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

Turkey's Controversial Reform Bill Giving Investors Jitters

Homeland security reform bill will give police new powers in search, seizure, detention and arrests, while restricting the rights of suspects, their attorneys More

Audio Slideshow In Kenyan Prison, Good Grades Are Path to Freedom

Some inmates who get high marks could see their sentences commuted to non-custodial status More

'Rumble in the Jungle' Turns 40

'The Champ' knocked Foreman out to regain crown he had lost 7 years earlier when US government accused him of draft-dodging and boxing officials revoked his license 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.
Victorious Secularists Face Challenge to Form Government in Tunisiai
X
Henry Ridgwell
October 30, 2014 11:39 PM
Official results from Tunisia show the Islamist Ennahda party has failed to win the second free election since the so-called "Arab Spring" uprising in 2011. Ennahda, which handed power to a government of technocrats pending the elections, lost out to the secular party Nidaa Tounes. Henry Ridgwell reports from London that the relatively peaceful poll offers some hope in a volatile region.
Video

Video Victorious Secularists Face Challenge to Form Government in Tunisia

Official results from Tunisia show the Islamist Ennahda party has failed to win the second free election since the so-called "Arab Spring" uprising in 2011. Ennahda, which handed power to a government of technocrats pending the elections, lost out to the secular party Nidaa Tounes. Henry Ridgwell reports from London that the relatively peaceful poll offers some hope in a volatile region.
Video

Video Africa Tells its Story Through Fashion

In Africa, Fashion Week is a riot of colors, shapes, patterns and fabrics - against the backdrop of its ongoing struggle between nature and its fast-growing urban edge. How do these ideas translate into needle and thread? VOA’s Anita Powell visited this year’s Mercedes Benz Fashion Week Africa in Johannesburg to find out.
Video

Video Smugglers Offer Cheap Passage From Turkey to Syria

Smugglers in Turkey offer a relatively cheap passage across the border into Syria. Ankara has stepped up efforts to stem the flow of foreign fighters who want to join Islamic State militants fighting for control of the Syrian border city of Kobani. But porous borders and border guards who can be bribed make illegal border crossings quite easy. Zlatica Hoke has more.
Video

Video China Political Meeting Seeks to Improve Rule of Law

China’s communist leaders will host a top level political meeting this week, called the Fourth Plenum, and for the first time in the party’s history, rule of law will be a key item on the agenda. Analysts and Chinese media reports say the meetings could see the approval of long-awaited measures aimed at giving courts more independence and include steps to enhance an already aggressive and high-reaching anti-corruption drive. VOA’s Bill Ide has more from Beijing.
Video

Video After Decades of Pressure, Luxembourg Drops Bank Secrecy Rules

European Union finance ministers have reached a breakthrough agreement that will make it more difficult for tax cheats to hide their money. The new legislation, which had been blocked for years by countries with a reputation as tax havens, was approved last week after Luxembourg and Austria agreed to lift their vetoes. But as Mil Arcega reports, it doesn’t mean tax cheats have run out of places to keep their money hidden.
Video

Video Kobani Refugees Welcome, Turkey Criticizes, US Airdrop

Residents of Kobani in northern Syria have welcomed the airdrop of weapons, ammunition and medicine to Kurdish militia who are resisting the seizure of their city by Islamic State militants. The Turkish government, however, has criticized the operation. VOA’s Scott Bobb reports from southeastern Turkey, across the border from Kobani.

All About America

AppleAndroid