Calls for new national think tanks in Africa: one or many?

15 May 2013

In the last few months there have been a few calls for the formation of new national think tanks in Africa:

In Ghana:

Professor Stephen Adei, former Rector of the Ghana Institute of Management and Public Administration (GIMPA), has called for the creation of a patriotic, committed national think-tank, to be used by political leaders for the management of the country.

In Zimbabwe:

Perhaps it is about time we had independent economic think tanks who chart the way for the economy, irrespective of the political parties, in a way the Fed directs monetary policy in the US independently of sitting governments.

Both calls are encouraging as they reflect a change in the way that researchers and policymakers relate to the international development community. I’ve seen this change in Zambia where a new think tank, PMRC, was set up by the initiative of the new ruling party. Unlike the usual Aid Industry funded and promoted think tanks across Africa, PMRC is entirely focused on its own national political space. It is more concerned about the needs of Zambian policymakers than the latest hype in London or Brussels.

Prof Adei, on Ghana:

explained that any such national think-tank could give advice to political leaders instead of them relying on the Bretton Wood Institutions for directives.

He said: “The Ghanaian is capable of managing his or her own affairs but has so far done a poor job, and we must do things differently in the future”.

Tapiwa Kapurura argues that Zimbabwe:

has the brains to form rock-solid think tanks. With all these sprouting tertiary institutions and universities, there are countless ideas emerging through the public markets.

Tapiwa Kapurura’s comments are, in my view, slightly more nuanced. He argues for think tanks (in plural) and not just a large national ‘patriotic’ think tank to solve all problems. This, unfortunately, has been a model favoured by many donors keen to fund the African Brookings. Instead of encouraging several small think tanks, with low overheads and innovation, they have opted for single mammoth-like think tanks intended to ‘serve’ the government in office.

The more the merrier, I say.