Monday, December 17, 2007

Authorization to Conduct Research

Like fingerprints, no country is the same when it comes to the regulations in conducting research in their territory. One could write as many different versions of an introduction letter, explaining their mission and print it out on department letterhead; hound their superiors for a recommendation letter and have the support and financing of a scientific organization. It does not matter. There is going to be something missing and needed before one receives that magic paper that one pulls out for authorities who are confused over why one is going house to house and asking questions to people as to how their lives have changed.

I can only share my experiences in Mali and Niger here. In Mali, going armed with a recommendation letter from one’s advisor, curriculum vitae, and a dossier explaining the goal of the research, the subject, the prospective site, the time period and possible contacts is a start. If things go well, an official pulls out a form for one to fill out. If they are not busy, they will type it out verifying the information, request 2 photos and 5,000 F CFA for the current year (even if your research overlaps into the next year, one will need to return to Bamako for reauthorization at the end of the year). I managed to complete the process in three days the first time and the reauthorization only took me a day (I was recognized when I arrived at the bureau which helps). When one completes their research a report is expected, explaining their findings and possible future research prospects in Mali.

Niger is quite different. It is necessary to have the recommendation letter, curriculum vitae and dossier I mentioned above (with each category separated for each aspect of the research). Furthermore, a photocopy of one’s current student ID, a photocopy of the first page of one’s passport, and one’s international drivers’ license is also mandatory (if one has a vehicle for their research). In addition, one must collaborate with an academic or specialist on the subject of the prospective research in country. In most if not all cases such an individual is found at the only university in Niger: Abdou Moumouni University in Niamey. This can take time as coordinating and meeting with people eats up time.

There is no charge for the authorization request and no photos are needed. When I first started the process I was told that the process takes a week maximum. I was not done until six weeks later. The reasons for this delay were many. But in the last three weeks of the delay I realized that there is one person at the ministry who approves or rejects research proposals. Niger is in the process of decentralizing its government but at the same time some departments remain very top heavy, where responsibility is in the hands of a few or only one official. If the ministry approves one’s research a two-page authorization with conditions is printed out. My situation called for a restriction on circulation as there is a rebellion in the north (more information about that in future postings) but there are two conditions that are universal and everyone should be aware of. The Republic of Niger expects a report at the end of the research (like Mali) but in addition they request that five copies of any published material be sent to the ministry within the first month of publication.

Once one has the approval of the Ministry of Education in the capitol of the country where one conducts their research, the next step is meeting and conducting formalities with the local officials at the prospective research site(s). Governors, mayors, prefects, commandants, commissariats, village and traditional chiefs are often the officials one meets with to explain one’s mission. The experiences and conduct with these vary and merit a different posting.

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