< News | Tuesday, February 13, 2024

UTM political scientist inspired by lifelong interest in African agency and power dynamics

Nadège Compaoré News Overlay
Nadège Compaoré is an assistant professor in UTM’s department of political science. (Supplied image)

Nadège Compaoré never expected she would end up being a researcher in political science.  

As an avid lover of literature, Compaoré was devoted to studying liberal arts, only to make the transition to political and economic studies while completing her bachelor of arts degree at Trent University, before going on to earn a PhD in political studies from Queen’s University. 

It was Compaoré’s experience growing up in Burkina Faso and observing the levels and types of power dynamics that initially sparked her interest in political science. 

“Being from a country that was formerly colonized by France, the politics in Burkina Faso were always tied to decision-making in France,” says Compaoré, now an assistant professor in University of Toronto Mississauga’s department of political science. 

Compaoré also credits her broad undergraduate studies program that allowed her to connect her passions in both literature and political studies. 

“In addition to the typical literature in international relations, my “Introduction to Global Politics” professor used novels to demystify some of the politics,” says Compaoré. For example, her professor used author and U of T alumna Margaret Atwood’s The Handmaid’s Tale to introduce gender and politics, as well as the novel Things Fall Apart by Nigerian author Chinua Achebe to discuss post-colonial politics. 

In her current research, Compaoré specializes in the fields of international relations theory, African politics, and global and African extractivism, which is the removal of natural resources from the land with minimal processing. She is also increasingly interested in issues of gender and race in international relations. 

Compaoré is pursuing two very different projects related to topics in African agency. 

Her primary research looks at claims of sovereignty by African state- and non-state actors around resource extraction, particularly informed by the Permanent Sovereignty over Natural Resources resolution passed by the United Nations in 1962. The principle behind the resolution deals with the right of the state to freely use and regulate natural resources within its territory.  

Compaoré has completed extensive fieldwork in Gabon, Ghana and South Africa. There she has observed varying commitments by African states to Western-backed governance structures such as the Extractive Industries Transparency Initiative (EITI), which is the global transparency body for extractive industries such as mining. Compaoré wants to unpack the discrepancy in the response by various African states towards the EITI. 

Her work will ultimately result in a book that focuses on the principle of Permanent Sovereignty over Natural Resources and how it manifests in African states and extractive industry practices today. 

Her second project investigates the history of Pan-Africanism, in Canada and beyond. 

“[Pan-Africanism] is essentially a vision of liberation, self-determinization, emancipation – and brings the Black diaspora and the African continent together,” says Compaoré. 

She was first inspired to study Pan-Africanism after attending a panel at York University on the topic, and recalls one of the guiding questions being “Where are the women in Pan-Africanism?” 

She is aiming to uncover forgotten female Pan-African leaders and their influence and place in Canada, as well as their motivations and achievements in other global spaces. 

Though distinct and important in their own ways, Compaoré finds her research projects intersect in a unique way. 

“For me, it’s always about agency,” says Compaoré. 

“It’s about actors who are assumed to not really have much agency, but they do. It’s about figures who aren’t just hidden, but are rendered hidden. It’s also about African politics beyond the continent. I think it’s all related, and I’m able to bring my theoretical background to both projects in pursuit of this knowledge.” 

To students who are interested in pursuing academia or similar research, Compaoré advises them to make their own connections, based on their own interests. 

“Get involved and reach out,” says Compaoré. 

“Once you find what you like, your passion, your enthusiasm, do the work, find the resources – people resources, institutional resources – and go from there.” 

This interview was first published as part of Black at UTM, an initiative that emerged from U of T’s Anti-Black Racism Task Force with a goal of showcasing Black excellence at UTM and making campus a welcoming environment where Black students, staff, faculty and librarians feel included, inspired, safe and celebrated. 

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