Key highlights of the 8th AFREA conference and what it means for Eastern Africa

By Jennifer Mutua, Founder & Chair, Evaluation Society of Kenya/Formerly Eastern Africa Regional 

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Ms Jennifer Mutua, Former board representative to AFREA

As the immediate former elected AFREA board representative for Eastern Africa (the hosts), the 8th conference gave me great pride.  It was a milestone. From its organization, wide range of participation and thematic strands, it was World class. It not only provided a platform for professional engagement but also of taking the national M&E agendas of the continent to the next level. Moreover, it espoused AFREA’s founding spirit and mandate for Africa i.e. for an evidenced-based culture and practice.

Eastern Africa took full advantage of the opportunity presented. For instance, Uganda and Kenya had 118 and 79 representatives, respectively. Tanzania, Ethiopia, Rwanda, Burundi Ethiopia and Somalia were the other countries out of the 7 from the region (http://www.afrea.org/?page=media ).

Significantly, for the first time in its history the conference had a big presence of governments. Their presence alongside Voluntary Organizations for Professional Evaluators (VOPEs) and other development partners is expected to have far reaching ramifications for M&E in the region. This is especially so for e.g. Uganda the hosts. It propelled the Uganda Evaluation Association (UEA) to new national visibility and recognition. In the case of Kenya e.g. based on the strong collaborations between the Evaluation Society of Kenya (ESK) and the Monitoring & Evaluation Department’s (MED), government paid for 7 of its staff to attend the conference.

The conference provided a boost to the P2P learning and mentorship initiatives in the region. I had spearheaded these as the then regional representative such as on the establishment of the Somalia Development Evaluation Association (SOMDEA). Additionally, towards VOPEs’ engagements with their governments and non-state actors.  For the Ethiopian Evaluation Association (EEVA) e.g. the conference was timely after a successful national event they hosted in March and in which the ESK case of collarborations with government was a key highlight. It was presided over by the Minister of Planning.   More recently, under the AFREA/USAID mentorship initiative UEA/Burundi’s RNEB and the Tanzanian Evaluation Association (TANEA)/ESK hosted national stakeholders’ events.  Under EvalGender+ funding ESK co-hosted with the Ministry of Planning a successful national stakeholder SDGs evaluation event with an immediate action plan.  More learning initiatives are necessary especially for the very young Rwanda Monitoring & Evaluation Network.

All these give impetus to the Eastern Africa Evaluation Network. The network was launched in early 2016 during a CLEAR-AA workshop for Eastern Africa/Southern Africa VOPEs’ leaders and academia at the Kenya School of Government (KSG). Its overall objective is to have linkages with the East African Community (EAC) agenda.  However, the network’s operationalization had been pending, occasioned by some limitations. These have now been redressed with the successful conference and its other related activities like the finalization and ratification of the AFREA constitution.

Notably, the AFREA biannual conferences’ supply side capacity strengthening, among other efforts, have over the years produced a critical mass of individual evaluators with a lot of theoretical knowledge. However, opportunities to translate this into practice and in a meaningful way that could propel the region’s development to the next level remain limited.

Related to that, commendably most of the governments in the region with support from other development partners (UN, World Bank, DFID, GIZ and SIDA, among others) have invested in national M&E Systems i.e. over the years. However, the national impact for this is yet to be felt. Their capacities, demand and utilization of evaluation within environments of weak national culture and practice for evidence-based socio-economic development remain low.  This state of affairs is common in Africa e.g. , “… while statistics enjoy a higher profile than ever before, many developing countries still lack the capacity to produce, analyze and use the range and quality of statistics required to support effective development progress…” (https://www.paris21.org/sites/default/files/2532.pdf).

The 8th conference came in the wake of great developmental opportunities and challenges in the region. This could benefit from an increased uptake of M&E. Particularly, the runaway corruption compounded by the grim statistics of the unemployment and food crises . They have raised a lot of public and media concerns. To underscore this e.g., some parts of the region are facing the worst drought in more than 60 years. Accordingly, more than 13 million people are affected. Out of this 4m are in Somalia while 3.75m in Kenya and over 4.5m in Ethiopia (http://www.dec.org.uk/articles/east-africa-crisis-facts-and-figures). Like never before, there is mounting public pressure and expectations on governments for more prudent management of public resources.

Towards this end, e.g. the CLEAR Anglophone Africa (CLEAR-AA) – led Twende Mbele initiative (http://clear-aa.co.za/2016/12/19/twende-mbele-programme/) presents great promise to the region. Specifically, for an increased M&E uptake on the supply ( academia/evaluators) and demand (governments as commissioners) sides. The Uganda and Kenya governments are on board. It is expected that more governments and the AFREA VOPEs in the region may also be roped in.