Held at the Wardman Park Marriott Hotel in downtown Washington, DC, the 59th Annual Africa Studies Association conference featured Africanists from around the world. Often well-attended, the conference covered a wide range of topics from countering violent extremism (CVE) to the elections in a variety of African countries. For The Mitchell Group (TMG) and University of Pittsburg (UPitt) staff involved in the Evaluation and Analytical Services Project (EAS), the conference gave key staff an opportunity to discuss the research methodology of 3 significant quantitative and qualitative statistical studies to determine the impact of a USAID-funded $62.0 million project called PDev II (Peace through Development II) whose focus is on Burkina Faso, Chad and Niger.
Presentations by the EAS team include comments at the round table discussion to an estimated 3 dozen conference goers include the panel host, Dr. Louis Picard introducing the panel. Dr. Picard was followed by Dr. Chris Belasco who outlined the methodological elements of the study, its purpose and how it was conducted. Dr. Belasco was followed by Dr. Sheldon Geller, an independent consultant working on the project since its inception in 2012, commenting on Niger and what some of the findings have been with the baseline and midline (midcourse) studies and how the population has reacted to various political elements in Niger.
Following Dr. Geller’s presentation, former Chief of Party for the EAS Project, Ms. Susan Merrill discussed gender issues in the West Africa Region and the impact that increasing incidents of female involvement in violent extremism is now having in the region. Ms. Merrill discussed the research that she and her colleague, Ms. Lauren Eason is focused on and why women are becoming more central to acts of violent extremism in the region. Ms. Merrill’s discussion was followed by her research colleague has and continues to work on regarding women’s involvement in violent extremism. The overall view of these presenters was that the role of women in CVE was not clearly understood in West Africa.
EAS Chief of Party Mr. Donald (Don) Muncy brought the foregoing discussions together noting that the EAS Project is one of many that USAID’s Regional Office in Accra, Ghana is funding in the USAID Regional Peace and Governance Office. Mr. Muncy noted that the EAS Program is the extension of US Foreign Policy in that the project implements the strategic objectives of the US Embassy and USAID. Mr. Muncy noted that the work of the University of Pittsburgh and The Mitchell Group are important considering the work being undertaken under the project provides insights to how and why the studies that the project undertakes regarding violent extremism is important to the USAID Mission. Further, that the second major area of the project that involves building regional capacity in local organizations ability to conduct evaluations and impact assessments using complex statistical techniques is directly attributed to the 18 months of training conducted by UPitt to some 7 West Africa regional organizations. Lastly, Mr. Muncy noted that the work regarding women’s involvement in violent extremism is receiving more and more attention within the donor community and in the US AFRICOM as it affects the US military operations.
After the presentation, Dr. Picard made several concluding comments before opening up to questions from the audience. Dr. Picard highlighted some of the key points about the project and some of the constraints. Picard pointed out that the capacity building and the research components of the TMG/UPitt work in West Africa were complimentary. The goal of capacity building was to ensure that skilled research professionals were available to carry out future research activities in qualitative and quantitative evaluation activities focusing on governance and the rule of law.