December 19, 2016

Case study

First Dialogue between African and Spanish think tanks

On 14th December 2016, Casa Africa hosted a dialogue between African and Spanish think tanks. The meeting, which followed from a similar gathering in 2015 of European and African think tanks, was intended to strengthen relationships between policy researchers, to help inform the Spanish research agenda about Africa, and to explore possible avenues of collaboration.

Watch the video of the Dialogue here:

Who joined?

Present in Gran Canaria were representatives of Casa Africa, Spanish Ministry of Foreign Affairs and Cooperation, Instituto Real Elcano, Instituto Español de Estudios Estratégicos, Africa 2.0African Studies GroupCentre d´Estudis Africans i InterculturalsUniversity of Las Palmas de Gran CanariaACCORD (South Africa), Initiative Prospective Agricole et Rurale (IPAR, Senegal), Institute of Social and Economic Studies (IESE, Mozambique), Ethiopian Development Research Institute (EDRI), and Centre Ivoirien de Recherches Economiques et Sociales (CIRES).

Common research themes

The dialogue began with a discussion on the research agenda of the think tanks present as well as the agendas of organisations not represented at the event. Interestingly, African and Spanish research centres identified a number of policy and research questions that shared a very high interest and attention.

These include:

  • Trade and regional integration: improve the understanding of constraints to regional integration and trade.
  • Achieving the SDGs by 2030 with special attention to implementation challenges and including how to bridge data gaps.
  • Youth employment, stability and demographics in Africa including questions regarding: How to build an enabling environment for entrepreneurship? How to find and mobilise funding for SMEs?
  • Productivity and employment, linked to changes in population patters, there is an interest to track what happens to wages, competitiveness, productivity, etc. Looking at small businesses and what is looking at productivity in agriculture.
  • Governance and social protection, too, which includes studies of the demographic make-up of a country and region and the effect of ageing.
  • Women empowerment: role of women in companies.
  • Human mobility and migration (including trafficking) and including the African Diaspora –more money comes from the Diaspora than from Aid agencies. How can it be used to promote inclusive growth?
  • Infrastructure –mostly on Power/Energy, looking at new innovations, for instance, mini-grids but also sustainable and green infrastructure and exploring the option for financing the necessary investment.
  • Structural transformation: from agrarian to industrial economies. Ethiopia has an ambitious 5-year programme that talks about growth and structural transformation but other African countries are also concerned with this. It includes questions about Growth -Green and Sustainable.
  • The influence of BRICS and the roles these countries play in the region’s development and in peace building and security.
  • Peace and Security, particularly, developing national infrastructures for intervention.
  • Tourism and cultural/heritage studies and its role in social and economic development
  • Other questions including:  food security, climate change, agricultural productivity, alternative resources for development

Although it appears to be a long list, most think tanks agreed on many of them and the overlap between African think tanks was very clear. The case of the West African Think Tanks Network (WATTnet), for instance, demonstrates how think tanks are coming together in the continent to harmonise their research agendas and work (and learn) together.

Common challenges

The discussion around research agendas was followed by one on Africa’s challenges.

The 2063 Aspirations of the African Union have set out a vision for the continent. To deliver this, Africa will need to develop:

  • Leadership and political commitment
  • Policy implementation
  • Capability development of the state
  • Institutional capacity for implementation –for monitoring and evaluating the impact on society and to ensure citizen participation.
  • Evidence on which policies and strategies are best
  • Evidence based policymaking capacity to draw on lessons and contextualise best practice from elsewhere.

These capabilities are crucial to address any challenge, including these which were identified by the participants:

  • Illicit money flows from the continent.
  • Absence of strong political parties with identifiable ideologies.
  • Policy dialogue – reluctance to engage with the public
  • Despite progress the absolute number of people living in poverty has increased.
  • Inequality and social injustice are growing and this is a challenge.
  • Industrial capacity
  • Education and research capacity
  • Security

But there are also several challenges that are of mutual concern for Spain and Africa:

  • Migration: African countries have yet to address youth unemployment. Unemployed and with few opportunities, the youth choose to migrate but they do so illegally and without any reliable information of what will happen.
  • Scarcity of resources, climate change, etc. is common and very relevant to  the sustainable development of both Spain and much of Africa.
  • Security agenda, not just military aspects but also illicit traffic.
  • Global economic governance.
  • Promoting investment rather than aid.
  • Trade with Europe.
  • How to build socially cohesive communities?
  • Youth and employment –are the realities of young Spaniards migrating to Latin America not similar to those of young Africans migrating to Europe?
  • Lack of transport infrastructure –e.g. to travel between Europe (Canary Islands) and Africa (but also between African countries).

Opportunities for collaboration: what next?

These challenges set-out the chance to explore possible opportunities for collaboration between the participants. To address these, they self-organised along three different topics: migration, security and inclusive growth.

The discussions in these groups first focused on defining their sector and the challenges faced across different countries in the region and in relation to Spain.

Then, they put forward short term actions that could lead to further collaboration in the middle to long term. Among the suggested actions we can highlight:

  1. Sharing the discussion of their groups and the dialogue with members of their think tanks and networks.
  2. Attempt to follow-up with fellow participants or put colleagues in touch with those with whom there may be opportunities to share lessons.
  3. Offer participants from Africa the chance to publish in Spanish think tanks’ journals and publication series.
  4. Writing brief articles for the Casa Africa blog -either individually or as a group.

These efforts are expected to offer participants a chance to keep in touch and explore possible longer term collaboration.

About the author:

Enrique Mendizabal:  Founder, On Think Tanks

Read more from: Enrique Mendizabal

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