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Review of Francis Nyamnjoh’s Married But Available

Wednesday 17 June 2015

Researching sexuality in Africa

Omobolaji Olarinmoye (2009-02-05)

The book Married But Available is a unique one, unique in the sense that it is first an exposé – a mischievous and daring one for that matter – on the issue of sexuality (in Africa and the discourse guiding research on the issue) and more importantly (at least for the reviewer) a critique of the process of data collection for research in the social sciences. In other words, through an examination of sexuality in Mimboland (a fictional country based on the author’s home country of Cameroon, but which could easily represent any African country), the book addresses the issue of how to or not to undertake social research and examines the consequences, personal and public, of sloppy data collection. At a first glance, the idea of a book on social science research methods is not an obvious choice, but Nyamnjoh’s is an effective critique of how research on societies in the global South is done, especially by outsiders to such societies. The choice of sexuality was an powerful medium for the basis of such a critique. Set in Mimboland, the research on sexuality, orchestrated by Lilly Loveless (and her local collaborators, Dr Wiseman Lovemore, Bobinga Iroko, and Britney) highlights the socio-political and economic power dynamics that structure sexual relations in Mimboland (read Africa at large).

Through skilful use of the context of Mimboland, a typical African state wracked with poverty due to bad governance and dependent on foreign aid, the author is able to weave together in a concise manner the issues involved in the debate on African sexuality and explore in full the nature of male–female, young–old and elite–subaltern sexual relations. The book highlights how sexuality is socially defined and how such definitions are influenced by position of the actors involved. In short, the book shows how religion and politics interact with class, culture and poverty to structure sexual relations.

What is most important to note is that the exposé on sexuality is a function of a subtle exploration of the process of data collection in the social sciences. In other words, the titillating details on sexuality in Mimboland so lovingly shared by the author with his readers resulted from the application or misapplication of social science research methods. Through the efforts of Lilly, Britney, Iroko and Lovemore to examine the dynamics of sexuality in Mimboland, the author is able to put social science research methodology under the spotlight. He identifies the problems and advantages inherent in the use of established research methods and most importantly provides solutions. The chapter covering the interview Lilly had with the mobile phone dealer demonstrates the need to be innovative in data collection.

Nyamnjoh goes a step further to discuss issues that are not given prominence in discussions of research methodology, issues such as personal experiences of the researcher in the shape of Lilly’s sexual escapades with African men during her first visit to Africa (p. 57–60), Lovemore’s marital problems (p. 166–193), Bobinga Iroko’s personal tragedy (pp. 360–368) and Britney’s twisted relations with her overseas boyfriend as reflected in her emails to him. The book also highlights the need for flexibility in response to situations arising within the study site (an interview Lilly has with a mobile-phone dealer shows the need to be innovative in data collection (p. 123–127)), as well as in relation to ethics, context, questions of bias and how they affect the choice of research topic, research instruments, research subjects, the choice of study site, modes of application of research instruments, the choice of research assistants and final interpretation of research data.

The challenges faced daily in conducting research in Africa are highlighted in Nyamnjoh’s discussion of the power relations involved in research, as reflected in the need for letters of affiliation and invitation for the outside researcher (p. 1–3), the politics of collaboration (Lovemore, a PhD holder practically pleads with a conceited foreign PhD student to co-publish a paper with him (p. 15–16)), and the politics of resource allocation in universities seen in the actions of the vice-chancellor and the registrar in the form of appointments, promotions and allocations of funding for research and attendance at conferences.

The problem is that the above analysis of research methodology is not very obvious to the reader as the comments and issues pertaining to research methodology are so skilfully integrated into the prose of the book that it is only a researcher with fieldwork experience who can immediately grasp the lessons the author seeks to convey to the readers. In other words, while the theme of the book is most pertinent for highlighting the issues involved in conducting social research – especially in the South by ’outsiders’ – it tends, due to the excitement the taboo status it raises in the minds of readers and the juicy morsels the author most delightfully throws out, to overshadow the more serious goal of the book, which is to critique social science research methodology.

But sincerely I cannot think of any other way of achieving the twin goals the book set out to achieve: examining sexuality in an African country in a frank manner while critique social science research methodology. The book is an excellent one, a very pleasurable read and one that I recommend for those interested in sexuality issues (especially for its insights into the intricacies and politics of the field). In the hands of a skilled and experienced instructor, the book will be useful for the teaching of social science research methods, especially for the excitement it brings to what is considered by most students to be a very boring subject.

* Omobolaji Olarinmoye is with the Department of Political Science and Public Administration,

Igbinedion University, Okada, Edo State, Nigeria. * Francis B Nyamnjoh’s Married But Available is published by Langaa Research & Publishing Common Initiative Group, Cameroon.

* Please send comments to editor@pambazuka.org or comment online at http://www.pambazuka.org/.

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