News / Africa

African Think Tanks Brainstorm Their Future

TEXT SIZE - +
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.

Outreach

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
...
 
🔇
X

You May Like

Multimedia Anti-Keystone XL Protests Continue

Demonstrators are worried about pipeline's effect on climate change, their traditional way of life, health and safety More

Thailand's Political Power Struggle Continues

Court gave Prime Minister Yingluck Shinawatra until May 2 to prepare her defense over abuse of power charges but uncertainty remains over election timing More

Malaysia Plane Search Tests Limits of Ocean Mapping Technology

Expert tells VOA existing equipment’s maximum operating depth is around 6 kilometers as operation continues on ocean bed for any trace of MH370 More

This forum has been closed.
Comments
     
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.
Pet Kangaroo Helps Spread Environmental Messagei
X
Penelope Poulou
April 22, 2014 5:53 PM
Children’s author Julia Heckathorn travels the world to learn about different ecosystems and endangered animals. She pours her knowledge into children’s books, hoping the next generation will right the environmental wrongs of our times. As in many children's books, the main character in Heckathorn's stories is an animal. Unlike those other characters, though, this one is real - a kangaroo, that lives in the author’s backyard. VOA’s Penelope Poulou has more.
Video

Video Pet Kangaroo Helps Spread Environmental Message

Children’s author Julia Heckathorn travels the world to learn about different ecosystems and endangered animals. She pours her knowledge into children’s books, hoping the next generation will right the environmental wrongs of our times. As in many children's books, the main character in Heckathorn's stories is an animal. Unlike those other characters, though, this one is real - a kangaroo, that lives in the author’s backyard. VOA’s Penelope Poulou has more.
Video

Video Pro-Russian Separatists Plan 'Federalization Referendum' in Eastern Ukraine

Pro-Russian separatists in eastern Ukraine say they plan to move forward next month with a referendum vote for greater autonomy, despite the Geneva agreement reached with Russia, the U.S. and Ukraine to end the political conflict. VOA's Brian Padden reports from the city of Donetsk in Eastern Ukraine.
Video

Video Pope Francis Hopes Dual Canonizations Will Reconcile Church

On April 27, two popes - John the XXIII and John Paul II - will be made saints in a ceremony at St. Peter’s Square. VOA religion correspondent Jerome Socolovsky says the dual canonization is part of the current pope’s program to reconcile liberals and conservatives in the Roman Catholic Church.
Video

Video In Capturing Nature's Majesty, Film Makes Case for Its Survival

French filmmaker Luc Jacquet won worldwide acclaim for his 2005 Academy Award-winning documentary "March of the Penguins". Now Jacquet is back with a new film that takes movie-goers deep into the heart of a tropical rainforest - not only to celebrate its grandeur, but to make the case for its survival. VOA's Rosanne Skirble reports.
Video

Video Boston Marathon Bittersweet for Many Runners

Monday's running of the Boston Marathon was bittersweet for many of the 36,000 participants as they finished the run that was interrupted by a double bombing last year. Many gathered along the route paid respect to the four people killed as a result of two bombings near the finish line. VOA's Carolyn Presutti returned to Boston this year to follow two runners, forever changed because of the crimes.
Video

Video International Students Learn Film Production in World's Movie Capital

Hollywood - which is part of Los Angeles - is the movie capital of the world, and many aspiring filmmakers go there in hopes of breaking into the movie business. Mike O'Sullivan reports that regional universities are also a magnet for students who hope to become producers or directors.
Video

Video Pacific Rim Trade Deal Proves Elusive

With the U.S.-led war in Iraq ended and American military involvement in Afghanistan winding down, President Barack Obama has sought to pivot the country's foreign policy focus towards Asia. One aspect of that pivot is the negotiation of a free-trade agreement among 12 Pacific Rim nations. But as Obama leaves this week on a trip to four Asian countries he has found it very difficult to complete the trade pact. VOA's Ken Bredemeier has more from Washington.
Video

Video Autistic Adults Face Housing, Job Challenges

Many parents of children with disabilities fear for the future of their adult child. It can be difficult to find services to help adults with disabilities - physical, mental or emotional - find work or live on their own. The mother of an autistic boy set up a foundation to advocate for the estimated 1.2 million American adults with autism, a developmental disorder that causes communication difficulties and often social difficulties. VOA's Faiza Elmasry reports.
AppleAndroid