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.

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

Brutality Eroding IS Financial Support

Director of National Intelligence James Clapper says IS's penchant for publicizing beheadings, other brutal forms of punishment hurts group’s bottom line More

Studies: Climate Change a Factor in Disasters in Syria, California

The studies point to the possibility of clear and present dangers from a threat often considered to be far in the future More

Video Afghan Refugees Complain of Harassment in Pakistan

Afghan officials and human rights organizations assert that Pakistani authorities are using deadly attack at school in Peshawar as pretext to push out Afghan refugees 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.
Kerry Seeks Assurances of Russian Non-Interference in Ukrainei
X
March 03, 2015 3:11 AM
U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry has told his Russian counterpart, Sergei Lavrov, that his country could face further consequences to what he called its “already strained economy” if Moscow does not fully comply with a cease-fire in Ukraine. The two met, on Monday, on the sidelines of a U.N. Human Rights Council meeting in Geneva, where Kerry outlined human rights violations in Russian-annexed Crimea and eastern Ukraine. VOA State Department correspondent Pam Dockins reports from Geneva.
Video

Video Kerry Seeks Assurances of Russian Non-Interference in Ukraine

U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry has told his Russian counterpart, Sergei Lavrov, that his country could face further consequences to what he called its “already strained economy” if Moscow does not fully comply with a cease-fire in Ukraine. The two met, on Monday, on the sidelines of a U.N. Human Rights Council meeting in Geneva, where Kerry outlined human rights violations in Russian-annexed Crimea and eastern Ukraine. VOA State Department correspondent Pam Dockins reports from Geneva.
Video

Video Smartphones May Help in Diagnosing HIV

Diagnosing infections such as HIV requires expensive clinical tests, making the procedure too costly for many poor patients or those living in remote areas. But a new technology called lab-on-a-chip may make the tests more accessible to many. VOA’s George Putic reports.
Video

Video Afghan Refugees Complain of Harassment in Pakistan

Afghan officials have expressed concern over reports of a crackdown on Afghan refugees in Pakistan following the Peshawar school attack in December. Reports of mass arrests and police harassment coupled with fear of an uncertain future are making life difficult for a population that fled its homeland to escape war. VOA’s Ayesha Tanzeem reports from Islamabad.
Video

Video Ukrainian Volunteers Prepare to Defend Mariupol

Despite the ongoing ceasefire in Ukraine, soldiers in the city of Mariupol fear that pro-Russian separatists may be getting ready to attack. The separatists must take or encircle the city if they wish to gain land access to Crimea, which was annexed by Russia early last year. But Ukrainian forces, many of them volunteers, say they are determined to defend it. Patrick Wells reports from Mariupol.
Video

Video Moscow Restaurants Suffer in Bad Economy, Look for Opportunity

As low oil prices and Western sanctions force Russia's economy into recession, thousands of Moscow restaurants are expected to close their doors. Restaurant owners face rents tied to foreign currency, while rising food prices mean Russians are spending less when they dine out. One entrepreneur in Moscow has started a dinner kit delivery service for those who want to cook at home to save money but not skimp on quality. VOA's Daniel Schearf reports.
Video

Video US, Cuba Report Progress in Latest Talks to Restore Ties

The United States and Cuba say they have made progress in the second round of talks on restoring diplomatic relations more than 50 years after breaking off ties. Delegations from both sides met in Washington on Friday to work on opening embassies in Havana and Washington and iron out key obstacles to historic change. VOA’s Mary Alice Salinas reports from the State Department.
Video

Video Presidential Hopefuls Battle for Conservative Hearts and Minds

One after another, presumptive Republican presidential contenders auditioned for conservative support this week at the Conservative Political Action Conference held outside Washington. The rhetoric was tough as a large field of potential candidates tried to woo conservative support with red-meat attacks on President Barack Obama and Democrats in Congress. VOA Political Columnist Jim Malone takes a look.
Video

Video NYC's Restaurant Week: An Economic Boom in Fine Dining

New Yorkers take pride in setting world trends — in fashion, the arts and fine dining. The city’s famous biannual Restaurant Week plays a significant role in a booming tourism industry that sustains 359,000 jobs and generates $61 billion in yearly revenue. VOA's Ramon Taylor reports.
Video

Video Brookhaven at Cutting Edge of US Energy Research

Issues like the Keystone XL pipeline, fracking and instability in the Middle East are driving debate in the U.S. about making America energy independent. Recently, the American Energy Innovation Council urged Congress and the White House to make expanded energy research a priority. One beneficiary of increased energy spending would be the Brookhaven National Lab, where clean, renewable, efficient energy is the goal. VOA's Bernard Shusman reports.
Video

Video Southern US Cities Preserve Civil Rights Heritage to Boost Tourism

There has been a surge of interest in the American civil rights movement of the 1950s and '60s, thanks in part to the Hollywood motion picture "Selma." Five decades later, communities in the South are embracing the dark chapters of their past with hopes of luring tourism dollars. VOA's Chris Simkins reports.
Video

Video Deep Under Antarctic Ice Sheet, Life!

With the end of summer in the Southern hemisphere, the Antarctic research season is over. Scientists from Northern Illinois University are back in their laboratory after a 3-month expedition on the Ross Ice Shelf, the world’s largest floating ice sheet. As VOA’s Rosanne Skirble reports, they hope to find clues to explain the dynamics of the rapidly melting ice and its impact on sea level rise.
Video

Video Lao Dam Project Runs Into Opposition

A Lao dam project on a section of the Mekong River is drawing opposition from local fishermen, international environmental groups and neighboring countries. VOA's Say Mony visited the region to investigate the concerns. Colin Lovett narrates.

All About America

Circumventing Censorship

An Internet Primer for Healthy Web Habits

As surveillance and censoring technologies advance, so, too, do new tools for your computer or mobile device that help protect your privacy and break through Internet censorship.
More