Afrobarometer: Reflections from the field

By Published On: 10th December 2021

Image source: Dominique Dryding

The main goal of Afrobarometer is to give the public a voice in policymaking by providing high-quality public opinion data to policymakers and policy advocates on democracy, governance, and the economy. During my training and fieldwork observation trips in eSwatini, Mozambique, South Africa, and Namibia in 2021, the importance of this work was thrust into the limelight for me once again. I’d like to offer a few reflections from the field as 2021 draws to a close

The impact of COVID-19: COVID-19 has had a huge impact on our work and the work of all our partners. After a lengthy suspension of fieldwork in 2020, the Afrobarometer were back in the field in early 2020. There was a change in the way we conducted our fieldwork training workshops. Since our return to the field, all partners now adhere to strict COVID-19 protocols.

In addition to the feeling the effects of COVID in our training venue, we also saw it while navigating the cities we visited. In Mozambique, the once bustling, market lined streets of Maputo Central were now much quieter, a reflection of the alcohol ban imposed in the country. In all countries we visited, there was also a noticeable difference in the reception some of our fieldworkers received from respondents with some of them being greeted with a bit more caution than in previous rounds of the survey.

Service Delivery: While in Namibia, I had a few conversations with various community members as we were making our way through the areas for both pilot and fieldwork. One conversation was particularly jarring and related to the provision of safe sanitation. The informal settlement we visited for pilot had not been serviced with safe sanitation facilities. The gentleman who approached us explained that they needed to cross the highway to access the open field across the road for sanitation purposes. This had resulted in several children and adults being killed by on-coming traffic in the process.

So often the statistics that we report loses the human face behind the experience. Taking a moment to hear the issues he had invited in a more personal perspective to the data that we collect. It also highlighted the importance of ensuring that our data reaches all the relevant stakeholders.

Terrorism and political unrest:

The Southern African region has also experienced political unrest and terrorism in recent months. One country which has been severely affected is Mozambique. While in the field in Mozambique, one of our teams assigned to collect data in the Northern Province of Cabo Delgado, was arrested. Given that they were outsiders in the community, the security forces, suspected them of being involved in terrorist activities. After extensive consultation with the security officials our team were released and unharmed. Unfortunately, they were unable to continue with fieldwork in the area.

Finally, during our dissemination period in Eswatini, the country was thrust into the media spotlight with a wave of pro-democracy protests. As a result, many of our public events were postponed.

These experiences highlight the dire need for good governance. COVID-19 has had such a huge impact on everyone in the world. In turn, it has increased the level of desperation of so many people on the continent. Service delivery, while highlighted in Namibia, is an important issue across the continent. When the basic needs of citizens are not met discontent in government and the status quo grows, clearly demonstrated in the widespread public protests in Eswatini as well as the declining levels of trust in institutions in many countries in the Southern African region.

Dominique Dryding, Senior Project leader in the research and policy programme

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