Reflection on ‘Made in Africa Evaluation’ Trajectory: It is time to make Evaluations in Africa More Relevant for AfricaDennis Omvia
Looking at the history of evaluation in Africa, the practice of ‘systematic’ evaluation was first imported into Africa from North America and Europe through the colonial occupation of Africa in the 19th and 20th century. These colonial influence did not end with the independence of most of African countries, but extended even after independence as a result of the continued economic and political reliance of those countries for different reasons on their former colonial rulers for development assistance and support. These continued colonial influences also included the systematic evaluation of development assistance programmes
Secondly, the current dominant global evaluation approaches, theories and practices largely originates from western world (USA, Canada and Britain), and to a less extent on the rest of the western European continents. This is illustrated by the current most influential global evaluation scholars like Scriven, Stake, Weis, Patton etc. Their ideas and approaches still dominate the training of the professional evaluation scholars and practitioners across the globe.
Thirdly, the dominance of western influence is reinforced by current international development assistance agencies like the UNDP, The World Bank, IMF, The African Development Bank, and other international as well as national development agencies like those in European union, the OECD, DFID, USAID, SDA, GIZ and many others, all largely based on western paradigm.
These international agencies are highly influenced by the philosophy of evaluation practitioners like Bamberger, Rist, Picciotto, Segone and others who have come through the western academic evaluation ranks and directly influence professional evaluation and practice.
However, the current involvement of china in Africa has opened up a new source of assistance. Thus it’s only recently that more independent African voices articulating different routes to develop more explicit African approaches and practice in evaluation
There is a need for African transformation of the current western evaluation culture and practices in order to decolonize and indigenize evaluation of western theory and practice on evaluation to serve the needs of Africans. A second change is that is needed is a development of a relational evaluation or evaluation tree that draws from the concept of ‘wellness’ as personified in African greetings and the south African concept of ‘I am because we are’. The wellness reflected in the relationship between people and domestic, birds, animals and non-living things, emphasizing that evaluation from African perspective should include a holistic approach that links an intervention to the sustainability of the ecosystem and environment around it.
The emergence of Africa-rooted Evaluation
The concept, ‘Made in Africa Evaluation’, seeks to identify and develop a unique African approach to evaluation. It emphasizes the context, culture, history and beliefs that shape the nature of evaluations, specifically in the diverse, often complex African reality. The concept supports efforts to encourage home-grown innovations and evaluation tailored to local purpose, cultures and context. It intends to give voice to the many people who contribute to development and to evaluation on the African continent- evaluators, evaluation participants and users, managers, commissioners, funders, scholars, students and others.
Africa-rootedness can be viewed not only as the development of internal African capacity or the initiation or driving force behind systematic evaluations of African development programmes, but rather on more appropriate evaluation values, practices and paradigms that originated on the African continent instead of elsewhere outside of Africa and imported or imposed on the continent.
The main assumption behind made in Africa evaluation is that they could be more appropriate because they are home-grown and not foreign to African values, practices and institutions.
In 1999, African Evaluation Association (AfEA) was formed with the aim of among others; to promote Africa-rooted evaluation theories and practices, to promote and strengthen real and sustained development in Africa, promote Africa rooted and Africa led evaluation, to encourage the development and documentation of high quality evaluation practice and theory, establish and support national evaluation associations and special evaluation, interest groups, to facilitate capacity building, networking and information sharing on evaluation among evaluators, policy makers, researchers, and development specialists and to share African evaluation perspectives and expertise at relevant forums.
For evaluation to have a greater contribution to development in Africa, it needs to address African challenges including those related to country ownership, attribution, ethics, and values, and power relations.
Challenges and way forward
Unfortunately, evaluations in Africa are largely commissioned by non-African stakeholders who are mostly comprise international donors or development agencies who run or fund development programmes on the continent.
There is also lack of motivation among heads of Africa states to commit their governments to self-evaluation and promote the concept ‘For Africa Evaluation’. This further complicates progress on the continent.
Lack of international visibility: there is need for public and international profiles of African evaluation practices to be improved. African evaluators are still not as visible on the international evaluation platform as they ought to be.
Limited competitiveness: There is a perception within Africa and outside the continent that African evaluators have to improve their international competitiveness as compared to their northern hemisphere counter parts since the profession in Africa though not very new is in young adult stage and there is much room for improvement. More African evaluation studies need to be written and disseminated globally through publications.
There is also a scarcity of qualified and experienced professional African evaluation scholars as compared to their northern hemisphere counter parts.
However, the situation is slowly changing and more opportunities are being created for African evaluators to become increasingly internationally exposed and competitive through publication of AfEA’s African Evaluation Journal.
In conclusion, the following questions are food for thought; “Is it possible to identify a uniquely different evaluation paradigm for Africa? “Or are the prevailing ‘western’ evaluation approaches culturally or contextually generic and only needs fine-tuning?” “What changes should be brought about to the prevailing ‘western’ model of evaluation to be more appropriate in Africa?” and finally “what should change to make evaluation in Africa more relevant, appropriate and internationally more competitive?”
If the above questions are not addressed, evaluation in Africa will not be able to take its deserved place on the global evaluation trajectory, and we will continue to debate and lament on the need for ‘Made in Africa Evaluation’.