Simukai Chigudu wins the prestigious British Academy/Leverhulme Senior Research Fellowship

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ZIMBABWEAN academic and Associate Professor of African Politics at the University of Oxford, Dr Simukai Chigudu, has won the highly competitive British Academy/Leverhulme Senior Research Fellowship.

Only nine such fellowships are awarded annually, pointing to the stiff competition involved in the fellowships.

The British Academy, in partnership with the Leverhulme Trust, awarded Chigudu and eight other UK-based academics the Senior Research Fellowships which will enable the researchers to spend a year working on a special book project each.

The nine have been named as leading SHAPE (Social Sciences, Humanities and the Arts for People and the Economy) academics in the UK.

In an announcement, the British Academy said the fellowships will alleviate the scholars’ administrative and teaching duties, “allowing them to concentrate efforts on a major research project”.

“When Will We Be Free…?”

Dr Chigudu, who teaches African politics and development studies at the University of Oxford, will spend the fellowship year at Stanford University’s Center for Advanced Study in the Behavioral Sciences (CASBS).

He will be working on the book titled “When Will We Be Free? Living in the Shadow of Empire and the Struggle for Decolonisation”.

At the end of the project, Dr Chigudu’s work will be published by The Bodley Head in the UK and the Commonwealth and by Crown in North America.

Welcoming the fellowship, Dr Chigudu said he will draw on his own experience having lived in Zimbabwe as a political activist and also use his experience living and teaching in the UK for years.

“I have been thinking about the fraught, at times unspeakable, and always divisive colonial past and present for a long time, not only as a scholar but also as a teacher, activist, and postcolonial subject,” Dr Chigudu reckoned.

“What was once for me an interior struggle to claim freedom from this past has converged with academic and public debates about freedom from the legacies of empire in the modern world.

“I am delighted to receive this award which will grant me the time and space to reflect on such a politically charged and personal subject matter and to write my book with the patience, delicacy and depth of thought it requires.”

This book will combine memoir, political history and cultural criticism to show how colonialism continues to shape politics, society and culture in Africa and in Britain and to explore what it really means to decolonise.

Dr Chigudu: Facing racism home and away

Like many Zimbabweans of his generation, Dr Chigudu was raised by Black parents who faced the brunt of colonialism and racism by a minority Rhodesian government. Chigudu himself did not experience all that, as he was born after Zimbabwe’s independence in 1980.

However, the Robert Mugabe administration only lived up to its promises for just over a decade, as the economy started on a downward spiral in the mid 1990s from which it never recovered.

The more things deteriorate in Zimbabwe…

In 2003, 16-year-old Chigudu left Zimbabwe for study in the UK. Zimbabwe was then teetering on the brink of collapse as the violent farm grabs by war veterans, spiralling inflation and food shortages led to constant skirmishes between police and the opposition MDC Alliance.

With his country burning back home, Chigudu enrolled for a medical degree at the University of Newcastle in 2004. There, he faced racism that he had not expected in the developed world, having come from a Zimbabwe where the farm grab by pro-Zanu PF militia also bordered on outright racism against white farmers.

“As a medical student I was the only Black man in our cohort of 250 medical students”, Chigudu recalled in a previous interview.

“I felt a sense of being caught between worlds, where I was really struggling to be at one with my new setting in Newcastle, and yet I could never feel disencumbered of home. The more that things in Zimbabwe had deteriorated, the more powerless I felt.

“There were just so many different flavours of racism. I think I intuited at a certain level that I had to present myself in a particular kind of way. I had to be Black in a way that made me acceptable, that could be embraced.”

After graduating with a medical degree, Chigudu briefly worked as a medical doctor in the UK’s National Health Service. He then switched worlds and studied social science, and has never looked back.

Dr Chigudu holds a DPhil in International Development from the Oxford University for which he was awarded the biennial Audrey Richards Prize for the best doctoral thesis in African Studies examined at a UK university.

The politics of global epidemics and race

Simukai teaches on the MPhil in Development Studies and supervises DPhil students.

In 2020, Dr Chigudu wrote the book The Political Life of an Epidemic: Cholera, Crisis and Citizenship in Zimbabwe which was published by the Cambridge University Press.

The book offers an examination of the social and political causes and consequences of Zimbabwe’s catastrophic cholera outbreak in 2008/09, which scholars and public health experts agree is the most extensive in African history.

For that 2020 book, Dr Chigudu won the Theodore J. Lowi First Book Award from the American and International Political Science Associations.

Dr Chigudu boasts a huge interest in the politics of global health and epidemics, race and identity, and citizenship and activist movements. He has conducted research in Zimbabwe, Uganda, Gambia, and Tanzania, and has publications in several leading social science and medical journals.

While congratuting Dr Chigudu and the other fellows, the British Academy Vice-President for research Professor Simon Swain described the fellowships as career-defining projects that immensely contribute to the UK’s world-class SHAPE research environment.

“Balancing the various professional duties required of academics is incredibly demanding so it is important that support such as the British Academy/Leverhulme Senior Research Fellowships exists to enable academics to pursue major research projects.

“These fellowships provide established academics with precious time to complete often career-defining projects and contribute to the UK’s world-class SHAPE research environment.”


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