COVID-19 and African think tanks: challenges, needs and solutions

10 June 2020

This year’s Africa Day, celebrated on 25 May 2020, was marked by 100 days since the first coronavirus case was reported on the continent.

Africa’s first COVID-19 case was recorded in Egypt on 14 February 2020. Since then, 54 countries have been affected, with Lesotho being the last country to report its first case on 13 May. Today, Africa has the lowest number of COVID-19 cases compared to other regions of the world. As of 25 May, Africa has reported 115,616 cases, with 3,479 deaths and 46,630 recoveries. At 100 days since the beginning of the pandemic, no single African country has reported numbers closer to the cases shown in countries such China (100,000 cases), the USA (29,468 cases), or the UK (219,183).

The encouraging performance of African countries in containing the pandemic is a result of measures taken by all countries, including lockdowns, testing of suspected cases, and contact tracing. Other measures include grounding of passenger carriers, restricting congregational meetings, disinfecting public places, providing public sanitisers, raising public awareness, closure of schools, higher learning institutions and places of worship, and working from home.

Think tanks have been at the core of continental, regional and national COVID-19 response strategies in Africa. For instance, in Cameroon, the Cameroon Policy Analysis and Research Center (CAMERCAP-PARC) has been supporting the government by providing evidence-informed analysis and policy options to inform its COVID-19 response and recovery. Similar support in terms of research, policy analysis and dialogues have been provided by think tanks in Kenya, Nigeria, Rwanda, Senegal, South Africa, Tanzania, Uganda, Zimbabwe, and many other African countries.

The first survey on the impact of COVID-19 by On Think Tanks (OTT) provides insights into how African think tanks are responding, and the support they need.

The survey results show that African think tanks that responded to the survey have reviewed their research strategy for the year to ensure its relevance to COVID-19 and the crisis. Many have already produced various knowledge products (such as policy briefs, blogs, think pieces, case studies) and organised online trainings and workshops on COVID-19 to support government efforts.

African think tanks need to be effectively assisted so they can better play their roles in providing homegrown policy solutions to COVID-19 challenges facing African countries. OTT’s first survey offered an opportunity to shed light on the type of support needed, as expressed by African think tanks.

Indeed, most of the think tanks indicated that they have been negatively affected by the pandemic. The areas affected include:

  • staff being overwhelmed and stressed,
  • funding commitments not materialising,
  • civic space being compromised, and
  • development partners’ priorities changing to short term focus on COVID-19 response.

The respondents indicated that think tanks are likely to suffer significantly, with some institutions probably having to close down or downsize during and/or after COVID-19. 

The majority of think tanks that responded to the survey said that they have not been considered by support or stimulus packages announced and/or offered by governments. At the same time, they have expressed a pressing need to ensure that they continue to provide capacity building, research, policy analysis and advocacy services to governments and key stakeholders during and after COVID-19.

Key among the needs expressed by think tanks is the availability of flexible funding to ensure that context-specific research agendas are developed, and the real challenges faced by African countries are addressed using practical and home-grown solutions.

Another need expressed by think tanks is institutional development support to strengthen virtual operations and reach and engage experts in areas that have become critical in this changed environment. This is important as most African think tanks were not prepared to work from home.

Download the report.