An internal challenge to African thinks tanks, and also similarly applicable to CSOs in the continent is the undemocratic nature of their leadership. At best inscrutably hypocritical, many of the leaders and board members of think tanks have become self-serving, justifying their stay in leadership for decades while at the same time preaching presidential term limitations for political leaders and criticising those who over stay. Africa’s political and governance problems emanate from the undemocratic and corrupt nature of African social movements. Partially attributable to donor-driven agendas, African think tanks have also become agents of external agendas, more accountable and answerable to external forces than African constituencies. The resultant effect is that think tanks are part and parcel of the problem and not necessarily more democratic than the governments they challenge. Leaders of some Africa think tanks have remained in the same position for two generations while strongly advocating regular changes of leadership among governments. In order to practice what is preached, the best starting point for think tanks in Africa would be to start with internal mechanism for continuous change of leadership within specific terms of office. Moreover, a mechanism for critical introspection through the establishment of an oversight committee that is representative of diverse groups is crucial.
African think tanks have developed during three periods of change: the end of colonialism, the end of the Cold War, and the emergence of the multi-polar international political period. The origin of think tanks in Africa goes back to the early post-independence era. The end of colonialism led to a proliferation of Pan African and national think tanks outside the political movements and beyond the struggle for independence. They filled a vacuum created due to the end of colonial capacity to produce policy alternatives. With the collapse of the communist eastern bloc, the end of the cold war also left the USA as the world’s sole super power and champion of western democratic values. With the end of the cold war came donor money and western values that led to a proliferation of civil society organisations and think tanks along with a surge in western values. The end of the Cold War also coincided with the infamous Structural Adjustment Programmes that brought development think tanks to the forefront.
With the later emergence of the multi-polar system that included the eastern bloc led by China and India, new thinking and a non-traditional development path inspired policy research focused on the achievements of the Asian tigers, namely South Korea, Taiwan, Singapore and Hong Kong. Subsequently the economic achievements of China and, to a limited extent, India, also drew interest. This has led to a discourse on the developmental state that seems to have gained credence among African think tanks and the need for them to focus on the East.
In recent years, strong economic growth on the continent has driven the establishment of African think tanks and other research organizations. As a result, in the last decade we saw the number of African think tanks increasing in number and their global competitiveness has also grown. At the same time, in some African countries, the hostility from African governments towards independent opinion makers has begun to increase. This backlash from governments against think tanks and CSOs in general is partially attributable to the rise of developmental state and governments claiming some of the legitimacy they have lost during the post colonial and cold war time due to structural adjustment and deliberate attacks on the place of the state in society. This hostility is another factor inhibiting factor to the development of think tanks. http://www.iarethiopia.org/sites/default/files/publications/Mehari%20Paper.docx