There is a renewed interest in Africa, driven by a new generation of leaders, increased government accountability, an abundance of natural resources and prospects for significant growth. Economic growth is important, but Africa’s long-term security and development will be shaped by social and demographic factors like urbanisation, an expanding labour force, and the rise of the African middle-class consumer. The fragility of many states and the persistent conflicts that fall along ethnic and tribal lines also pose significant risks.
Africa remains one of the most conflict-prone regions in the world, and strong institutions are needed to support and sustain the transformation that is underway. Think tanks can play a critical role in this process by generating ideas, taking action on key policy issues and bridging the gap between governments and civil society.
Representatives from over 35 think tanks with established track records in policy-relevant research attended the first-ever African think tank summit. Also in attendance were major donors in the region who work with these organisations. The summit explored the critical role that African think tanks can play by serving as catalysts for ideas and action on key policy issues, and bridging the gap between knowledge and policy, and governments and civil society. The summit also addressed the need for greater collaboration and knowledge sharing among African think tanks.
The need to develop a better understanding of the unique challenges that African think tanks face came under the spotlight, along with how best to build capacity and raise their visibility – both domestically and abroad – in order to attract the recognition and funding they deserve.
Participants noted that while Africa faces a unique set of policy challenges, think tanks in the region also encounter obstacles that are similar to those of their global counterparts. These shared challenges include difficulties in establishing research priorities in a rapidly changing environment; recruiting and retaining top talent given dependence on donor funding; and maintaining independence from donors and governments while still working closely with both.
The summit addressed the following questions:
- What role do think tanks have in defining public policy in Africa?
- How can think tanks best give policy advice, without being co-opted by governments and institutions?
- What is the role of private consultancies in an environment of increasing competition for funding?
- What constitutes effective media communication, and how can you own your message?
- How can think tanks move faster and connect better in a digital era?
- How can think tanks and pan-African institutions work together against censorship and government control?
The keynote speakers were:
- Prof. Achille Mbembe from the Wits Institute for Social and Economic Research, who discussed ‘Rising Africa: managing the challenges, opportunities and threats’.
- Dr Frannie Léautier, a partner in Mkoba Private Equity in Paris and former executive secretary of the African Capacity Building Foundation, who spoke on ‘Think tanks in Africa as catalysts.’
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