The Future of Think-Tanks and Policy Advice: An African Perspective

Globally, humans are at crossroads in the 21st century. We are witnessing momentous developments across a spectrum of severe economic challenges, institutional realignments (Brexit), tumultuous climatic changes, socio-cultural and political conflicts, insecurity, terrorism, extreme inequality, poverty, social exclusions, and gender-based discriminations. In fact, the very existence of nation-states (as currently constituted) appears to be under severe pressure as challenges mount and it becomes increasingly clear that many policymakers are often overwhelmed. These policymakers lack coherent or effective responses to growing expectations and demands from increasingly aware and aggressive constituencies for jobs, salary increases, service delivery, quality of life improvements, etc. This questioning of the legitimacy of policymakers and other constituted authority often belies the objective reality of competing needs and severe budgetary limitations for problem solving. Threatened by the prospect of losing control, governments have become increasingly defensive, short-sighted, conservative, and opportunistic as they grope for answers. They have also resorted to populist postures and the use of sound bites, catchphrases and, often, contempt and cynicism directed at real and perceived opponents, including probing of dissenting thinktanks. In the process, there has been a growing shift away not only from concrete results, transparency and accountability but also, particularly, from meaningful understanding of the partnership and contributive roles of think-tanks for all societies and nations. Thus, think-tanks are being subjected increasingly to various forms of bureaucratic and regulatory restrictions aimed at controlling them and reducing or even stifling their critical voices for evidence-based policies and reforms. The net effect is that government funding sources are increasingly drying up where they existed, or out of the question where they were merely being contemplated. Those realities are despite considerable national growth in government budgets over the past few decades. These challenges have been worsened by the exponential global increase in the number of think-tanks which, expectedly, have created greater competition for available resources.