield, Julius Mugwagwa and Charlotte Cross. His thesis explored the governance and regulatory challenges faced by smallholder farmers in Kenya’s fresh and vegetables export value chain and ways to ensure that they remain in the value chain. Now, he is exploring innovative ways to mitigate violence in ethnically divided societies and promote development.

What are your main research interests?

In the last couple of years my research focus has shifted a bit. For my MPhil degree I examined the use of mobile phone farming applications by Kenyan farmers to access markets and the impact that it was having on their welfare and livelihoods. My PhD focused on contract governance systems in the Kenyan fresh fruit and vegetable value chains. I then worked at the Science Policy Research Unit at the University of Sussex on a project analysing relational pathways out of poverty for selected Indian and Kenyan farmers. Since October 2019, I have been working at University College Dublin carrying out a micro-institutional analysis of the causes and drivers of ethnic violence in certain areas in Kenya. My research explores how different ethnic groups’ culture and norms produce competing claims over how land ought to be governed in Kenya. 

What are you working on at the moment?

I am currently trying to understand the causes of ethnic conflicts in Kenya through a comparative analysis of the development and performance of institutions that govern land in two areas. The main driver of ethnic violence in Kenya is land and political mobilisation around issues related to land governance.  I am analysing the impact of different ethnic group belief systems on these institutions.

The research is inspired by the theoretical work by Avner Greif, which examines how institutional elements of cultural belief and norms tend to influence behaviour and institutional outcomes. My analysis seeks to explore ethnic violence as conditioned by interrelated but distinct factors, including but not limited to macro-political ones and micro-institutional elements of belief, norms and culture, which according to Avner Greif provides the micro-foundation for individual behaviour. Cultural beliefs in ethnic groups often capture individuals' expectations with respect to the actions they take in various contingencies.  In other words, I am trying to understand how and to what extent does history, crystallised in cultural belief and norms, evoke competing claims over land leading to violence. 

When did you join Innogen? 

I joined Innogen in 2016 while completing my PhD at the Open University through my supervisor Professor Dave Wield. I attended Innogen meetings and research seminars, which provided a platform to network with other researchers outside of my School.  Joining Innogen was very useful while completing my PhD as it enabled me talk about my research with a wide community of experts. I did a mock viva with Dr Geoff Banda and Dr Julius Mugwagwa a few days before my PhD viva, which was really helpful. 

What are the main challenges you have come across in your research?

As an early career researcher, getting funding has been difficult. The research-funding environment is highly competitive, I am extremely happy to have been awarded an IRC (Irish Research Council) fellowship. Finding a good mentor at the University of Sussex was instrumental in this success. Also, the research support team there were superb in helping me to put forwards various fellowship applications.

What impact do you hope your work might have? What do you find most rewarding? 

My aim is to propose innovative institutional designs for mitigating ethnic conflicts. At the moment, I am really enjoying reading the colonial documents on land governance from Kenya’s National Archives, which are helping me find answers to some of my research questions.  


Follow Fredrick on twitter: @Fredftb