Q&A with McDonald Lewanika

McDonald is a doctoral researcher in the Department of Government at LSE.

Read about McDonald’s research which focuses on politics and development of the African state.

It is only in understanding and explaining the causes of things, that policy actors, activists, and political agents can help move African society's political development forward.
McDonald Lewanika | LSE Research
McDonald Lewanika

What are you currently researching?

I am studying campaign strategies that Competitive Authoritarian Regimes (CARs) employ, why they use certain strategies in particular constituencies, and whether they are deliberate or happenstance. 

My study is motivated by a need to understand why – if CARs can manipulate elections, abuse incumbency and use violence – they still campaign, and whether they seek to win hearts and minds of more independent voters. I am focusing on Zimbabwean elections post-2000 to understand, describe and explain this puzzle.

Why did you choose this area of study?

I found the puzzle fascinating and yet largely unanswered in the literature, which I felt described the phenomenon of CARs well, but also warranted more research. CARs are now the most prevalent regime type in Africa and are part of my lived reality as a democracy and governance advocate in Africa.

I believe that a thorough understanding of this predominant system is part of the process of assisting my country, Zimbabwe, and the African continent to move towards a more democratic system. 

How will your research improve or have a wider impact on society?

I aim to offer sound, empirically-driven explanations on the state of African politics. It is only in understanding and explaining the causes of things, that policy actors, activists, and political agents can help move African society's political development forward.

What do you hope to do career-wise, long term?

My intention is to become a campaigning academic. Teaching, researching and influencing policy and political action would be my equivalent of having my cake and eating it.

Can you provide any advice to prospective students about the most effective way to approach research and keep stress levels down?

Be psychologically prepared for the PhD process. It is a high-pressure endeavour and the academic demands can be exacting. But faculty and fellow students are there for support, making the journey less lonely and less stressful. 

The caricature of a near mad recluse PhD student no longer holds. Successful scholarships today is also about being connected to the world that one is studying to ensure the PhD is not just intellectually stimulating but also practically relevant.

What resources are available at LSE to help young researchers?

The LSE’s biggest resource is its people. Researchers can turn to their departments, supervisors and the PhD Academy for help.

 The school is also littered with world-beaters in different fields who are always eager to engage and assist, and a variety of student-led networks that one can lean on for peer support, intellectually and socially. 

In a few words, what is the best thing about studying at LSE?

Being challenged and inspired. Nothing beats being forced to sharpen one's ideas through being critiqued, advised and mentored by some of the best social scientists in the world, at one of the best institutions in the world.