There is room for growth in Africa’s journey towards digital transformation to be exploited with investments in handling the challenges faced by African Think Tanks, among them, better funding, improved quality of research output and advanced partnerships with foreign think tanks.
The African Capacity Building Foundation (ACBF) views the think tanks, given their mandate and roles to be in pole positions to contribute significantly towards providing the solutions to some of the issues necessary to support the implementation of Africa’s digital transformation agenda.
Juliet Ehimuan, Google Director, West Africa, said in a keynote address during the 8th Africa Think Tank Summit, held virtually 9-10 December 2021, the lack of adequate resources, poor quality work output below the recognized global standards and lack of autonomy and independence, compromised the capability of Think Tanks and rendered them incapable of influencing policy in a significant magnitude.
“Think Tanks should strengthen strategic partnerships and seek long-term contracts to guarantee their funding. The production of quality work will require quality deliverables. Think Tanks will have to try to be facts-driven. They would have to take a stand on objectivity and remain true to their call,” Ms Ehimuan said in the keynote address on the role of think tanks in fostering digital transformation in Africa and enhancing their sustainability.
The Africa Think Tank Summit dedicated time to discuss the experience of think tanks all over the world in informing the public debate on digital transformation through knowledge production, sharing and advocacy as well as capacity building and knowledge utilisation to benefit consumers.
Enrique Mendizabal, Founder and Director of On Think Tanks, which advises think tanks around the world on the use of evidence-based policy-making, said think tanks were reaching audiences with new information but they were not reaching the critical policy and decision-makers.
Mendizabal said digital tools were available for improving the quality of research and communication of research findings, digitalization of financial services and digital applications to contribute to the achievement of the Sustainable Development Goals and using digitalization to improve access to justice.
“We are seeing industrialisation which is linked to digitalization. There are think tanks taking the lead and are involved in the digital transformation in various sectors including the education sector. This would require that we change the way traditional teaching is carried out,” said Mendizabal.
Mendizabal recommended international think tanks should consider implementing projects through locally registered think tanks in regions where they intend to carry out projects.
This is because the local think tanks have knowledge and expertise they could inject and their proper understanding of the political economy in the regions where they operate is crucial for project success.
The independent think tanks expert suggested a symbiotic relationship that would ensure African continental think tanks host local and regional organisations. He said research financiers should also invest in the development of digital learning. In addition to the investment in the building of intellectual capacity, think tanks should also focus attention on lower cadre management staff in organisations to ensure the sustainability of knowledge and capacity development.
Professor Jean-Christophe Boungou Bazika, Executive Director, CERAPE, Congo, said think tanks could invest in helping the government, non governmental organisations and the industry to participate in digital transformation projects, including the digital economy.
Professor Bazika said think tanks could also assist activists to improve on advocacy work towards promoting digital transformation by enhancing investment in the civil society and ensuring improved access to digital tools, including computers for non-governmental organisations and internet access.
Professor Bazika said 40 percent of non-governmental organisations in Congo did not have access to the internet and a majority of female entrepreneurs did not have basic information technology skills and were in need of further training to enable them effectively utilize these digital transformation tools.
The 8th Africa Think Tank Summit deliberated on the key lessons that could be derived from countries beyond Africa, which have effectively used these digital tools to transform their economies.
The proliferation of digital economy innovations such as ride-hailing taxi applications, the rise of shared home boarding facilities and the rise in machine learning technologies, which is a method of data analysis that automates analytical model, a branch of artificial intelligence, based on the idea that systems can learn from data and identify patterns of decision-making are gaining popularity in Africa.
However, digital transformation will still remain a far off dream for the African population. At least 300 million people still living 300 km from the nearest cable internet connection. The rate of urbanization remains low and there is limited capacity within governments to improve policy, Ehimuan noted.
Boubacar Macalou, a Malian Capacity Development Expert, said the utilisation of digital transformation tools was gaining currency in Africa through the application and utilisation of databanks which has helped to ease the difficulty in identifying people with the relevant skills to be placed in the right jobs.
Macalou said partnerships between the Civil Society Organisations and African think tanks would help to strengthen information sharing, public policy training and the sharing of the relevant information on the skills required to lead Africa towards research on the technological information.
Giving the relevant examples in Mali, Macalou said innovative Malian businesses had effectively used digital transformation strategies to grow their artisanal fishing business. Through the use of digital tools and economic intelligence, think tanks could assist local businesses to expand.
Macalou said the think tanks should work towards identifying the information gaps and to work towards setting up a fund to support digital transformation. This should become a priority for all countries.