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Zenda Ofir and Jean-Charles Rouge reflect on how Internet-based communication strategies have contributed to building evaluation capacity in Africa.

Africa is home to over 700 million people and includes 34 of the 50 poorest countries in the world. For several decades, due to efforts to end the cycle of poverty, disease, hunger, and violence ravaging the continent, Africa has been the beneficiary of a large portion of the world's development aid. The traditional approach to development evaluation relied heavily on “fly-bye” evaluations: A team of outside consultants would fly in for a brief site visit, conduct some interviews, write a report that might never be given to program staff, then say goodbye.

Over the last few years the world's development agenda changed from simply making and assessing investments to building institutions and creating knowledge. Development evaluations are now expected to be more participatory, involve local evaluators, measure results with credible methodology, and contribute actively to organizational learning and sustainability. In Africa, however, the numbers of trained local evaluators who could respond to the new agenda were few, and those few toiled in isolation, with little opportunity to broaden their experience through contact with fellow evaluators.

To meet the daunting challenge of building indigenous evaluation capacity, African evaluators, in the last 5 years, formed the African Evaluation Association (AfrEA), as well as nearly 20 national evaluation associations or networks. These “knowledge networks” have provided evaluators with a sense of community and access to information, expertise, and resources. They have brought together disparate groups with a common interest in evaluation, generated opportunities for capacity building, and served as platforms for advocating evaluation.

With little funding available, Internet and communication technologies (ICT) were the primary tools used to build these networks. While lack of access is usually the major barrier to using ICT in developing countries, when AfrEA was formed in 1999, more than 80% of the 400 African evaluators in its database already had Internet access. This critical mass (and good fortune) allowed AfrEA to develop a website, listservs, and email communication that enabled it to reach its audience of national evaluation networks throughout Africa in the most cost-effective manner.

Of the initiatives centered in individual countries, the Niger Monitoring and Evaluation Network (Niger M&E) has been the most effective in implementing ICT strategies to support its communities of practice. Its website is the sole Internet workspace on monitoring and evaluation in West/French-speaking Africa. Because face-to-face training opportunities are rare, Niger M&E Network members regularly post on the website a wide range of ready-to-use knowledge products—best practice notes, manuals, publications, training materials, and a virtual library containing more than 100 M&E documents—available for download free of charge.

The national networks and AfrEA are linked to international evaluation networks through websites and listservs, such as XCeval, which serves cross-cultural evaluators, and EvalPres, for presidents of evaluation associations and networks. These connections have helped cultivate a growing community of evaluators across different countries, led to higher requests for information from networks, and increased the international involvement and engagement of African evaluators.

Yet major challenges remain. For example, while developed countries view ICT as the path for Africa to participate in the knowledge economy, nowhere is the digital divide as visible as it is in Africa.¹ Although some government and nongovernmental organizations have Internet access, for many Africans a mere telephone call remains a remote prospect. Further, African Internet users represent only 1.6% of all users worldwide, and nearly 50% are located in just two countries, South Africa and Egypt.² In sub-Saharan Africa (excluding South Africa) only 1 in every 400 people has access to the Internet (Mutume, 2004),³ compared to 1 in every 2 people, on average, in North America and Europe.

Furthermore, several fledgling evaluation networks have failed to use the Internet effectively to sustain themselves. Connections can be painfully slow and computers are often shared among many, so communication between evaluators remains deficient. In rural areas Internet access can be either nonexistent or extremely expensive.

Finally, some political structures in Africa see knowledge and freedom of expression as a menace and view the Internet as a threat. A culture of communication, vigorous debate, and information sharing on listservs and other discussion forums needs to be created. Only when these issues are resolved will African evaluators be fully able to exploit the Internet and other communication technology to work together to develop and publish theory and best practices that will contribute to the evaluation field and cultivate respect for African evaluation expertise.

¹ World Economic Forum. (2000). Digital divide. Retrieved June 28, 2004, from
² Miniwatts International. (2004). Internet usage statistics: The big picture. World Internet usage and population statistics.
³ Mutume, G. (2004). Africa takes on the digital divide. Retrieved June 28, 2004, from

Zenda Ofir, Ph.D.
Chair, African Evaluation Association
P.O. Box 41829
Craighall 2024
South Africa
Tel: 011-271-188-03790
Email: or

Jean-Charles Rouge
Coordinator, Niger Monitoring & Evaluation Network
c/o UNDP
Maison de l'Afrique
BP 11207 Niamey
Tel: 011-227-734-700

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