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Blog: Beyond Made in Africa Evaluation (MAE)— An Invitation to Join Us on a Journey.

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Mark Abrahams (Southern Hemisphere)

Posted 2 months ago

At Southern Hemisphere we often utilise the ‘journey metaphor’ when discussing the elements of a project cycle and mapping the evaluation journey. Similarly, you are invited to consider a journey, your journey beyond Made in Africa Evaluation. The quest for evaluation manifestations beyond Made in Africa Evaluation (MAE) is not an exhortation to dismiss the need for MAE or to deny the historical and contemporary developments that continue to shape the nature of evaluation theories and practices in Africa.

On the contrary, it is acknowledged that evaluation knowledge production in Africa has been compromised and made subservient to orthodox Western education forms and structures of colonial authorities. There is agreement with the insight that current evaluation principles, assumptions, and practices are based on Euro-centric epistemologies that are frequently found to be unsuitable for the African context.

Furthermore, the African development space is dominated by the Western hegemony that shapes the structural funding models, knowledge transfer and aid.

Through the domination of the development space, the Global North perpetuates Africa’s colonial history and racism and the underdevelopment of African countries. The instrumental use of evaluation in this context has resulted in evaluation becoming a tool to perpetuate Western hegemony on the epistemological, axiological and ontological understanding of development and patterns of power that dictate who funds, designs, implements, commissions and conducts an evaluation.

As counterpoints to these assertions, MAE is presented as an alternative to the Western-centric epistemologies and ontologies that characterise a neoliberal ‘development project’.

As an alternative framework of knowledge production in Africa, MAE utilises postcolonial indigenous theory and decolonising and indigenous methodologies to interrogate neo-liberal norms and to develop evaluation theory and practices informed by a decolonised worldview. This may sound like gobbledygook to a novice researcher/ evaluator but MAE emphasises the practical, participatory, collective and social benefits and principles that can and should be central to development and evaluation practices in Africa.

This will be easier said than done because colonial structures of inequalities persist, and the so-called global culture continue to reproduce them. New information and communication technologies have enabled instantaneous circulation of information and ideas but even here the development has been inequitable and unequal. Basically, contemporary cultural practices are overdetermined by global capitalism and regard globalization as historically inevitable.

Is it all doom and gloom? No! But will it be a challenge? Yes!

Firstly, we should avoid the universalistic impulse at the core of many conceptions of globalization. The answers to many complex questions can be found locally. We need to develop a pedagogy that entails learning to unlearn in order to re- learn. The decolonial pedagogy has to facilitate a unique pedagogy of unlearning as part of epistemological decolonisation which results in the removal of that colonial/Eurocentric hard disk of coloniality together with its software (Ndlovu-Gatsheni, 2020).

A good starting point is to use Indigenous knowledge systems (IKSs) because they offer alternative possibilities, because they are historically rooted in communities, because they exist within certain cultural contexts and have the ability to address issues related to diversity in geographically bounded ways (Blaser-Mapitsa, 2022).

However, the deconstruction of the postcolonial, neoliberal ‘under-development’ project in Africa, inevitably presents postcolonial indigenous theory and decolonising and indigenous methodologies as alternative frameworks of knowledge production in Africa but the argument gets stuck in a form of reasoning that renders ‘Made in Africa’ prone to the label of ‘traditional’, craft based and/or mysterious that is different to other globalised notions of development.

The negative perceptions of Africa are deep-rooted and persistent where Africa is seen as a place characterised by poverty, hunger, famine and underdeveloped. The contention here is that the label ‘Made in Africa’, as in MAE can be construed as tribal, traditional and juxtaposed with labels of ‘precision or efficiency’ that are associated with ‘Made in Germany’ and or ‘imitation’ as in ‘Made in China’ or ‘high quality’ as in being associated with ‘Made in Sweden or USA’.

So where do we go from here? How do we venture ‘beyond’ the challenges, the rhetoric of Made in Africa Evaluation? The answer is, ‘with caution’ and with due acknowledgement of contemporary discourse on decolonizing knowledge for epistemic freedom in Africa.

We need to consider that when we engage with all the ‘matters’ that matter in evaluation, that the ‘how of MAE’ is also challenged by the existence of multiple purposes for evaluation. Going beyond the assessment of merit or worth of programmes, evaluations are initiated to assess:

  • If projects have achieved their intended goals
  • Why projects have achieved their goals or why they have not
  • How efficiently the resources made available for the projects were utilised
  • How sustainable and meaningful the projects were for the participants
  • To inform decision makers about how to improve current and future projects
  • Whether to continue with projects or not.

However, evaluations can also be initiated for subterfuge, to sabotage, to delay, to punish, to demean, to counteract political opposition, to develop new policies, to create space and place for marginalised voices, to empower people OR NOT.

At Southern Hemisphere we often utilise the ‘journey metaphor’ when discussing the elements of a project cycle and mapping the evaluation journey. Similarly, you are invited to consider a journey, your journey beyond Made in Africa Evaluation.

Picture yourself (as evaluator) inside a vehicle, in the driver seat adjusting the rear-view mirror as the vehicle is slowly moving forward somewhere in Africa. 

What is the landscape that you see behind you? Where did you come from? Do you remember what was there? What did you experience while you were there? Who was there? What is approaching from behind? What do you need to watch out for? How does what appear in the rear view compare to what is coming? Where are you going? What type of road surface are you travelling on? Do you have a clear view of the rear? Do you have a clear view of where you are going?

These same questions can be used to inform you about your views and perspectives of the Evaluation landscape in Africa.

Where did it come from? What was it like? What was my experience of it in the past? One thing that will become abundantly evident is that it will be insufficient to rely on your one rear view perspective only as that is only one vantage point. When you catch a glimpse of yourself in the mirror you can ask, who is the evaluator (driver) now? Who were the evaluators before? Who will be the evaluators going forward?

Similar questions can be posed about the commissioning of evaluations in Africa. Very many questions can be developed about your views going forward and those related to the surface, the challenges (potholes or bumpy roads) and other matters you may observe and the future landscape.

Of equal importance are questions to be generated about the vehicle you are using. Whether the vehicle is suited to the terrain, its practicality, utility value, how many people it can transport and levels of comfort, but also questions about the type of damage it can cause to the environment (co emissions and erosion). Not so long ago an eminent scholar and political commentator, Professor PLO Lumumba stated that Africa continued to be consumers of cars as not a single car originates in Africa, we import or assemble cars designed elsewhere.

This is not completely true. A few cars have been designed and manufactured in Ghana, Kenya, South Africa and a few other countries. However, these are not the mass-produced vehicles that are in use and available to everyone across Africa. They are certainly not the cars that politicians and the uber rich in Africa use to transport themselves.

In South Africa and Kenya they have been called ‘wabenzies’ because of their choice of cars. For this exercise we can think of the vehicle as the evaluation methodology(ies) that we employ. We can ask about the appropriateness of the methodology, its feasibility, its suitability, its durability and we can even venture into the realm of the origins of the methodology. Like the vehicles designed in countries outside of Africa, and how the components of the cars that we import contain raw minerals and elements that originate in Africa. To what extent do we recognize, utilize, understand, manufacture and redesign the raw minerals (the indigenous knowledge systems and products) that are sometimes inherent in the methodologies that we import and employ?

The journey analogy is a useful tool to help us explore issues of development in Africa, its history and can help us conceptualise what is to be evaluated, how and when and by whom and with what methodologies.

For the journey beyond Made in Africa we will have to take on board the African Evaluation Principles and make sure that these principles guide our practices. Making evaluation our own will require creative use of our existing knowledge systems (raw materials) and designing methodologies that allow the intended purposes of the evaluations in Africa to unfold.

Let’s start our journey to generate evaluation from Africa with integrity, reciprocity and inclusivity.

References

Blaser-Mapitsa, C., 2022, ‘A scoping review of intersections between indigenous knowledge systems and complexity-responsive evaluation research’, African Evaluation Journal. Vol 10, No 1 | a624 | DOI: https://doi.org/10.4102/aej.v10i1.624 |

Ndlovu-Gatsheni, Sabelo J 2020. The dynamics of epistemological decolonisation in the 21st century: Towards epistemic freedom. Strategic Review for Southern Africa, Vol 40, No 1.

About the Author

Dr. Mark Abrahams is a Senior Associate of Southern Hemisphere. He has contributed to the development of evaluation in Africa in a multitude of ways: he is a founding member of SAMEA and legacy board member, he is an editor at the African Evaluation Journal and an expert evaluator.

This blog piece is courtesy of Mark Abrahams and Southern Hemisphere.

Photo courtesy by Annie Spratt on Unsplash.

Link to original blog - https://medium.com/@socialmedia_93456/beyond-made-in-africa-evaluation-mae-an-invitation-to-join-us-on-a-journey-df0222ce0623

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