Dr Anna Mdee


I joined POLIS in 2016 as Associate Professor in International Development. This followed one year (2015-16) as a Research Fellow with the Overseas Development Institute (ODI) working with the Chronic Poverty and Social Development teams. I am continuing to work with ODI as a Research Associate.

Prior to this I was at the University of Bradford for 13 years, joining as a Research Assistant and becoming a Senior Lecturer in Development Studies. I also took on the roles of Associate Dean for Learning & Teaching and Co-Director of the John & Elnora Ferguson Centre for African Studies (JEFCAS) from 2009-12.

From 2013-14 I spent one year as Visiting Professor at Mzumbe University in Tanzania.


  • Associate Director water@leeds
  • Academic Group Lead- International Development

Research interests

My research focuses on development practice: how the aid system works (or doesn’t work), how to improve local service delivery and governance; how to manage natural resources (primarily water), and how to reduce vulnerability through improved livelihoods.

I am an anthropologist and so interested in aid and development as a cultural practice. My research tends to take a critical reflective practice approach to unpicking development problems.

As a Research Fellow with ODI, I have recently been engaged in policy focused research on chronic poverty, gender and agricultural transformation, anti-discrimination measures, and inclusive access to natural resources.

I have worked primarily on Tanzania (for more than 20 years), but also have experience in Nepal, Rwanda, South Africa, Uganda, Nigeria and Tajikistan.

Current and recent research projects: 

Inclusive local governance with Mzumbe University (Tanzania) Creating and tracking the evolution of a local governance index for Tanzania- Principal Investigator.  Project funded by DFID-ESRC 2014-7 (£311,000) in partnership with Foundation for Civil Society (Tanzania) and INTRAC (UK)

Related publications and dissemination:

Project webpage: http://www.chronicpovertynetwork.org/projects-1/2015/11/3/holding-local-government-to-account-can-a-performance-index-provide-meaningful-accountability

Link to recent livestreamed event: https://www.odi.org/events/4474-improving-local-governance-and-service-delivery

Mdee A. et al. (2017) Holding local government to account in Tanzania through a performance index. Exploring lines of blame and accountability- Working paper available at https://dl.orangedox.com/Mzumbe-WP3

Mdee. A. & Thorley, L. (2016) Good governance, local government, accountability and service delivery in Tanzania- Working Paper- at http://www.chronicpovertynetwork.org/resources/2016/10/31/good-governance-local-government-accountability-and-service-delivery-in-tanzania

Mdee, A. & Thorley, L. (2016) Improving the delivery of public services: What role could a local governance index play? Working Paper available at http://www.chronicpovertynetwork.org/resources/2016/10/31/improving-the-delivery-of-public-services-what-role-could-a-local-governance-index-play

University of Sussex- (2013-14) DFID-ESRC Project- Drivers of Growth: Politics of Small-Scale Irrigation – a comparative study of Tanzania, Malawi and Bangladesh.  Responsible for the Tanzanian case study.  Led data collection and reporting for case studies in Uluguru Mountains and Dakawa.

Related publications:

Harrison, E. & Mdee, A. (2018) Entrepreneurs, investors and the state: the public and the private in sub-Saharan African irrigation development, Third World Quarterly, DOI: 10.1080/01436597.2018.1458299

Harrison, E. & Mdee, A. (2017) Successful small-scale irrigation or environmental destruction? The political ecology of competing claims on water in the Uluguru Mountains,Tanzania, Journal of Political Ecology 24(2017)406-24

Mdee, A. (2017) Disaggregating orders of water scarcity - The politics of nexus in the Wami-Ruvu River Basin, Tanzania, Water Alternatives 10(1) 100-15  www.water-alternatives.org

Harrison, E. & Mdee, A. (2017) Size isn’t everything: narratives of scale and viability in a Tanzanian irrigation scheme, Journal of Modern African Studies 55(2)   doi:10.1017S0022278X17000027 

Mdee, A. with Harrison, E., Mdee, C., Bahati, E. & Mdee, E. (2014) The politics of small-scale irrigation in Tanzania: Making sense of failed expectations. Working Paper 107, Future Agricultures Consortium, http://www.future-agricultures.org/

‘DSA new ideas fund’ Working with INTRAC and World Vision  (2012) exploring the co-production of research between NGOs/Academics

Related publication:

Stevens, D., Hayman, R. & Mdee, A. (2014) Practice Note: ‘Cracking collaboration’ between NGOs and academics in development research, Development in Practice 23(8):1071-77

Higher Education Partnerships Strategy- Long-term programme for collaborative work between JEFCAS and Universities in Africa.  Initiated with conference on Higher Education Partnerships in Tanzania funded by Africa Unit of Department for Business, Innovation and Skills (£6000- 2010).

Champions of Social Enterprise’: funded by the British Council (£57,000 from 09-10) under the Education Partnerships in Africa scheme this project works in collaboration with Mzumbe University, Tanzania to improve employability, enterprise, creative and critical thinking skills in graduates. Led to curriculum development for collaborative delivery of Masters level programmes.  First cohort recruited March 2011.  To date this programme has enrolled more than 600 students and generated a surplus for both institutions.

Related publications:

Fee, L. & Mdee, A. (2010) “How does it make a difference? Towards ‘accreditation’ of the development impact of volunteer tourism”, in Benson, A. (Ed.) Volunteer Tourism: Theory Framework to Practical Applications, London: Routledge

Mdee, A. & Emmott, R. (2008) ‘Social Enterprise with International Impact: The case for Fair Trade certification of volunteer tourism’, Education, Knowledge and Economy 2(3)191-203

Toner, A., Lyne, I. and Ryan, P. (2008) Reaching the promised land: can social enterprise reduce social exclusion and empower communities? Education, Knowledge and Economy 2(1)1-15

Cornelius, N., Lyne, I. and Mdee, A. (2008) Social enterprise: governance, impact and measurement, Special Edition of Education, Knowledge and Economy 2(3) November 2008

Understanding the interlinkages: community-based workers and community-driven development: Funded by DFID (£100,000 from 04-06) this research sought to identify the potential and constraints of community-driven management and service delivery, by tracking the evolution of participation, in drinking water supply and services for People living with HIV/AIDS (PLWHA).  Project was a partnership with University of Dar-es-Salaam, Tanzania and Khanya- South Africa.

Related publications (selected):

Boesten, J., Mdee, A, & Cleaver, F. (2011) Service Delivery on the cheap?: Community-based workers in Tanzania and South Africa, Development in Practice 21(2011):41-58

Uchira- a longitudinal exploration of change in a Tanzanian village:  The foundation of this research began 1996 as part of my undergraduate dissertation, and was later funded through an ESRC grant (£41,000 from 04-05) held with Dr Frances Cleaver. Final report rated as ‘outstanding’.  My research in Uchira now extends over 20 years.

Related publications (selected):

Mdee, A. & Thorley, L. (forthcoming), Knowing your rights is not enough to hold government to account:   exploring the application of a rights-based approach by people living with HIV/AIDS self-help groups in Northern Tanzania Africanus-Journal of Development Studies- UNISA South Africa

Mdee, A. (2013) ‘I prayed and god gave me this car’: The role of religious institutions in shaping change in Tanzania, in Olu-Owolabi, K. & Ekanola, A. (Eds.) A Holistic Approach to Human Existence and Development, Hope Publications, Ibadan, Nigeria

Mdee, A. (2010) “Who speaks for the community?  Negotiating agency and voice in community-based research in Tanzania” in Ozerdem, A. and Bowd, R,(Eds.) Participatory Research Methodologies in Development and Post Disaster/Conflict Reconstruction Farnham UK: Ashgate

Toner, A. (2008) Who shapes Development? An ethnography of collective village life in Uchira, Tanzania, Unpublished PhD Thesis, Bradford: University of Bradford

Mdee, A. (2008) ‘Towards a dynamic structure-agency framework: understanding individual participation in collective development activities in Uchira, Tanzania, International Development and Planning Review 30 (4)399-421

Cleaver, F. and Toner, A. (2006) The evolution of community water governance in Uchira, Tanzania: The implications for equality of access, sustainability and effectiveness, Natural Resources Forum 30(3)207-218 

Goodbye to Projects? The Institutional Impacts of a Livelihoods Approach on Development Interventions: This project, funded by DFID (£250,000 from 01-03), explored the application of livelihoods approaches in development management.  The research was conducted in collaboration with partners from South Africa, Tanzania and Uganda, and data was collected on a wide range of development interventions spanning agriculture, HIV/AIDS and community-based planning.

Related publications (selected):

Toner, A. and Franks, T. (2006) Putting livelihoods thinking into practice: implications for development management, Public Administration and Development 26(1)81-92

Toner, A., Franks, T., Goldman, I., Howlett, D., Kamuzora, F., Muhumuza, F. & Tamasane, T. (2004) ‘Goodbye to Projects? The institutional implications of adopting a sustainable livelihoods approach to development interventions’, Research Report on ‘Goodbye to Projects?’ Bradford Centre for International Development

Potts, D., Ryan, P. and Toner, A. (Eds.) (2003) Development Planning and Poverty Reduction, Basingstoke: Palgrave-Macmillan

Toner, A. (2003) ‘The possibilities of managing sustainability: Comparing two interventions in Tanzania’, Journal of International Development 15: 771-781

<h4>Research projects</h4> <p>Any research projects I'm currently working on will be listed below. Our list of all <a href="https://essl.leeds.ac.uk/dir/research-projects">research projects</a> allows you to view and search the full list of projects in the faculty.</p>

Student education

I teach on two undergraduate modules:

  • Global Development Challenges
  • Development Theory and Practice

I teach on three postgraduate modules:

  • Global Inequalities and Development
  • Research and Project Skills- experiential learning
  • Africa in the Contemporary World

Research groups and institutes

  • Centre for Global Development

Current postgraduate researchers

<h4>Postgraduate research opportunities</h4> <p>The school welcomes enquiries from motivated and qualified applicants from all around the world who are interested in PhD study. Our <a href="https://phd.leeds.ac.uk">research opportunities</a> allow you to search for projects and scholarships.</p>
    <li><a href="//phd.leeds.ac.uk/project/342-water-security,-policy-and-governance-in-india">Water security, policy and governance in India</a></li>