Lisa Sidambe

Please tell us a bit about yourself.

I am proudly Zimbabwean and was born in the country’s second largest city – Bulawayo, popularly known as Kontuntu Ziyathunqa which is a Ndebele phrase for the rising of smoke. I was raised by two incredible stars (my maternal grandparents) whose light shines on me in whatever I do and wherever I am in the world. From an early stage, my stars inspired values of hard-work, compassion, a respect for humanity, leadership, accountability and excellence. These values became my every breath and translated into every word I uttered. A blend of leadership, good character and academic excellence in particular, was strongly emphasised. In primary school, I became a drum-majorette’s leader and the school’s head-girl. This was a defining moment that set the pace for my leadership trajectory. I became a head-girl in high school and also got an opportunity to represent my school, community and country in the United Kingdom, Netherlands, Namibia and Botswana. After high school, I earned a full scholarship to study towards a BA in Social Sciences at Monash University, South Africa. I majored in international studies and philosophy and got an opportunity to represent the university in Belgium and Hong Kong during the course of my studies. In 2015, I was awarded a Mandela Rhodes Scholarship for an honours degree which I completed in international studies. In the same year, I also received a scholarship to do an advanced human rights course at the Centre for Human Rights (University of Pretoria). At the end of my studies at Monash I was awarded a Top Achievers Award and a Sir John Monash Medal. The medal is a coveted award given to one graduating student, from across Monash campuses and per faculty, to acknowledge the student’s commitment to academic excellence and social justice. I got an opportunity to share my overall experience at Monash when I was selected to be a student graduation speaker. After my honours graduation, I interned at World Youth Alliance Africa in Kenya and worked with Nhimbe Trust as a researcher. The work I did as a researcher led to an appointment to the position of Program Director: Global Affairs. My studies at Leeds have been made possible by a scholarship which is a joint partnership between Beit Trust and Leeds University. I will always be eternally grateful for this investment that has so generously been channelled towards my academic development. 

Outside of my studies and professional life, I have maintained an active life of extra-curricular activities. These range from acting, travelling, debate, public speaking, taekwondo, tennis and cricket.

What motivated you to apply for your course at Leeds?

I was most attracted to my program of study because of how it comprehensively defines the relationship between development, conflict, governance and security. I strongly believe that taking up any role within governance or academia demands an intimate comprehension of the manner in which global governance, development and security intersect especially within an era where the continued manifestation of conflict, particularly through the rise of armed non-state actors has threated to destabilise institutions and nation states as we know them, in an irreversible manner. The aspiration to position myself as a thought leader who will contribute significantly towards the world’s critical thinking process placed a demand on me to engage with the School of Politics and International Studies at the University of Leeds to gain an understanding of the realities that shape the world.

My choice of study was also inspired by my honours dissertation which I did on the ethics of diplomacy with armed non-state actors. I thoroughly enjoyed the inter-disciplinary approach of my dissertation and the complex ideas it helped me unlock. Being able to capture what were topical issues in the news in a research study was a game changer. The adrenaline rush I felt doing that research was not one I could tame and I knew at that moment that studying issues related to conflict was something I would pursue to the highest level possible. Reading the course outline of POLIS spoke to every strand of my passion and every idea I had always interrogated. Not being able to apply for the Conflict, Development and Security course would have easily turned into one of my greatest life regrets.   

What is it that makes you passionate about your area of study?

I am most passionate about the complexity of the world and the complex adaptability strategies people create to navigate everyday uncertainties and conditions of fragility. I am also deeply passionate about the language of politics and how our perception of this language shapes our identity and a nexus of systems that help us contextual the socio-political relevance of our identity. Studying conflict and security offers me an opportunity to actively interact with all these ideas in a complex way and through the employment of inter-disciplinary approaches.

Outside of the specifics of my area of study, I am driven by being in an environment where there is the constant exchange of ideas and perceptions, irrespective of how inaccurate or misinformed they may be. Having grown up in a Zimbabwean culture of silence and a culture of a fear of speaking out publicly about deep-seated political issues, my family’s living room transformed into a safe and brave space where we could exchange ideas without the fear of repercussions. Having what started as a living room conversation translate into a global university space where I can boldly share my honest thoughts and opinions has been transformative in many ways than I can adequately capture by manner of prose.

What did you think of your course?

I have most enjoyed studying literature that is written by academics who have served as my tutors in the modules I have taken. Being able to actively interact with academics and interrogate the context of their publications has been profound.  The experience of engagement has humanised literature that would have otherwise remained as words on paper in a journal or book.

One of the most defining features of my course has also been the unparalleled opportunity to interact with people who are practitioners in the development and security sector. I have had classmates who are government security officials, military personnel, UN peace-keepers, humanitarian workers and civil society agents. By sharing their experiences through the lens of the positions they hold professionally, they have opened a window into the contrasting approaches different sectors employ to address a similar issue. They have offered perspectives about the way governance systems are organised beyond what one can extract from research papers. Through these engagements, I have been able to reflect on my positioning as an aspiring researcher.

What do you think of the facilities?

Learning facilities are strategic to every student’s needs irrespective of the area of study and study preferences. There are clusters that open 24 hours, silent study areas for those who prefer to study in a quiet environment, booths with big screens for group discussions, study-friendly spots in restaurants and cafes across the university, and staff members who are always available to offer any assistance a student might need. Skills@library is a very useful resource that guides students through any challenges they might be encountering. This learning facility has a vast amount of information (on referencing, research techniques, critical writing, argument development, dissertation writing etc.) that is accessible to students online, through workshops and one-on-one appointments with expert advisors. 

For people who are avid readers, the libraries have a huge collection of books (in shelves and online) that are excellent for preparing for classes, writing assignments and reading for leisure.  

How do you find the student support?

Student support is the school is exceptional! Every student is allocated a personal tutor (an academic in the school) who is available to chat about all issues academic and non-academic. Relocating to a different city, university or country, and adjusting to a new academic culture can be overwhelming. A personal tutor is that one person a student can confidently talk to for advice on how to navigate a university environment and plan for a life after university.

The School of Politics and International Studies also has a student support officer who is always available to offer wellness support. Being a student has its own pressures and can be emotionally taxing. This is not something to be ashamed of. Whether you are feeling emotionally burnt out, struggling with procrastination, failing to sleep, not eating well, feeling homesick or failing to cope with academic work, the student support officer is available to help with all the challenges to make a study experience as enjoyable as possible. Making it to university is an achievement many of us are proud of and is a step towards building a brighter future for ourselves, those we deeply care about and the world at large. Support services exist to ensure that we make this a reality. 

Coming from different backgrounds and having interacted with a diverse range of learning facilities, there is room for us to make suggestions as to how school facilities can be improved to enhance the student experience and career progression. Decision makers are always willing to listen. If approaching key decision makers directly seems intimidating, there is a student representative in each school who serves as a bridge between students and school authorities.     

Have you been involved in any extra-curricular activities?

The university is a vibrant community of students who partake in a whole range of activities for their own self-satisfaction, personal development and for the betterment of the lives of others. There is literally everything for everyone, whether you are into nightlife, history, nature, sports, food, travel, meeting new people, alcohol, music, dancing, research, academia, religion-oriented activities etc. The list is endless. If you are not able to find any extra-curricular activity that speaks to your passions, you can be a trend-setter and break new ground by introducing something new.

When I moved to Leeds I travelled every weekend to different parts of the UK by signing up for trips organised by Give it a Go and Get Out Get Active. This was a fantastic opportunity to explore, build a network and create beautiful friendships. Not having settled on a particular extra-curricular activity I immediately wanted to commit to, Give it a Go activities on campus offered me a platform to get a first-hand experience of what all clubs and societies do. I tried out different things and they all combined to give me a richly rewarding student experience.

Interaction within different schools is through school community events. These events are designed to build a network between students and academics in a more relaxed social environment. 

What would you say about Leeds as a city?

Having travelled across the country, I can confidently say Leeds offers the ultimate student experience because the city has a blend of everything that can be found in most UK cities. Every moment spent in Leeds is a journey of discovery and a platform to interact with people from a diverse range of cultures, backgrounds, ethnic roots, professions etc.

Coming from a part of the world that has beautiful sunny weather throughout the year, I was quite nervous about relocating to a place that would give me a radically different experience of winter. My winter turned out to be one of the most exciting times of my life. The vibrancy of the city during that period was beautifully overwhelming. Every corner of Leeds vibrated with warmth radiated through night markets, light festivals, bonfires, firework displays, outdoor concerts, Christmas markets, street parades, street food and theatre performances.

I will always remember Leeds as a place of authentic spaces and authentic stories that can transform one’s outlook on life. A place of cultural pride, the exchange of cultural traditions and the appreciation of cultural diversity.  

What would you say to anyone thinking of applying to your course?

The course is an amalgamation of what I strongly believe are the three major pillars of contemporary politics: conflict, development and security. Course content embraces diversity in ideas and experiences and places an emphatic reference on interdisciplinary approaches to conflict. This program is a perfect fit for anyone who wishes to launch himself / herself into a thought leader who is globally aware, has global networks and is globally relevant.

Outside of the prescribed course module selection, there are discovery modules one can do in different schools across the university. These are not credited though but are valuable in extending one’s scope of politics. If there is something that speaks strongly to your study passions in law, business, geography, sociology, philosophy etc. you can attend classes and broaden your knowledge without restriction. This is the ultimate study experience!

What do you plan to do once you’ve finished your course? 

I currently serve as the Program Director of Nhimbe Global Affairs Observatory at Nhimbe Trust. By mainstreaming international trade and cultural diplomacy, my department works with Zimbabwean and African creative industries to promote cultural heritage, artistic expression, cultural policies and human rights with a cultural orientation.  I facilitate for exchange of Zimbabwean /African cultural goods and services, on a commercial and non-profit level.  I enjoy every aspect of my job and will continue to commit to it after my studies. This is my way of contributing positively to the development of my country of origin, specifically and the African continent broadly.  

I have always been attracted to study of law and happy that my dream will finally be realised. I currently hold a Canon Collins Scholarship for an MPhil in Public Law (by full dissertation) at the University of Cape Town. My dissertation is an exploration of the right to development (within the context of Africa) and how it finds expression in international law, African regional law and domestic law.  A PhD is definitely on the horizon. It will serve as an extension of all the issues that have sparked my interest in conflict studies.