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Introducing: Yusra Abdullahi, Maha Ali & Felipe Colla de Amorim

Yusra Abdullahi, Maha Ali and Felipe Colla de Amorim recently joined the Institute for History as PhD candidates. Together they work in an integrated, collective project. Learn more about them below!

Yusra Abdullahi

Starting a new position in the midst of a global pandemic has been somewhat odd yet it hasn’t made the start of this new journey less exciting. Though I have met my team and other staff virtually, I already look forward to a world in which we can meet in person and share a cup of coffee!

I am currently based in Emmen where I have been living for about a year now. I live with my partner and our wonderful cat, Wemke. The Netherlands is not new to me, however, as I did my MA in African Studies at the ASC in Leiden after initially obtaining a degree in Politics at the School of Oriental and African Studies (SOAS) in London. I was raised between Mogadishu and London, and for the past decade I have been working in various African countries, including Ethiopia, Kenya, Uganda and Somalia, within the fields of conflict, migration, and gender. Having been a refugee myself, I am incredibly passionate about migration, and I have worked to support sustainable local solutions to displacement in East Africa from both a policy and implementation level. Outside of my professional life I also keep busy to support initiatives that work to battle institutional racism, which is something that brings me lots of energy.

My academic research interests are drawn from my personal and professional life and include race, gender, black activism, and development. My PhD project, ‘African Activism at the UN’, relates to my interests as it focuses on the role of African states, specifically Ghana and Guinea, in shaping international order. This project seeks to look at the ways in which Pan-Africanism has influenced the advocacy activities of African state and non-state actors at the UN, the implications of this on a regional and continental level in the Global South, and what this meant for the principle of self-determination in the African continent. I will also focus on Rwenzururu as a case of failed self-determination and research why the UN in this case chose to hinder as opposed to help bring about self-determination and sovereignty in the Rwenzururu Kingdom. It will be interesting to see how my project unfolds under the supervision of Professor Alanna O’Malley.

I look forward to getting to know more of you in due time – until then, take care!

Maha Ali

I’m pleased to be joining Leiden University, as a PhD candidate, to work on a project funded by the European Research Council. Moving to the Netherlands during the pandemic has been nothing short of a grueling process, as I relocated here from Budapest, where I was based for almost four years. I’m thrilled to finally be here. I'm working in Leiden from my new apartment for about two months now, and I often take long walks along the canals, whenever the sun decides to make a cameo.

My research interests lie mainly in human rights and development policy, multilateral institutions, international justice and gender, post-colonial legacies in Asia and their impact on international politics. Currently, I am working on the project “Challenging the Liberal World Order from Within – Invisible Histories of the Global South”. I shall be working on this project under the Chair for UN Studies in Peace and Justice.

My research, within the larger project, focuses on how global south actors have sought to redefine political dynamics, challenging the liberal world order, reclaiming their historical agency and changing normative practices through the UN, while specifically focusing on how state and non-state actors from Asia have shaped the global order, by essentially redefining ideas on human rights, economic sovereignty and development. In my research, I explore varying East-centric narratives, contributing towards more inclusive and robust policies at the UN, with research on constitutionality, regional political dynamics, international obligations and domestic commitments to reveal the degree of role these elements have played in shaping international politics and foreign policy for these Asian States, whereby recovering historical agency of the global south, which has so far been presented through a diluted narrative at the UN.

I developed an interest in taking my research in this direction as I previously come with a legal background, receiving my degree in law, policy and humanities from Lahore University of Management Sciences, Pakistan. Later, I worked for Sindh Human Rights Commission, Government of Sindh, and for the Chief Minister Punjab’s Office (Strategic Reforms Unit), Government of Punjab. I drafted two human rights legislations while working for the provincial government, and initiated work on gender equality reforms and women's rights in Sindh and Punjab. In 2018, I received my LLM degree in human rights law, with a specialization in international justice, from Central European University, Budapest. While in Budapest, I also worked on various human rights law and policy projects with International Labour Organization, European Roma Rights Center, Open Society Foundation and Asia Europe Foundation.

Moving into academia after having worked in the public sector and in international development has been an entirely surreal experience, and I am quite enjoying the process as it is allowing me to read, explore, and write much more than I would have previously had the opportunity to. As I embark upon this new journey of learning, growing, and contributing towards scholarly and policy discourse around south-south cooperation and development of the global south, I hope to (soon?) meet colleagues from different departments and have fruitful discussions over common areas of interest, as well as just to get to know one another over a coffee.

Felipe Colla De Amorim

As of February 2021, the three of us started our four-year INIVISIHIST journey. Even if we are currently an ocean away from each other, I can attest (writing from São Paulo) that this awkward two-dimensional kick-off would be extremely hard if it was not for the generosity and support from my fellow promovendi Yusra and Maha. I am thrilled and lucky to take part from day one in an integrated, collective project; especially when we all know that grad school can sometimes be a bit reclusive. P.I. Alanna O'Malley and post-doc Lydia Walker complete the gang.

My research at the Institute for History, in broad terms, will investigate how state and non-state actors helped shape global order within the UN system, with a particular focus on post-war discussions around human rights and economic development. As the INVISIHIST member dedicated to Latin American history, I'll be interested in tracking when and how the hemisphere both engaged and clashed with the Third World. How did nationalist visions of state-led development, often voiced by authoritarian governments, resonate in multilateral forums such as UNCTAD and appear in internationalist projects such as the NIEO? Under the supervision of Alanna and María Gabriela Palacio Ludeña, I will be pursuing these questions in the coming years.

The pandemic really has affected our day-to-day activities in different ways. For sure, we historians miss going to the archives and losing ourselves in between boxes, folders, and dirty pages; gladly, there are very interesting possibilities in digitized historical sources. We feel more isolated without coffee chats, informal meetings in libraries, and attending seminars; but of course, webinars, zooms, and live-streamed book talks definitely allowed some encounters that otherwise would not have happened.

I really hoped I would be writing this introductory piece under better circumstances — and I can't leave without mentioning that what we are experiencing here in Brazil is far from normality. Rising death rates, falling intensive care availability, constant medicine shortage, delayed vaccination plans, new variants, complete recklessness for lockdown measures, and a vicious willfulness to promote cures that simply do not exist. The handling of the health crisis speaks for itself. It is a constant challenge to each one of us. We are asked to be more resilient as the pandemic gets more personal. We are told that the institutions are working fine, and more and more the picture resembles that of an inflicted mass murder.

362,180. This is the number of people that died from Covid here in Brazil. How many could have been avoided? I'll be taking this question with me when I arrive in Leiden (who knows when? because airports are closed for us). At least I'll be just a sunny bike ride away from the ICC, right?

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