David Akana is a Cameroonian-born journalist with deep insights on environmental issues, climate change and the need for Governments across the world to factor the processes of monitoring and evaluation in their development drives. A staff of the World Bank, Akana and other colleagues were in Cameroon recently to hold a series of conversations with Evaluators from Cameroon, the African continent and other parts of the world. In this exclusive interview, Akana says the culture of evaluation is a must, noting that the Government of Cameroon is getting closer to the process. He indicated that the World Bank is now focussed on technical and capacity building issues and not the money bank of the past.
After working with The Post Newspaper, Cameroon Radio & Television, CRTV, what have you been doing with yourself?
I left CRTV in 2007 and joined the African Network of Environment Journalists, which is funded by the UN Environment Programme in Nairobi, Kenya. I was called to work at the Permanent Secretariat in Nouakchott, Mauritania. I did that for a while and got an international fellowship from the International Institute of Environment and Development, a joint partnership with Internews and Panos, London. For about a year, I moved around the world, communicating on Climate Change. Done with my fellowship, I went back to school to do a Master’s Degree in Mass Communication, specialising on Multimedia Journalism in the Virginia Commonwealth University, USA. Upon graduation, I applied at the World Bank office in Washington DC and in 2012, I began working.
How has the experience at the World Bank been?
It is just exceptional, so much to learn, knowledge sharing and a lot of reading to do as if I was preparing for an examination, particularly as you get to meet some of the finest minds in the world. These are graduates from Harvard, Princeton, Oxford and universities of the global south, including Cameroon. These are indications that our educational systems are solid and you cannot get it from elsewhere. So, we cross-fertilise ideas every day.
A graduate from University of Buea mixing with graduates from Harvard, Oxford, Princeton, how is the medley?
The Bank has recognised that indigenous or local knowledge is vital. The Bank has realised that it is not about the number of Harvard graduates they have to think about policy in Africa or in Cameroon. They will never be able to get it right as someone who is coming with local knowledge from Cameroon. There is that blend, even at the Board of the World Bank. The argument is, you need to up the percentage of staff coming from the developing world. The overall goal of the World Bank is poverty reduction and now they are moving to the complete eradication of poverty by 2030. For it to achieve that objective, it must find the right resources and get in the right blend from the developed and developing world. While our colleagues from the top universities in the West come in with modelling and methodologies, we from the South come in with experiential knowledge. With the mix, the Bank gets close to achieving its overall goal. It is collegial, respectful and cross-fertilisation of a lot of ideas.
What are you doing at the World Bank?
I am the Moderator of a community of practice; evaluator of Climate Change and Natural Resources Management, hosted by the Global Environment Facility Independent Evaluation Office. On a daily basis, I communicate with the 2000 plus members from the community and also provide them with the right knowledge product, guidelines, the tools they can use to do their work better. This also includes publishing new guidelines in the area, meeting the members on the ground like the recent trips to Brazil and Cameroon and to grow membership.
The general notion has been that the Bank moves around the world and distributes money to member countries, is that same view today?
Today, the Bank is the Knowledge Bank and not the Money Bank. There are other sources of loans and funding around the world today. The Bank has moved forward and is focussed on leveraging the knowledge that it has. There are few organisations in the world with the knowledge that the Bank has. The Bank is focussed on technical and capacity building issues and sharing knowledge with different governments and different organisations across the world. However, the Bank still gives out a bit of loans and funds but also accompanies and contributes to reforms in the areas of financial management, good governance and the knowledge to bear in some countries. Only the Bank has been able to mobilise all the countries in the world — moving experiences from one country to help the other as the case may be.
What was the kernel of the recent World Bank visit and meetings in Cameroon?
The Global Environment Facility Independent Evaluation Office organised the Climate Change and Evaluation Stream of the Yaoundé meetings. It included stakeholders from the health sector, poverty reduction, good governance and the Francophone community that also came in. We brought in young evaluators from Cameroon, Africa and other parts of the world to share the evaluation experience they have. We listened to their choices, methodologies, other strategies employed and findings. We had colleagues from Senegal giving us insights of the evaluation of a project spearheaded by President Macky Sall. The Evaluator Fatou Ndiaye, an Award-winner showed us the great methodologies; qualitative and quantitative she employed. In evaluation you have to diversify your methodologies since data may not be reliable all the time. With her approach she won an award. This was the 7th time having African Evaluators in a mix and other colleagues from the world, sharing experiences on the work they do, the challenges faced and how to address the challenges. It was a huge success.
After all the cosy room meetings, on the ground is evaluation working in government circles, the civil society?
It is working. From 2014, following the institutional arrangements in Cameroon, there are Monitoring and Evaluation structures in the Prime Minister’s Office known as PROMAGA. At the level of the judiciary, you have the Audit Bench in the Supreme Court, which publishes an annual report on the situations of corporations in the country. At the Legislature, you have the question and answer session that is done during parliament and Government ministers. These are accountability structures and mechanisms. The workability and how it translates to reality is what we evaluate, to see whether it yielded to something. In the Regions, we have organisations doing a lot of monitoring and evaluation. There is pre-evaluation and post evaluation. Cameroon Government is getting closer to evaluation. The culture is building within Government and they are realising that evaluation is indispensable in making sure that they are at the right track, especially in the development process. In the private sector, a lot of monitoring and evaluation are ongoing but you can also question if they really do evaluation. Often times, they appropriate success to themselves, saying they were in this Region or that so, things went out well. Not really, you do not see substantive evaluation or monitoring of projects. However, it is a culture that is building. We ought to do it. We cannot get into the new phase of sustainable development, which is a global goal, without evaluating. We will never know where we are going to, if we have succeeded, if we do not evaluate ourselves. We have to pick the success story or best practice and replicate in another situation. If we do not evaluate, you can never know where you are going to. You may end up having accidental development. That culture of evaluation must be part of our DNA as we move forward.
Does the government need a whip from the World Bank to evaluate itself?
It must not be an externally driven process. There is no way you can ask people to take ownership of a process if they do not want. The Bank does not need to whip somebody to do that, the Bank does not need to influence the Cameroon government to do that. The conversation in a collegial way must go on within the Cameroon Government. There must be recognition that evaluation is important for the development process. Once there is that ownership of that thinking, then you will see the government go out there systematically and do the work. That is the stage where every evaluation is now. 2015 has been declared as the international year of evaluation, so there is the intention to highlight the importance of evaluation at the global level as we shall be transiting to the sustainable development goals. It is to make sure governments understand that evaluation is not a weakness. Evaluation is an important process. It puts to question processes that have been made already. It questions programmes, structures and the overall intention of Government. It is an important process because it helps you say for sure if the action we took is working as expected and if not, where and how to fix it. It is totally different from auditing; in and out flow of money. It is different from a structure like the Anti-Corruption Committee, CONAC, we have in Cameroon. These are separate things and we need to find the difference and understand where evaluation comes in.
Can monitoring and evaluation be effective in a Government that is centralised like the case of Cameroon?
That is the reason why you might need to evaluate. On what basis will you say the Government of Cameroon is centralised? May be if you evaluate, you may find out that the centralised system is the best. It will be wrong or prejudicial from the scoping side to say that centralised system of governance is the wrong system. It could just be the right system of governance, depending on the context. I am not suggesting anything. Why not replicate the best practices in our own system as seen in other places. We will forge ahead with a good governance system if we do a systematic evaluation of the sectors that make up the country.
After the World Bank meetings in Yaoundé, are there indications that Government will go closer to the people?
Certainly, if you read the Vision 2035, which is the Cameroon Government long term development plan, you will see that the Government needs more of these conversations. My only worry in that plan is that there is no room for monitoring and evaluation clearly defined. Government is coming to the realisation that result-based management is the way to go. The way forward is that they must take ownership of the process and mainstream evaluation into the development process.
Are the citizens also involved in the monitoring and evaluation process?
Programme design begins with listening to the people. Like in other parts of the world, the policy making decisions are questionable, not only in Cameroon. The question is; are the needs of the ordinary people taken into consideration? The common people must be factored into every development process and decisions, their views must be given visibility, they know what they need better than those in position of power. We cannot sit in our offices and design projects for Yokadouma, Akwaya, Buea or Ewele. The people know what works for them. For a development process to succeed we must cut across other cultural barriers and the way to do it is to speak to people. We must know how to tackle a project without getting people angry. And when you want to evaluate, you must find out from the people how beneficial or not the project was to them.
Anything to add?
Until we recognise how much evaluation will be important for our development process, it will be important that we mainstream evaluation into the Vision 2035 plan for Cameroon. It is not late. There is time for tweaking here and there. We cannot set out blindly that we are doing this. Who knows what may happen by 2020? There is a lot that may happen by peoples’ perception, change of minds and the geo-socio-political set up of the country. Systematically, we should know we are changing as we move along. The Government of Cameroon is on the right direction, looking at what has been happening in Benin, South Africa and Uganda. They are making a lot of progress as they mainstream evaluation into their development progress.
Interviewed by Walter Wilson Nana