Corresponding email: J.Chitereka@leeds.ac.uk
“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?
I am Jekoniya Chitereka, a PhD Candidate in Politics and International Studies at the University of Leeds. My research explores the relationship between Science, Technology, and Innovation (STI) investment and development in Africa using astronomy, specifically the Square Kilometre Array (SKA) as a case study. Prior to joining the University of Leeds, I worked in the health sector in Zimbabwe as a research, monitoring, and evaluation expert where I was instrumental in setting up national M&E systems for the integration of HIV and reproductive health. I later worked at Research Council of Zimbabwe coordinating research programmes, playing the intermediary role in the national science, technology, and innovation system, representing, and negotiating the interests of academia, government, business, and other actors.
Who, or what, sparked your interest to work on your particular research area?
The work I was doing on the national innovation system sparked the interest to further my studies and I applied for a PhD studentship on “Politics of Science, Technology and Innovation in Africa: The Square Kilometre Array,” a project advertised by the University of Leeds in 2018. The Square Kilometre Array (SKA) project is an international effort to build the world’s largest radio telescope, a research infrastructure that will enable breakthrough science in astronomy. There are big claims for development and enhancing science capacity in Africa through the project.
What are you currently working on, and why do you think it’s important?
I am currently working on my final stages of my thesis. The thesis critically evaluates the developmental impact of big science, including how and to what extent projects like SKA can contribute to sustainable economic development and the expansion of African scientific expertise. This work is important against a background of Africa’s key policy documents such as, Agenda 2063 and the Science, Technology, and Innovation Strategy for Africa (STISA 2024), which identifies science as an enabler for Africa’s development.
How does your research contribute to current debates in African (and African diaspora) studies as an interdisciplinary field?
The relationship between science and development in Africa has been construed in a linear way, where investment in science is viewed as progressing straight to development. However, processes that lead to development are complex. My PhD thesis is rooted on critically evaluating and bringing to fore some of these complexities for instance, the extent to which big science projects such as the Square Kilometre Array (SKA) project and associated human capital development enhance African scientific expertise and wider campaigns to ‘decolonise’ global knowledge production. Knowledge production and decolonisation are topical issues in African studies, and I believe my project feeds into these current debates.