Think tanks are vital for Africa’s growth and thought process

NICHOLAS  OPOLOT

Recently, Uganda Christian University unveiled one of its first public think tanks, the Africa Policy Centre (APC). This is of great importance to this nation since think tanks such as APC serve a critical role as knowledge centres.

Today many think tanks suffer from extinction with Uganda accounting for only 27 of them across the country. Why are they dying out? Are we maximizing their full potential? Do we understand what think tanks mean to our future?

Dr.  James Magara – a leading philosopher on think tanks adds that “a national think tank is to a nation what the brain is to the body”. It forms an essential part of a nation’s thought process.

For a country to make sense of its local and global environments and respond in the most appropriate way, there must be a collective thinking centre that receives and processes information and makes strategic recommendations.

My argument is that no country should be too poor to fund its brain resources, a national think tank. Every state must invest in policy think tanks which support political leaders to elaborate a national vision, an agenda for development, and growth strategies to deliver it.

In this regard, think tanks maximize the use of a nation’s intellectual resources through the collaborative expertise of a diverse group of exceptionally talented individuals. They can be used to design, implement and monitor national development.

However, this is not the reality, African governments underutilize the available resources of think tanks and still spend billions of dollars to keep foreign expatriates on pay roll. This underscores the need to support think tanks such as APC through capacity building. It undermines their historical legacy.

The African continent has long been a centre of knowledge for generations. Many of the famed Greek philosophers like Socrates, Thales, Aristotle, and Pythagoras spent many years studying in Alexandria (North Africa), which was at the time, the largest educational centre of the world.

Basing on this legacy, the African continent is home to a rich history of higher education and knowledge creation centres. This includes the University of Al Karaoulne at Fez in Morocco founded in CE 859 as a Madrasa and identified by many as the oldest degree awarding institution in the world.

Today many think tanks continue to follow this path to transform society from ignorance and guide it to economic prosperity, that we now see in certain parts of Africa.

Think tanks provide independence of thought which is critical for Africa’s regional and national development. In the post-colonial era, all the thought process and policy formulation had been done in London, through the assimilation and association policy of the French that left Africans to thoughtlessly, implement policies fashioned from Europe.

Overtime, this has watered down the potential of local based African think tanks which provide non-biased, objective, rational and well intentioned thought through research and policy analysis based on African circumstances. In contrast, African governments continue to rely on western backed think tanks whose perceptions about Africa clearly don’t match the current development needs and expectations of the continent.

African countries should instead maximize the prudent use of their intellectual resources through fostering the use of think tanks in policymaking and planning for the future. This would accelerate Africa’s pace of development exponentially.

Think tanks give a call for clear sightedness and decisiveness so that the growing opportunities for the continent do not slip through its fingers. Think tanks play a role in elevating decision and policy making as Africa journeys further into the twenty first century.

In order to cope with the diverse effects of globalization, Africa must position its leadership strategically in connection with institutions like think tanks who have the ability to anticipate global events and adjust in a timely way as critical knowledge producers. Leaders have the responsibility of ensuring that their countries maximize the opportunities that globalization brings and mitigate its negative impact.

The writer, Opolot Nicholas L’akwang is a Research Associate and Digital Communications Manager, Pearl of Africa Strategic Leadership Centre.

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