News / Africa

African Think Tanks Brainstorm Their Future

William Eagle
Many African states are on a path towards political and economic transformation – an effort that often means complex choices for leaders and policymakers.
For think tanks on the continent, it’s a crucial opportunity to provide governments with options for development based on sound local research.  

Scores of think tanks from Africa and around the world met recently in Pretoria, South Africa, to discuss ways to meet the challenge.

The summit was co-organized by The University of Pennsylvania’s Think Tanks and Civil Society Program,  the African Capacity Building Foundation [in Zimbabwe],  the African Leadership Centre [in Kenya], and the [South Africa based] Institute for Security Studies.

The Pretoria-based ISS has played an influential role in South Africa’s economic and political development since the end of white-minority rule.   

Jakkie Cilliers, the institute’s executive director, said the organization has worked constructively with the country's policymakers -- most recently on a national development plan that sets out the country's economic, social and political direction for the next 16 years.

Growing influence
'We’ve been trying to support the plan," he said, "In the process, the government did a forecast of South Africa’s population, [estimating that] we are going to have about 58 million people by 2030, [but] we said, no, it’s [going to be higher than] 66 million people.  That’s a substantial difference in number you are forecasting. You have to plan for roads, schools, hospitals and so on.

"The government eventually took our [work] and [revised its] forecast," he continued. " [For us], when someone takes your point of view and makes it [their] own, that’s success.
The ISS is also broadening its role on the continent, with offices in Nairobi, Addis Ababa and Dakar.  Cilliers says it helped the Economic Community of West African States draft a counter-terrorism strategy and a maritime strategy.  And, it managed to convince the African Development Bank to adopt the use of cash grants to fight deep-seated poverty.

"For us, this is a major policy achievement," said Cilliers. "That is what we want to do – advance policy discussions in the right direction in ways that make a meaningful contribution."

Funding and independence

Despite their potential for success, Africa’s think tanks also face challenges.
The global financial crisis has brought a decline in funding from Western countries.  And, some governments remain suspicious of foreign financial support.

Summit participants said one potential solution could include donor funding for long-term goals rather than short-term projects.  They could also develop a membership base for contributions, and solicit funding from private sources, such as companies and endowments from African and Western philanthropists.

Professor Emmanuel Nnadozie is the executive director of the African Capacity Building Foundation, an independent organization that supports sustainable growth, poverty reduction and good governance in Africa. It’s been a fervent advocate of policy analysis and research institutes on the continent.  

Nnadozie said to maintain credibility, the think tanks must ensure that funding from donor or other outside sources don’t impinge on their independence.  

"We are encouraging them to look for ways of [paying for organizational costs] – [like] fees for services -- and to aggressively look at other sources of funding, especially in the private sector and in emerging economies as well,'" he said.


Nnadozie said another challenge is improving links between research centers, government and civil society. Think tanks must also be able to make their findings readily available to the public and government – with the improved use of press releases, conferences and workshops, and social media.
"If research is not translated into products that can be easily utilized for policy making, then it becomes a challenge," he said. "So when research output is produced, somebody has to translate it into basic reports or bulletins or even policy notes that can be easily accessed by those who don’t have the expertise or technical skills to get it from [the data]."

The main outcome of the meeting was the establishment of a Pan African Network of think tanks that will share knowledge, data bases and research ideas, promote Africa values, and build the capacity of its members.

Organizers of the Pretoria conference said they hope the gathering will evolve into annual meetings. They say the aim was not to guarantee answers to think tank challenges, but to identify common interests and begin a search for solutions.
Participants said in many ways, research institutions are competitors– for funds, ideas, and influence.  They say the future lies in cooperation as well as competition – a lesson many developing countries and their neighbors are learning as well.

Listen to report on African think tanks
Listen to report on African think tanksi
|| 0:00:00

You May Like

800-Pound Man Determined to Slim Down

Man says he was kicked out of hospital for ordering pizza; wants to be an actor More

Australia Prepares to Resettle 12,000 Syrian Refugees

Preference will be given to refugees from persecuted minorities, and the first group is expected to arrive before late December More

S. African Miners Seek Class Action Suit Against Gold Mines

The estimated 100,000 say say they contracted the lung diseases silicosis and tuberculosis in the mines More

This forum has been closed.
There are no comments in this forum. Be first and add one

Featured Videos

Your JavaScript is turned off or you have an old version of Adobe's Flash Player. Get the latest Flash player.
Amnesty Accuses Saudi Coalition of ‘War Crimes’ in Yemeni
Henry Ridgwell
October 12, 2015 4:03 PM
The human rights group Amnesty International has accused the Saudi-led coalition of war crimes in airstrikes against Houthi rebels in Yemen. Henry Ridgwell reports the group says hundreds of civilians have been killed in strikes on residential areas.

Video Amnesty Accuses Saudi Coalition of ‘War Crimes’ in Yemen

The human rights group Amnesty International has accused the Saudi-led coalition of war crimes in airstrikes against Houthi rebels in Yemen. Henry Ridgwell reports the group says hundreds of civilians have been killed in strikes on residential areas.

Video No Resolution in Sight to US House Speaker Drama

Uncertainty grips the U.S. Congress, where no consensus replacement has emerged to succeed Republican House Speaker John Boehner after his surprise resignation announcement. Half of Congress is effectively leaderless weeks before America risks defaulting on its national debt and enduring another partial government shutdown.

Video New Art Exhibit Focuses on Hope

Out of struggle and despair often comes hope. That idea is behind a new art exhibit at the American Visionary Art Museum in Baltimore, Maryland. "The Big Hope Show" features 25 artists, some of whom overcame trauma and loss. VOA’s Deborah Block reports.

Video Columbus Day Still Generates Controversy as US Holiday

The second Monday of October is Columbus Day in the United States, honoring explorer Christopher Columbus and his discovery of the Americas. The achievement is a source of pride for many, but for some the holiday is marked by controversy. Adrianna Zhang has more.

Video Anger Simmers as Turks Begin to Bury Blast Victims

The Turkish army carried out new air strikes on Kurdistan Workers Party (PKK) targets on Sunday, a day after the banned group announced a unilateral cease fire. The air raids apparently are in retaliation for the Saturday bombing in Turkey's capital Ankara that killed at least 95 people and wounded more than 200 others. But as Zlatica Hoke reports, there are suspicions that Islamic State is involved.

Video Bombings a Sign of Turkey’s Deep Troubles

Turkey has begun a three-day period of mourning following Saturday’s bomb attacks in the capital, Ankara, that killed nearly 100 people. With contentious parliamentary elections three weeks away, the attacks highlight the challenges Turkey is facing as it struggles with ethnic friction, an ongoing migrant crisis, and growing tensions with Russia. VOA Europe correspondent Luis Ramirez reports.

Video Afghanistan’s Progress Aided by US Academic Center

Recent combat in Afghanistan has shifted world attention back to the central Asian nation’s continuing civil war and economic challenges. But, while there are many vexing problems facing Afghanistan’s government and people, a group of academics in Omaha, Nebraska has kept a strong faith in the nation’s future through programs to improve education. VOA’s Greg Flakus has more from Omaha, Nebraska.

Video House Republicans in Chaos as Speaker Favorite Withdraws

The Republican widely expected to become the next speaker of the House of Representatives shocked his colleagues Thursday by announcing he was withdrawing his candidacy. The decision by Majority Leader Kevin McCarthy means the race to succeed retiring Speaker John Boehner is now wide open. VOA National Correspondent Jim Malone reports.

Video German, US Officials Investigate Volkswagen

German officials have taken steps to restore some of the reputation their car industry has lost after a recent Volkswagen diesel emissions scandal. Authorities have searched Volkswagen headquarters and other locations in an effort to identify the culprits in the creation of software that helps cheat on emission tests. Meanwhile, a group of lawmakers in Washington held a hearing to get to the bottom of the cheating strategy that was first discovered in the United States. Zlatica Hoke reports.

Video Why Are Gun Laws So Hard for Congress to Tackle?

Since taking office, President Barack Obama has spoken out or issued statements about 15 mass shootings. The most recent shooting, in which 10 people were killed at a community college, sparked outrage over the nation's gun laws. But changing those laws isn't as easy as many think. VOA's Carolyn Presutti reports.

Video In 'He Named Me Malala,' Guggenheim Finds Normal in Extraordinary

Davis Guggenheim’s documentary "He Named Me Malala" offers a probing look into the life of 18-year-old Malala Yousafsai, the Pakistani teenager who, in 2012, was shot in the head by the Taliban for standing up for her right to education in her hometown in Pakistan's Swat Valley. Guggenheim shows how, since then, Malala has become a symbol not as a victim of brutal violence, but as an advocate for girls’ education throughout the world. VOA’s Penelope Poulou has more.

Video Paintable Solar Cells May Someday Replace Silicon-Based Panels

Solar panels today are still factory-manufactured, with the use of some highly toxic substances such as cadmium chloride. But a researcher at St. Mary’s College, Maryland, says we are close to being able to create solar panels by painting them on a suitable surface, using nontoxic solutions. VOA’s George Putic reports.

VOA Blogs