MA Global Development alumnus, Phoebe Holmes, writes for Africa is a Country

Since graduating in 2020, former MA Global Development student Phoebe Holmes has written for several online outlets, including The BSC Blog and Africa is a Country.

We spoke to Phoebe about her blog piece for Africa is a Country, “The political economy of biofuels in Mozambique”, her experience of the MA Global Development degree, and pursuing her research interests.

Please tell us about your experience of writing the blog post for Africa is a Country. How did this opportunity come about? How did you pick your topic?

Writing the blog post for Africa is a Country was based on one of the pieces of work I did for the MA. I took the ‘Africa in the contemporary world’ module which is led by Dr Jorg Wiegratz. For that piece of work I was awarded 92, so I didn’t want to just leave the work there. Dr Wiegratz advised me to break it down, reformulate it into a blog post and send it out.

Africa is a Country is one of the places I sent it to, I also sent it to a few other blog outlets that I’d been reading through the MA. I was trying to find outlets that are critical or at least question the status quo. Africa is a Country is a really good critical outlet that has lots of authors talking about issues from a similar standpoint. So that was a really good site for me to be published on.

In terms of picking my topic, it was largely from exploring around the suggested readings from my module and then wanting to expand upon some of the things I found interesting.

Is there an aspect or area of global development you have a particular focus on?

It comes down to what I chose to focus on in the MA, I’ve been really interested in the politics behind resource management and structural causes of inequality. I’ve done a lot of work on the Mozambique and biofuels sector in a couple of the modules which is what my first Africa is a Country blog piece explores. I’m also interested in economic crime in Nigeria and have written two articles about this: “Embedded institutional crime – the case of the Niger Delta” featured on The BSC Blog and “Economic crime in the Niger Delta” published by Africa is a Country. Extractavism in Latin America is another area of interest. So there are a lot of things I’m interested in!

What made you want to study a MA in Global Development at Leeds?

I had taken a couple of years out between my studies when I finished my undergraduate degree, at the University of the West of England (UWE) in Bristol, a few years ago. At that time I wasn’t sure if I wanted to study global development, do something more tailored to the environment, or focus on a specific context or continent. As it happens, I sat on it for a couple of years and did a bit of volunteering and other general work. In the end I decided to return to education and study for an MA, which enabled me to become specialised in the field of development and pursue a career in that area. 

I applied for a few MA courses but I chose Leeds because it is a really well respected Russell Group university and that was something I was looking for. I was really keen to go somewhere I knew that everyone would be really focused on their studies.

When I was looking into the MA and making my decision, I took into consideration the modules on offer, what each week would entail, the readings allocated and associated authors. The MA Global Development course sounded really interesting and I was excited to see that authors such as Ben Selwyn and Jason Hickel, who I had read before and who have inspired some of my world views, were being taught on the course. A particular core module that drew me to the course was the ‘Research and Project Skills - Experiential Learning’ module, which focusses on logical frameworks, stakeholder mapping and project planning. I thought that module would be really good to get some practical skills as it also involved a placement.

The city of Leeds was definitely one of the reasons I chose to study at the University of Leeds. I lived in Bristol to undertake my undergraduate degree and stayed there for a further two years after graduating as I enjoyed living in a vibrant and multicultural city where there was lots going on in terms of nightlife, art and culture. I wouldn’t have considered moving to a city which didn’t have comparable social aspects and interesting things to do.

What have you done since graduating? Has your research influenced or informed your roles/activities?

My masters definitely helped me pursue my research interests. In my dissertation I heavily referenced the work of Professor Anna Mdee. My dissertation tutor Dr Lata Narayanaswamy suggested I get in touch with Professor Mdee because of our shared research interests, so I contacted her to see if there were any opportunities for collaborative work.

This led me to my current role. Although my full-time job isn’t in research, I’m working eight hours a week with Professor Mdee, researching for a ESRC-funded project which involves professors from the UK and Australia, as well as local country partners in Peru, Haiti, Kenya, South Africa. The research project is based on intersectionality and marginalisation within WASH (water, sanitation and hygiene) projects, which relates to my dissertation research area of access to water for indigenous communities.

For my MA dissertation I also did the partnership pathway collaboration and worked with WaterAid – so that was a really great opportunity and I’ve been able to draw upon my experience for this current research project.

It was directly through contacts I made whilst on the MA that I was able to find out about and apply for these positions which I’m really grateful for as it allows me to continue pursuing my interests.