Dr. McDonald Lewanika is Accountability Lab Zimbabwe’s Chief of Party and brings a wealth of experience of civil society work and activism to the Lab. “I cut my teeth as a student  leader at the Midlands State University University in the early 2000s where I served as Secretary General of the Students Union and National Education and Research Secretary for  the Zimbabwe National Students Union, ZINASU” explains Lewanika. 

He was expelled and banned from studying in the country after he led a series of student demonstrations, but Lewanika wasn’t deterred from pursuing an education. He went on to earn a Bachelor’s Degree from the University of South Africa and pursued further studies in the United Kingdom culminating with a PhD in Political Science from the London School of Economics (LSE). 

“In 2003, during my time with ZINASU, we won the International Students Peace Prize from the International Students Festival in Trondheim (ISFIT) in Norway. It came with prize money and we used some of that to set up the Students Solidarity Trust which supported scholarships for student activists that had been expelled due to their activism to study either in South Africa or the Netherlands. It also helped to build international solidarity for the student movement.”

Lewanika was selected as the Founding Coordinator of the Students Solidarity Trust in 2003 where he would work until 2009. In 2009 he left to become Executive Director of the Crisis in Zimbabwe Coalition. He stayed in that job until 2015 when he left Zimbabwe to pursue his PhD in the United Kingdom where he would earn several qualifications and hold various teaching appointments at the LSE. 

“I officially joined Accountability Lab Zimbabwe as Chief of Party in May 2020 and it has been no mean feat starting from scratch and building an institution from the ground up despite having to navigate a difficult political context and the challenges posed by the Covid-19 pandemic. That in itself is my proudest achievement – we now have 14 full-time staff members and an office space in Harare.”

Within the first year the team was also able to introduce several of the Lab’s flagship programs to Zimbabwe including Voice2Rep, Civic Action Teams (CivActs), Accountability Incubator, Integrity Icon and the Film Fellowship. “I’m especially proud of the team we’ve been able to set up, especially in terms of the diversity of competencies and skills,” says Lewanika. “I usually refer to it as a team of hybrids because it’s people who have high technical competency and also high creativity.”

Lewanika says his plans for the future of Accountability Lab Zimbabwe can be encapsulated in three words: “The first is stability, we need to make sure the Lab is securely anchored in the country and that our ability to start and sustain initiatives is sound.” 

“The second element is around diversification. Right now the Lab’s support is completely from one partner but by the end of the year we want to grow that to three or four partners. There is an interesting idea we are workshopping which is aimed at creating a governance incubator targeted at women and minorities that can facilitate some levelling up of previously disadvantaged communities. There are some people we have identified that are doing tremendous work around accountability that need support.”

“The last part is around experimentation. I like the idea of creating a space where we can experiment with different approaches to accountability. It’s a thinking and convening outlook and we want to build up that strength as an organization.”

Education

  • Bachelor’s Degree in Human Studies and Social Sciences Degree, specialising in international relations and diplomacy, from the University of South Africa. 
  • Masters in International Development, specialising in politics and governance, from the University of Manchester. 
  • Masters in Research in Political Science (MRes) from the London School of Economics.
  • PhD in Political Science from the London School of Economics.

Awards

  • Promising Personality Award from the French Ministry of Foreign Affairs in 2012 that has only been given out to five people in Zimbabwean civil society.
  • In 2008 was part of the International Leaders Visitors Programme facilitated by the US Department of State.
  • In 2010 received the Young Changemaker of the Year Award by the Youth Empowerment and Transformation project. 
  • In 2012 Crisis in Zimbabwe Coalition received the Human Rights Organization of the Year Award while Lewanika was Executive Director.
  • In 2021 he earned a place on the Stanford University, Draper Hills Summer Fellowship program  for 2021. The Draper-Hills fellowship is run by Stanford University’s Centre on  Democracy, Development and the Rule of Law, Freeman Spogli Institute.
  • In 2021 his London School of Economics PhD thesis was nominated for a dissertation award by the American political studies Association in the Africa Conference Group.