African Independent Ethics Committee (AIEC)

Based on data collected between 2013 and 2019, most researchers in Africa do not have access to an Ethics Committee. As such, we have designed a platform to provide independent ethics advice to researchers. To apply for our Ethics Advice, use the form below. Before you apply, read information about African Ubuntu research ethics and our terms and conditions of use provided on this page. To submit your application, please provide all the details specified below and click Submit.

For researchers wanting to or already doing research in Africa, it is important to get ethics advice or ethics approval. This is important so that you protect our communities, and that you also get protected. At times external researchers dump research ethics in Africa, an unethical practice on its own. Others only get ethics approval from an external country yet local ethics are very important.

The eight basic ubuntu ethics that we are concerned with in research are:

  1. Value for Family (unhuri, familyhood)- families are an integral part of African society. While research usually focuses on individuals, these individuals must be viewed as part of families. A full and trusted story usually involves the family.
  2. Respect for Community (ujamaa, ‘communityhood’)- research should promote African ‘communityhood’, uniting people and using local resources and compensating communities adequately. Local protocols should be respected, recognized and followed.
  3. Decolonising – for years research languages, ethics, methods, philosophy, epistemology and ontologies have prioritized western knowledge. Present day research must prioritize African perspectives.
  4. Developmental and capacity building research – funders and researchers, including African governments must be seen to be promoting growth of African research capacity. This means strengthening the work of African researchers and research institutions. Knowledge transfer is a key element when we assess externally driven research.
  5. Sustainable research – research must build capacity of African researchers and African institutions to research on their own and not to be dependent on people from outside perpetually.
  6. Justice – adequate recognition of co-researchers, communities, assistants contributors, facilitators and guides. Compensations should be just.
  7. Value for life – every component of research must not result in harm, disease, impairment or loss of life.
  8. Protection of most vulnerable populations – these include children, people with disability, people who are unable to read the language of the research, people with a mental illness, people with adequate income, people from strong spiritual backgrounds, elderly people, people in rural communities, young women and poor people.

HOW TO WRITE A RESEARCH ETHICS STATEMENT

A research ethics statement is a detailed account of ethics that (1) will be followed when doing research (proposed or pre-research ethics statement) (2) was followed in research (post-research ethics statement). Statements must be written clearly, they must be appropriate or relevant and enough detail must be provided.

Pre-research ethics statement

It is written in the future tense to support a research proposal to a funder, research institution, other researchers, government, partners, community or ethics committee.

Post-research ethics statement

It is written in the past tense to report research to publisher, journal, funder, research institution, other researchers, government, partners, community or ethics committee and in publications for readers. It is a story that shows how ethics were applied.

What to include in ethics statements?

The table below shows major questions writers, reviewers and editors should expect to be in an ethics statement and the items to include in an ethics statement.

QuestionItems to include
What is or was the gap or rationale or aim for this research?Describe why this research is or was necessary. Describe benefit for the participants and larger community. Is or was there risk, did it overweigh doing the research?
How am I going to or did I engage the community?Describe step by step how you will reach or reached your participants or respondents. Describe local protocols that will be followed or were followed? Describe the consent and permission seeking process including those who consented and did not consent. Show evidence, for example, attach a permission letter.   If you are a researcher from outside Africa, what efforts have you made to ensure that you avoid potential exploitation, dumping of research ethics, power differentials, language and racial differences that may impact this research?
What will participants do or what did they do? How is or was harm, distress and burden managed?Describe what participants are expected to do, step by step, or what they did. This includes how you collected date from them, the tools you. Identify risks and solutions. Describe how psychological, physical, economic or social harm, distress and burden are going to be avoided or how they were managed.
How is or was data managed?It is important to protect the identity of researchers, show how this will be achieved or was achieved. This applies when engaging communities, collecting data, storing data and reporting.  
How accessible are the research findings and publications?How will community or participants know about the results? How will they get access to the publications? Include issues like reporting back to the community through a meeting or workshop, publishing research in local publications, publish summary in local languages, publish results using graphics or audios that are easy to understand and sharing results with policy makers.
Ethics approval from community and ethics committeeProvide evidence to show that the research process got approval from community leaders and ethics committee. Support letters from partners are also useful.
What is your personal reflection of the ethics applied and your own view of ubuntu ethics?End your ethics statement by giving personal views or reflections and restating your ubuntu ethical principles.

Other recommendations

  • Write your statement as a story that flows.
  • Use the correct tense, future or past but at times you use present tense if the ethics process is ongoing.
  • Subheadings can be avoided for the story to flow, but at times other guidelines require you to use headings.
  • Avoid repetition.
  • Using first person language is ok.
  • Adding your own reflection is ok.
  • Avoid citing unnecessarily but you can cite other relevant researchers, ethics guidelines, laws and protocols. Non-written knowledge can be cited.
  • Avoid citing ethics books or articles published from a non-African perspective but rather value and support African literature, ethics guidelines, laws and protocols.
  • Avoid writing or defining ethics and other words related to ethics, the statement is about actions and why they were necessary.

Application form

Terms and Conditions of Use of AIEC Services

  1. Protection of families and communities ultimately rests with researchers, what we provide is advice.
  2. The ASWNet will not be liable in the event of any harm that results from any research process that it reviewed for advice.
  3. Researchers are encouraged to get ethics approval from their institutions, and contribute to formation of ethics committees where they do not exist.

African Research Ethics and Malpractice Statement (AREMS)

This document was prepared by ASWNet to help researchers to realize ethical research in an African context. This statement highlights our understanding of, and commitment to research ethics as well as our aim to remove, and respond to malpractice in research.

ASWNet’s perspective of ethics

The philosophy and practice of Ubuntu (also known as Unhu, Botho, Ubuthosi, Bumuntu, Bomoto, Gimuntu, Umunthu, Vumuntu or Umuntu) undergirds our research ethics. Ubuntu is a philosophy that shapes interaction of human beings with others and with the environment. In the practice of Ubuntu, humanity towards others is prioritised. Thus, Ubuntu values the welfare of others and fairness.

Our view of malpractice

Malpractice may constitute any or more of the following:

  1. Data or research fraud (manipulation of data or reporting research that has not been done)
  2. Contributor fraud (adding people who have not contributed significantly as co-authors or not recognizing those who contributed)
  3. Plagiarism
  4. Simultaneous submission
  5. Undisclosed conflict of interest
  6. Researcher, editor or reviewer bias (influencing the research process in any way that breaks research ethics)
  7. Deceit or lack of informed consent
  8. Harm
  9. Lack of confidentiality and anonymity broken, where desired
  10. Ignoring local protocols

We acknowledge the challenges African writers face in accessing review boards (e.g. it is at times costly and review board are not functional) and in accessing research funding but we emphatically deny that African research has to be inferior or be allowed to be done outside the perimeters of ethical practice or Ubuntu.

Our response to malpractice

We promote research ethics to prevent malpractice. Some of the actions that we recommend when ethics have been broken are:

  1. Communication – informing authors or reviewers and discussing the issue at hand.
  2. Clarify – a decision could be taken to clarify circumstances.
  3. Corrections (erratum or addendum/corrigendum) – a decision could be taken to correct the paper.
    • Erratum – compile and disseminate a list of errors
    • Addendum (addenda) (also known as orrigendum (corrigenda)) – additional information added to a publication
  4. Retractions – a decision could be taken to retract the paper.
  5. Apologise – an apology could be offered orally or in writing.
  6. Inform – the funder, the institution, the participants, other journals or relevant Ethics Review Board.
  7. Compensation – where participants or contributors or communities were not adequately compensated, it is recommended to correct this by compensating appropriately.
  8. Settlement – where harm has occurred, it is recommended to provide resources needed to address the harm presently and in future.

Revised June 2021