Researcher of the Month: Alesia Ofori
Corresponding email: email@example.com
“Researcher of the Month” is a new series published in the Leeds African Studies Bulletin. In the format of a Q&A, it features researchers – both academic members of staff, and postgraduate research students – who are members of LUCAS (or otherwise connected to the Centre and its networks) and have an active research interest in Africa. The aim of the series is to profile Africa-centred research at Leeds and beyond, and to provide insight into current work in African Studies.
Please introduce yourself and tell us a little about your ‘research journey’. How did you get to where you are right now?
My name is Dr Alesia Ofori Dedaa. I am a Research Fellow in Water and Sanitation Governance at the School of Politics and International Studies. I completed my PhD at the University of Leeds where I conducted interdisciplinary research into the politics and power dynamics embedded in the interconnections between gold mining, water, and societies in Ghana. I also hold a Masters of Sustainable Forest Management from the University of British Columbia, in Canada. My background is broadly in Natural Resource Management. I have worked in this capacity for non-governmental and state agencies in Sub-Saharan Africa, particularly in my home country, Ghana.
Who, or what, sparked your interest to work on your particular research area?
I grew up in a resource-rich area in Ghana. My hometown is home to some of the spectacular landscapes (forested and savannah), waterfalls, national parks and both highlands and lowland ranges. My interest in Natural Resource began there as I questioned how my region continued to be impoverished and households like mine lived in poverty despite the rich soils and natural resources (including minerals like gold and bauxite). I traced this dilemma or ‘curse’ to the way power and politics moves through resource policies, everyday manoeuvrings and in the interaction between nature and society. As a research fellow in water and sanitation at the University of Leeds, I extend this passion and growing interest in resource politics to understanding what the barriers and opportunities are to achieving sustainable water and sanitation services for impoverished and vulnerable populations in especially the so-called Global South.
What are you currently working on, and why do you think it’s important?
Ever had the urge to go to the loo but have to think about the money to pay to use the loo? This is the dilemma of majority of people living in especially areas considered as ‘informal’ and ‘illegal’. Poor water and sanitation services has a direct correlation on the health, dignity, security and wellbeing of people. But more than 60% of the world’s population do not have this privilege. My work as a Water and Sanitation Fellow on two key projects: the Scaling-up Off-grid Sanitation and the Water Security Hub takes both a bottom-up and top-down approach respectively to understanding how policies, international frameworks and politics assemble to constrain transformative changes in the global water and sanitation sector. In short, why do poor people have to think about money before they can access sanitation services? What are the reasons for this? And how can we transform poor and vulnerable populations access to safely managed sanitation and water services?
How does your research contribute to current debates in African studies as an interdisciplinary field?
Informality, politics and resource governance sums up as the central theme of my research. Informality is embedded in the everyday governance of life on the African continent. It is enmeshed with the ‘formal’, forming a complex hybrid and determining policies, policy implementation, and how goods and services are delivered, distributed, and accessed. There is a current movement among African governments, to move countries “beyond aid”. This means countries will self-internalise revenues to drive socio-economic development. However, until the way informality, politics and governance intersect is appreciated and understood, we will lack a deeper understanding of why leakages, corruption, resource curse and brain-drain (only to mention a few) continue to cripple a lot of African countries. This understanding applies to the Natural Resource sector: mining, water resources, forest management among others. Patrimonialism, micro and macro politics shape resource access and distribution and shapes how resource governance drives development at the local level.