why are there no think tanks here?

2 December 2010

And so here comes christmas once again. I’ll be taking a break from the blog but will be back mid January. In the meantime I leave you with the results from the survey:

21 responses:

  • 10 of you said that people in your countries do not know what a think tank is
  • 5 said that they were seen in a generally positive light
  • 4 said they were seen as nothing more than rent seekers or lobbyists
  • and 2 offered comments: “champagne socialists” and “Only a small fraction of high educated people know”

Not the greatest survey in the world but a good start, I think. Not only that, the post generated a bit of a debate on the evidence based policy in development network (ebpdn) -that you may read about here (you might have to sign up). Here is a gem from Bert Nanninga on Malawi (the emphasis is mine):

Unfortunately TT’s do not flourish well in Malawi, where I’m working 
for the past 17,5 years. I have not yet come about such intellectual 
forum so far, even though I’ve been lecturing at one of the 
Universities. I have three reasons to ponder about:

1. Intellectuals were considered to be a threat to the first 
independent government of Dr. Banda; in order to save their lives 
they found refuge overseas and -even after so many years- many still 
live in the diaspora. Others decided to stay mute and follow the 
system; they were silenced within.

2. A tradition of critical thinking was never encouraged (this 
started already under the colonial rule!), and even today the 
education system does not promote such development. The primary and 
secondary education efficiently pumps in a lot of knowledge, but at 
the same time blocks individuals to develop an independent mind. 
’Repeat what the teacher says; if you say it in your own words it is 

3. In a ‘loyalty culture’ (as opposed to a ‘truth culture’) as is the Malawian, it is more important to respect power and authority than to search for facts and causalities. What to do if your research 
identifies problems with the running of affairs by the Government of 
the day?

Advising the Government on such issues, even if done with 
great care, may be explained as an attempt to undermine the 
credibility of these authorities, which can cost you dearly. Why 
burn your fingers or stick out your neck? 
Western countries value ‘truth’ and ‘searching for causalities’ a 
lot; asking ‘why?’ is a welcome question. In a culture where 
traditionally everything is dominated by ‘power’, especially when it 
is unseen and based on secret wisdom, such searching is basically unwelcome and is counter-cultural.

Of course, we need to relate this to the issue of poverty: as long as self-sufficiency is not available, dependency on existing structures 
will limit true freedom. Universities need to be breeding places of 
TT’s, not just hubs for copying and sharing information.

This led to an interesting discussion on how to promote critical thinking in a country -but you’ll have to join the ebpdn to read about it.