In 1999 Mahesh Patel (then at UNICEF in Kenya) and several colleagues organised the first ever continent-wide meeting of persons and organisations interested in evaluation. More than 350 participants from all over Africa came to Nairobi to contribute to the birth of the African Evaluation Association (AfrEA).
At the time, evaluation was a fledgling profession in Africa. Evaluators were usually flown in from North America and Europe, and in the absence of academic programmes in evaluation, opportunities to create awareness of its potential as profession were scarce.
Since then, champions in more than 30 African countries have made efforts to initiate professional networks or associations across organisations and sectors. Some initiatives were more successful than others; while some have waned, others have grown.
The African Evaluation Association has been a catalyst in many important processes, in particular through the development of the African Evaluation Guidelines, and its seven international conferences (by 2015) held biennially since 1999. These conferences have in the past attracted between 400 and 700 professionals from all sectors, representing between 30 and 50 countries across Africa and beyond.
As example, one of the most successful conferences was held in Cape Town, South Africa, in 2004. Co-chaired by Zenda Ofir, then AfrEA President, and Indran Naidoo, at the time a senior official in South Africa’s Public Service Commission, it was the first partnership between AfrEA and a national government. Participants came from 56 countries on four continents; in total, 36 African countries were represented.
An impressive 33 percent of the 550 participants were government officials (including several Ministers and many high level officials). The conference is credited with giving significant momentum to the growth of evaluation in the South African government. Zenda and Indran also used the opportunity to initiate the process that led to the establishment of the South African Monitoring and Evaluation Association (SAMEA) through formalization of what was up to that point the South African Evaluation Network.
Third AfrEA Conference, Cape Town, 2004
Overall, evaluation in Africa is blossoming, stimulated by the biennial AfrEA conferences and local events, increasing government demand for evaluation, aid agencies contracting local expertise, international training initiatives and a growing number of academic programmes on the continent.
Africa now has its own evaluation journal. The first books by African evaluators have been published here and here. African students are obtaining qualifications in evaluation. And African voices now contribute to most of the major forums and meetings that shape the profession around the world.