Professor Jonathan Fisher

Professor Jonathan Fisher

International Development Department
Professor of Global Security
Head of the International Development Department

Contact details

International Development Department
School of Government
Muirhead Tower
University of Birmingham
Edgbaston, Birmingham,
B15 2TT, United Kingdom

Jonathan's research is focused on the place and agency of African states in the international system, particularly in the realm of security and conflict. He is also interested in the nature of authoritarianism and the role of ideas and legitimacy in authoritarian systems. He has a particular interest in eastern Africa and the influence of guerrilla heritage on contemporary patterns of governance, conflict and cooperation and is currently co-leading a Newton Fund project on this theme. He is also interested in how 'knowledge' on African security and conflict is negotiated and constructed in a range of settings and has led several two Research Council-funded projects on this topic in recent years.

Since 2017, Jonathan has been Academic Director of the GSDRC and co-editor, with Professor Paul Jackson, of Civil Wars.


  • DPhil in International Relations, University of Oxford 2011
  • MSc in African Studies, University of Oxford 2007
  • BA (Hons) History, University College London (UCL) 2006


Jonathan joined IDD in 2011 as an ESRC Postdoctoral Research Fellow shortly after completing his doctorate at the University of Oxford.  His (ESRC-funded) DPhil focused on the relationship between the Ugandan government and its international aid donors between 1986-2010.  He became a Lecturer in 2012 and a Senior Lecturer in 2015 and his research has been funded by the AHRC, ESRC, Newton Fund, the Foreign and Commonwealth Office, Friedrich Ebert Stiftung, Royal Netherlands Embassy, Kampala and the Deepening Democracy Programme, Kampala.  He regularly undertakes fieldwork in eastern Africa and has experience working in Eritrea, Ethiopia, Uganda, Rwanda, Kenya, Malawi, South Africa and Djibouti.

He is currently leading an ESRC-funded project on the production of knowledge in conflict zones and an AHRC-funded project on indigenous narratives of insecurity in African borderlands (with Dr Cherry Leonardi, University of Durham).  Both projects will run between 2016-2018.  Between 2016-2019 he will also be leading a Newton Fund project on the memorialisation of liberation struggle in South Africa and Uganda with Dr Stephanie Cawood of the University of the Free State.

In 2015, Jonathan was awarded the SCOPUS (Elsevier/US-UK Fulbright Commission) Young Researcher of the Year (Social Sciences)


Jonathan has previously convened postgraduate modules on Aid Management, Aid Policy and Politics, Critical Approaches to Development, Conflict in Developing Countries (on campus and distance-learning), Development Policy and Politics and War Torn States and Post-Conflict Reconstruction in the South, a 3rd year undergraduate module in POLSIS.

He is currently the programme lead for the MSc Development Policy and Politics and during the 2019-2020 academic year, he will convene Authoritarianism and Development.

Postgraduate supervision

Jonathan welcomes new PhD applications in the areas of: Authoritarianism; conflict, security and state-building in Africa; “Post-liberation” governments and the international politics of aid and international development.

Jonathan is currently working with the following PhD candidates:

  • Samara Dantas Palmeira Guimarães (2015-) Statebuilding and traditional justice in Mozambique (with Dr Nicolas Lemay-Hebert, IDD)
  • Mann Virdee (2015-) Mapping the internal and external factors shaping UK political parties' debates and discourses on international development, 1997-2015 (with Dr Danielle Beswick, IDD)
  • Arie Ruhyanto (2015-) Statebuilding through territorial reform: Pemekaran and state-society relations in Papua province of Indonesia (with Simon Delay, IDD)
  • Shalle Abdi (2016-) Pastoral conflicts in the Horn of Africa (with Professor Stefan Wolff, POLSIS)
  • Justin Williams (2017-) The effects of Food-for-Work programmes in Ethiopia in the 1980s and 1990s (with Dr Claire Mcloughlin, IDD)
  • Nicola Heaton (2017-) More donors, more choice? "Traditional" donors, "New" donors and African agency: The case of Tanzania (with Dr Danielle Beswick, IDD)
  • Tue Jakobsen (2019-) Rebel Governance in the Syrian Civil War: A Comparative Study (with Professor Stefan Wolff, POLSIS).

He has supervised the following PhD students to completion:

  • Rubens Duarte (2014-2018) The UK and Brazil in the developmental regime (with Dr Marco Vieira, POLSIS).


Research Interests

  • Authoritarianism
  • Conflict, security and state-building in Africa
  • “Post-liberation” governments
  • The international politics of aid and international development

Research activity

Jonathan is currently leading a Newton Fund project on the memorialisation of liberation struggle in South Africa and Uganda with Dr Stephanie Cawood of the University of the Free State (2016-2019) and a WhatsApp-funded project on the role of WhatsApp in Nigerian politics with Idayat Hassan (Centre for Democracy and Development), Professor Nic Cheeseman (IDD) and Jamie Hitchen (2019-2020).

Other activities

Jonathan co-edits the journal Civil Wars with Professor Paul Jackson and has been Academic Director of the GSDRC since 2017.  He has previously served as Head of IDD, School Internationalisation Lead and as IDD Director of PGT Admissions.

Jonathan is a Research Fellow at the Centre for Africa Studies at the University of the Free State, South Africa was based at the Stellenbosch Institute for Advanced Studies as a Visiting Fellow between July-December 2019.  He has previously been a Visiting Fellow at the Institute for Security Studies (ISS), Ethiopia and an Honorary Research Fellow in the UK Foreign and Commonwealth Office's Africa Research Group.



Fisher, J (Forthcoming, 2020). East Africa after Liberation: Conflict, Security and the State since the 1980s. Cambridge University Press.

Cheeseman, N and Fisher, J (Forthcoming, 2019). Authoritarian Africa: Repression Resistance and the Power of Ideas. Oxford University Press.

Beswick, D, Fisher, J and Hurt, S (Eds, 2019). Britain and Africa in the Twenty-First Century: Between Pragmatism and Ambition. Manchester University Press.

Articles in peer-reviewed journals since 2014:

Fisher, J (2019). ‘AMISOM and the Regional Construction of a Failed State in Somalia’, African Affairs, 118 (471): 285-306.

Fisher, J and Meressa Tsehaye Gebrewahd (2019). ‘Briefing “Game Over”? Abiy Ahmed, the Tigrayan People’s Liberation Front and Ethiopia’s Political Crisis’, African Affairs, 118 (470): 194-206.

Fisher, J (2017). 'Reproducing Remoteness? States, Internationals and the Co-Constitution of Aid 'Bunkerization' in the East African Periphery', Journal of Intervention and Statebuilding, 11 (1): 98-119.

Fisher, J and Marquette, H (2016). "Empowered Patient" or "Doctor Knows Best"? Political Economy Analysis and Ownership", Development in Practice, 26 (1): 115-126.

Fisher, J (2015). ‘Writing about Rwanda since the Genocide: Knowledge, Power and “Truth”, Journal of Intervention and Statebuilding, 9 (1): 134-145

Fisher, J (2015). “Does it work?” Work for whom? Britain and Political Conditionality since the Cold War’, World Development, 75 (November 2015): 13-25.

Fisher, J and Anderson, DM (2015). ‘Authoritarianism and the securitization of development in Africa’, International Affairs, 91 (1): 131-151.

Fisher, J (2014). 'Uganda's war, Obama's advisers and the nature of 'influence' in Western foreign policy-making', Third World Quarterly, 35 (4): 686-704

Fisher, J (2014). 'When it pays to be a "fragile state": Uganda's use and abuse of a dubious concept', Third World Quarterly, 35 (2): 316-332

Articles in peer-reviewed journals pre- 2014:

Fisher, J (2013). 'Structure, agency and Africa in the international system: Donor diplomacy and regional security policy in East Africa since the 1990s', Conflict, Security and Development, 13 (5): 537-568

Fisher, J (2013). 'The limits - and limiters - of external influence: Donors, the Ugandan Electoral Commission and the 2011 elections', Journal of Eastern African Studies, 7 (3): 471-491

Fisher, J (2013). "Some more reliable than others": Image management, donor perceptions and the Global War on Terror in East African diplomacy', Journal of Modern African Studies, 51 (1): 1-31

Fisher, J (2012). ‘Managing perceptions and securing agency: Contextualizing Uganda’s 2007 intervention in Somalia’, African Affairs, 111 (444): 404-423

Book chapters:

Fisher, J (2018). “Success” and “Failure” in International Development: Assessing Evolving UK Objectives in Conditional Aid Policy Since the Cold War’, in A Kruck, K Oppermann and A Spencer (Eds), Political Mistakes and Policy Failures in International Relations. Palgrave.

Fisher, J and Beswick, D (2017). ‘The African State and Special Procedures: Agency, Leverage and Legitimacy’, in A Nolan, R Freedman and T Murphy (Eds), The United Nations Special Procedures System. Brill/Martinus Nijhoff.

Fisher, J and Anderson, DM (2016). ‘Authoritarianism and the Securitization of Development in Uganda’, in T Hagmann and F Reyntjens (Eds), Aid and Authoritarianism in Africa: Development without Democracy. Zed Books and University of Chicago Press.

Fisher, J (2015). "Image management" in East Africa: Uganda, Rwanda, Kenya and their donors', in Julia Gallagher (Ed), Image and Africa: Creation, Negotiation, Subversion. Manchester University Press.

Fisher, J (2014). ‘The limits – and limiters – of external influence: The role of international donors in Uganda’s 2011 election’, in S Perrot, S Makara and J Lafargue (Eds), Uganda’s 2011 Multiparty Elections: Towards a Consolidated Democracy? Fountain Publishers, Kampala.

Fisher, J (2013). 'Image management and African agency: Ugandan regional diplomacy and donor relations under Museveni', in W Brown and S Harman (Eds), African Agency in International Politics. Routledge.

View all publications in research portal


Foreign, security and development policy

Jonathan is a political scientist working on politics, security and development in Africa.  Working primarily in Eritrea, Ethiopia, Rwanda, Uganda, South Africa and South Sudan and am increasingly focused on forms of authoritarian rule. 

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