Mmegi Online :: "The ethics of research on human subjects in Africa
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"The ethics of research on human subjects in Africa

Apollo Rwomire and Francis B. Nyamnjoh (2007)
By Staff Writer Wed 26 Sep 2018, 03:50 am (GMT +2)
Mmegi Online :: "The ethics of research on human subjects in Africa








Challenges and Responsibilities of Social Research in Africa: Ethical Issues. Addis Ababa, The Organisation for Social Science Research in Eastern and Southern Africa (OSSREA), 212 pages, and paperback, P120, ISBN 99912-572-9-2 (has an index of key names, but not a subject index). Available at BooksBotswana and Exclusive Books.

Reviewed by
SHERIDAN GRISWOLD
Correspondent

Challenges and Responsibilities of Social Research in Africa: Ethical Issues is a collection of 21 essays that should be of interest to a variety of people, including researchers and consumers of research.

Its editors are well known in Botswana. Apollo Rwomire, a Ugandan, has taught in the Department of Social Work at the University of Botswana (UB) since 1993. His recent books include Social Problems in Africa (2001) and Human Impact on Environment and Sustainable Development in Africa (2003).

Francis B Nyamnjoh, a Cameroonian, is an anthropologist and sociologist who has written five works of fiction including The Disillusioned African (1995) and The Travails of Dieudonne (2008). His academic books span topics as diverse as sexuality, xenophobia, democracy, the media and Magical Interpretations, Material Realities (2001).

His new edited study with Mirjam de Bruijn and Inge Brinkman is Mobile Phones: The New Talking Drums of Africa (2009). He currently works at CODESRIA in Dakar, but has previous taught at universities in Cameroon, the Netherlands, United Kingdom (UK), South Africa and Botswana.

Social research encompasses a variety of disciplines and wherever social scientists are interacting with people. While in the dominant minority world (old First World) universities and research institutions ethical issues associated with research have become a significant part of any research proposal, in the subordinate majority world (old Third World or Africa, Asia, Latin America, Oceania and Caribbean) the ethics of research has tended to be neglected.

To receive research clearance and financial support minority world researchers must include a section in their research proposals on the "Ethics of the Research". This applies across the various disciplines from medicine, psychiatry and psychology to education, from economics, sociology and social work through to political science and anthropology.

This book is meant to help overcome this gap. It is sponsored by the Organisation for Social Science Research in Eastern and Southern Africa (OSSREA) based in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia, was printed in Botswana two years ago, but has only been made available for the public this year.

Why the concern for research ethics? It began in the 1920s when people became aware that unethical research studies were being carried out on human subjects. This applied to double-blind controls in research, research on children and research on prisoners, women and minorities where their human rights were violated.

An explanation of the risks involved in such research became necessary and consent forms obligatory.

In the majority world concerns of the ethics of research has been late to evolve. With the wave of independence beginning with Egypt in 1952 and Ghana in 1957 and then spreading rapidly in the 1960s across Africa, concern evolved to control, manage, fund and benefit from research. This was carried out usually by establishing a National Research Council (NRC) and empowering it with  the resources to back research in areas that had

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been identified as being of a high priority. Often national gatherings were held to establish research priorities, usually by disciplines, but sometimes across all social research. Foreign researchers were to be vetted and approved by the NRC. Initial concerns 50 years ago revolved mainly around the work of anthropologist. In the 1960s anthropologists reacted by calling themselves "sociologists" who were deemed to be more politically relevant and acceptable.

But issues related to the ethics of research on human subjects still remained neglected.

In addition to research that may harm the subjects, a major area of unethical research practices relates to intentional and unintentional corruptions in methodology: poor data collection; insufficient supervision of research assistances (who even sit under a tree and fill in instruments giving fallacious results); falsification of responses; manipulation of results; fraudulent claims as to findings - the most famous here has happened in laboratory - based disciplines where controls are inadequate and results cooked.   Is it unethical for a researcher to write a report and do nothing about its circulation to those who might benefit from it? At what point must researchers communicate their results back to their subjects, if at all? There is also the issue of does a researcher have an obligation to devote time after the research is finished to the implementation of the findings, or must this always be left to others?

In Botswana one of the first bodies to establish a formal code on the ethics of research was the Botswana Educational Research Association (BERA). BERA is recognised in this volume by an economist at UB, Stephen Kapunda. But only Isaac Mazonde and S. H. Msimanga-Ramatebele in their chapter on Research Coordination and Ethical

Considerations in Botswana acknowledge this pioneering effort by BERA in 1996 and the keynote address by Professor Mohamed Abucar on Ethics for Research. Does this mean the other 19 chapters in this volume merely "reinvent the wheel"? Not really so, as there is much new and relevant material in this volume.

Of the 22 contributors, 11 at the time were with the UB. The others were based in the United States of America (US) and South Africa (three each), and Senegal, Zimbabwe, UK and New Zealand. This is not a handbook, guide or code of ethics and research methods. Instead it is a wide-ranging consideration of the topics from a variety of perspectives. These all will challenge the reader to improve their practice and for the consumer of research to be more sensitive to ethical issues. The contributions cover topics such as: the use of names and reporting on results in case studies involving human subjects; the dimension of responsibility and giving voice to others in the study of violence; the power relations between researcher and subjects, particularly when of a different race, class and national origin; the rights of children; how research might harm subjects and the need for confidentiality; the unique ethical considerations involved in action research; the uses and abuses of statistics, including "how to lie with statistics"; and much more. There is a great deal of "food for thought" in this volume for everyone.
E-mail: sheridangriswold@yahoo.com

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