AfREC Postgrad Fellow returns from research exchange and fieldwork in southern Africa

Tinashe Jakwa is a PhD candidate from the University of Western Australia (UWA) and an AfREC Postgraduate Fellow. Recently, she was a Visiting Scholar (January-June 2019) with the University of Pretoria’s Future Africa Institute and Department of Political Sciences. Her research examines the causes of peacebuilding policy failures in the Democratic Republic of Congo, with a key focus on deconstructing state theory.

Tinashe holds a Bachelor of Arts in Political Science and International Relations and a Master of International Relations (with Distinction) from UWA. She is a political and security risk analyst who has written extensively on geopolitical developments on the African continent. She has appeared on various TV and radio platforms, including the ABC News, Channel 10’s The Project, CNN, Radio National Australia, Triple R FM’s The Grapevine, and 2SER. Tinashe is also a published author of short stories. Her stories have appeared in anthologies by Margaret River Press and Ethos Books Singapore. She has also spoken at the Perth and Sydney Writers’ Festivals.

Tinashe featured in an earlier AfricaNarratives post at the start of her PhD research exchange and fieldwork trip to southern Africa. Below, Tinashe now reflects on the trip having just returned to Perth.


On 29 January 2018 my PhD journey at UWA commenced. The first year of my candidature involved engaging with a rich array of literature and completing a lot of administrative tasks. It also included solidifying plans to relocate to South Africa for a period of six months as part of a research exchange program between UWA and the University of Pretoria (UP) following the signing of an institutional MoU in 2018. This would see me based at UP as a visiting scholar affiliated with the University’s new Future Africa Institute, an innovative and transdisciplinary Pan-African research hub. The exchange would also serve to facilitate my fieldwork forays across the southern African sub-region, namely to Botswana and the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC). These plans were crucial for me to successfully conduct my fieldwork and to enrich my research through being on the ground on the African continent. Building on their co-membership of the Australia Africa Universities Network (AAUN), the UWA-UP bilateral MoU seeks to deepen the two institutions’ collaboration in research and education, including through student exchanges.

And so, on 11 January 2019 I landed in Johannesburg and subsequently made my way to Pretoria, the place I was now going to call home. I quickly settled into the pace of the Future Africa Institute and Department of Political Sciences. In both of these places I received a warm welcome. My seniors in the Department became not only friends and colleagues but mentors who took a keen interest in my research. My South African-based supervisor, Professor Maxi Schoeman, was instrumental in not only ensuring that the Department felt like home but also in facilitating aspects of my fieldwork. I was never short of the resources I needed to conduct my research and for this I am grateful to the University of Pretoria.

My fieldwork was three-pronged and included travel to three locations, within South Africa and to the DRC and Botswana. Given that the DRC is the case study for my research, it was important to travel to the country and to be on the ground engaging with personnel of the United Nations Organisation Stabilisation Mission in the DR Congo (MONUSCO). My research, an examination of the causes of peacebuilding policy failures in the DRC, critically examines different international organisations’ peacebuilding programming, including the sets of assumptions made as part of this process. Travel to Botswana was, therefore, also important given the headquarters of the Southern African Development Community (SADC) are housed in its capital, Gaborone.

I initially encountered several research ethics challenges in terms of being granted approval to travel to the DRC. The Australian Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade (DFAT) classifies parts of the DRC as “do not travel”, namely the Eastern Provinces (Bas-Uelé, Haut-Uelé, Ituri, Nord-Kivu, Sud-Kivu, Maniema, and Tanganyika), Kasai Central, and Kasai Oriental. The rest of the country is classified as “reconsider your need to travel”. In the end, I was granted approval to travel to the capital of the DRC, Kinshasa, given it fell within the latter classification. Thus, despite initial challenges, I was able to travel to all of my fieldwork locations, including the DRC, which was far from being the death-trap many perceived it to be.

My engagement with both SADC and MONUSCO was fruitful and provided useful insights into the sets of issues I am examining. After some initial communication and logistical challenges, I became a relative expert at negotiating access for research interviews at different organisations as per my approved research ethics plan.

Overall, both the research exchange and fieldwork travels were necessary in terms of maintaining a strong sense of both the general and specific contexts within which my research is situated. It was both a grounding and eye-opening experience, and I remain grateful to all those who made it possible, including my research participants and other interlocutors who assisted in the negotiation of access to their respective organisations.

Tinashe will convene an AfREC seminar and panel discussion on ‘Doing fieldwork in Africa’ in August 2019. Please see the AfREC website for details.

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