Let’s encourage African think tanks !

A decade ago, African think tanks were not legion but the situation has now changed: today we notice a far greater interest in joining forces to find African solutions to African problems. This phenomenon is reinforced by the fact that some of Africa’s most brilliant analytical minds, having gained some experience in the international arena, are returning home to share their knowledge with their fellow citizens. That societal trend of Africans taking more control of their own economic, political and social destinies is extremely positive for Africa’s future.

As we all know, further improvements in governance, infrastructure and education are required if we want our continent to achieve a wholesome development. I am certain that think tanks can play a key role by serving as catalysts for ideas and proposing practical solutions for policy problems. They have a specific part to play: according to K.Y. Amoako (who is also former executive secretary of UNECA), “whereas academic centres focus on contributing to the body of knowledge, think tanks not only contribute to the body of knowledge, but also take from the body of knowledge to propose real solutions to busy policymakers ». Indeed, the outcomes from the leading African think tanks are often very original and practical as they look at societies in the round rather than from single aspects such as economics and politics. Besides, think tanks that are based in Africa and mainly run by Africans have shown a greater sense of the economic reality on the ground and also stand as a bigger chance of securing the ear of governments. This is why they cannot be overlooked.

When the African Capacity Building Foundation (ACBF) organized the 3rd Africa Think Tank Summit in partnership with the AUC, NEPAD and UNECA on 8-9 April under the theme “Creating a Sustainable Future for African Think Tanks in Support of the SDGs and Agenda 2063”, we made it clear that we needed strong and effective think tanks. Indeed, it is really important to change process in order for governments to ably mainstream the use of local think tanks to deliver on both Agenda 2063 and the 2030 SDG Agenda. This is why, during the Summit, regional organizations such as the AUC and NEPAD together with the ACBF and UNECA engaged member states on the importance of mainstreaming the function of think tanks at each step of development policies.

Think tanks can actually be efficient in various fields: for instance, the Africa Progress Panel (APP), chaired by Kofi Annan, promotes equitable and sustainable development for Africa. It produces annual reports (most recently on Africa’s energy and climate opportunities) and seeks to target decision-making audiences in Africa and all around the globe. Also, I deeply believe in the role of the ACET (African Center for Economic Transformation), an economic policy institute supporting Africa’s long-term growth through transformation. Their mission is to address some of the policy and institutional barriers that hampers sustained economic growth on the continent. They even take it further yet by advising governments through the implementation phase including strengthening their institutional capacities, as a ‘think and do tank’.

As a consequence, I would like to reaffirm my conviction that think tanks will remain an integral component in the quest for poverty reduction and sustainable development for some time to come. Today, governments need to be able to cleverly make use of think tanks’ academic and ground expertise, as they have a big role : as the continent works towards its new destiny, African thinkers are in charge. Those will build Africa’ sustainable future.

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