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Introducing: Bruno Allahissem and Luca Bruls

Bruno Allahissem and Luca Bruls recently joined the Institute for History as PhD candidates in the NWO-funded project 'Digital warfare in the Sahel: popular networks of war and Cultural Violence', led by Mirjam de Bruijn and Jelena Prokic (LUCL). Below they introduce themselves.

Bruno Allahissem

Research, what a strange word! Little did I know that this word would shape who I am today: a doctoral student at the University of Leiden. My choice to study anthropology in my first year of university was troubled by the word 'research,' which is both rich and tedious. Nevertheless, I ended up experiencing it for myself when I had to write my undergraduate report at the University of Bangui in the Central African Republic. From that first taste, my ambition only grew. Pursuing a Master's degree was a way of taking a new step into the world of research. This new project came to fruition thanks to the support of a programme at the Leiden University, Mobile Africa Revisited, Graduate School of Humanities, and the 'Connecting Times of Duress' (CTD) programme led by Mirjam de Bruijn. In this capacity, I contributed to understanding the dynamics of social movements among young people in the city of N'Djamena, specifically in the Chagoua district, through the use of new communication technologies in my country, Chad. Through this project that was also part of the Centre de Recherches en Anthropologie et Sciences Humaines (CRASH), my contact with researchers at Leiden University was established.

In 2022 I participated in the Collaborative Research Group (CRG) on 'Pioneering Futures of Health and Wellbeing', at the African Studies Center Leiden; and in the 'Dawa Mobile' project led by Didier Lalaye. I contributed with an empirical study, to understand the implementation of m-health in a village suffering from bilharzia. This incredible experience gave rise to a project for a collective book, and a workshop was held last December in Accra, Ghana. The book will be published in 2024, in the series African Dynamics.

It is also worth noting that apart from these academically driven activities, I have been a consultant and have carried out several studies on development, social change, governance, and security. I have also been a trainer in capacity building for youth organizations as part of the 'Voices of Sahel Youth' project sponsored by the Humanitarian Dialogue Centre (HD).

As a budding researcher, I have participated in several conferences and summer schools, including the Franco-German Summer University in Bayonne, France. My current focus is more on the digital world. I have already coordinated research for the Voice for Thought (V4T) project, linking research and art in producing podcasts and educational blogs. The need to carry out large-scale research on digital issues as part of a dissertation took hold of me. I seized the opportunity to work on the project 'Digital Warfare in the Sahel,' under the supervision of Mirjam de Bruijn and Jelena Prokic. This research aims to understand conflicts in the Sahel as network conflicts, both online and offline. We believe that the information circulating on these social media platforms can also legitimize the extreme violence that is part of the conflicts in the Sahel.

This PhD project that brings me to Leiden is, in a way, a dream come true: "One day, I will come to Leiden University as a researcher," and here I am, embracing a friendly and highly scientific setting where I can meet a diverse scientific community in general and that of the History Institute and the African Studies Centre in particular. I look forward to making the most of it!

Luca Bruls

Here I am. At a new institute. At a new desk, surrounded by colorful field pictures taken across West Africa, which my colleague Bruno Allahissem and I thankfully inherited from our supervisor Mirjam de Bruijn when we first entered the office. For the next four years, this will be my zone for writing, thinking, developing, contemplating, discarding, and networking. With an emphasis on the last, networking. I hate the corporate smell of this word, but I’ll use it figuratively here, as it accurately covers the query of my PhD research.

As a PhD candidate, I work on the research project ‘Digital warfare in the Sahel: popular networks of war and Cultural Violence’, with supervision by Mirjam de Bruijn and Jelena Prokic. Together we seek to grasp what ‘networking’ means and looks like in the conflictuous context of the Sahel. Digital media are an important structure that people use to stay together, disconnect, and transfer ideas and services. Scrolling webpages and WhatsApp image sharing allow for movement and exchange among groups, people, and institutions. What emerges is a network, that taps into and out of the physical world.

What emerges is contact. I am excited that the Institute for History will be a contact zone for first encounters, for ideeën sparren, for drinks, and for elaborated buffets (wow, what a welcome surprise!). Food definitively is a connecting factor, so don’t hesitate to ask me to go for lunch together or exchange peculiar TikTok recipes.

TikTok is among my first big research interests. After finishing a BA Cultural anthropology and a BA Arabic language and culture at the University of Amsterdam, I continued my studies at Leiden University. During a ResMa Middle East studies from 2019-2021, I was disappointedly lucky with the disadvantages COVID-19 posed on research activities abroad. The unforeseen circumstances made me a living room TikTok devotee, becoming absorbed, entangled, and accompanied by young Algerians in search for their usage of the platform. After finishing the master, I worked as a junior lecturer at the Cultural anthropology department at the University of Amsterdam, where I had the luck to teach first year students and occasionally slip in silly TikTok videos. I continued this work until June 2023, and simultaneously returned to Leiden University in February 2022, this time at the African Studies Center. As a junior researcher, I collaborated with an interdisciplinary team of researchers on the project ‘Decoding digital media in African regions of conflict’. Besides Twitter, again TikTok became my anthropological object of inquiry. This time I analyzed the volatility and conflict spread on the platform in the context of Mali.

The historical record of media trends is growing and growing, a lot of analysis yet to be done. And as I bear its fruits, I am here. At a new institute.

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