Over several decades, Africa has become a land of talk and not of action, and this has greatly militated against Africa’s progress. As the years go by, the problem is becoming more intractable and if nothing is done now to reverse the lack of implementation on the continent, sustainable development cannot be achieved.
According to Prof Emmanuel Nnadozie, the Executive Secretary of the Harare-headquartered Africa Capacity Building Foundation (ACBF), “the problem with Africa’s slow progress is not that Africa does not know ‘what’ to do, rather it lies in not knowing ‘how’ to do it.”
Speaking at the 6th Africa Think Tanks Summit held in Nairobi, Kenya, recently, the ACBF Executive Secretary, who has made solving Africa’s implementation challenges one of his pet projects, again beat the drums of the lack of implementation to alert the continent to the danger of tarrying.
In a rousing opening speech to the Summit, which was held under the theme, “Tackling Implementation Challenges for Africa’s Sustainable Development”, Prof Nnadozie reminded the audience that for several decades, Africa’s major challenge has been the lack of capacity to implement policies.
Therefore, the 6th Africa Think Tank Summit organised by the ACBF, the African Union’s specialised agency for capacity development, could not have come at a better time as many countries are making efforts to ratify the African Continental Free Trade Area (AfCFTA) which is to be formally launched in July this year in Niger.
In early April, the AfCFTA received the mandatory 22 ratifications (after Gambia ratified it) and is now ready for implementation. However, important agreements such as the AfCFTA will not take off in Africa if the implementation challenges being faced at national, regional and continental levels are not addressed.
Prof Nnadozie cited the ACBF 2013 report, The Digest of OAU-AU Treaties, Conventions and Agreement 1963 to 2014, which showed that about 42 treaties and agreements were signed by the OAU and its successor the AU, but only 25 had been ratified by 2014, and worse, with little implementation on any of them.
Again, from 2002 to 2018, the AU signed 51 treaties and agreements but a good 31 of them (60.8%) are yet to be ratified for implementation.
This led Prof Nnadozie to ask: “Why is it that the continent has lagged to put all these good treaties into action?”. He recalled statistics from a 2017 Report on Capacity Imperatives for Science, Technology and Innovation (STI), and pointed out that “for the 44 African countries surveyed in the Report, 89% had a Strategy for STI or the promotion of STI as part of their National Development Plan. However, such efforts are yet to translate into concrete STI results.
He said “despite the existence of STI strategies in most African countries, the status of Africa’s STI capacity on a global scale is still low, with low innovation, low network readiness, low technological readiness, shortage of science researchers, few scientific publications, and low enrolments at universities in STI subjects.
“In 2015, out of 141 countries surveyed on the Global Innovation Index, only 12 African countries were among the world’s top 100 innovation achievers. Of the 31 countries surveyed in sub-Saharan Africa, 30 were in the bottom of the Network Readiness Index comprising 141 countries.”
Yet, it is not that African countries have no strategies or plans for STI. Indeed, the AU even has a “Science, Technology and Innovation Strategy for Africa (STISA-2024) at continental level, and there are other existing strategies at regional level, but implementation has been the key challenge.
The question therefore is why have all these well-crafted plans and visions not successfully implemented? Even more importantly, how can Africa avoid this to be the case for the AU Agenda 2063 and the UN Agenda 2030?
Explaining why the implementation challenges are becoming intractable, Prof Nnadozie said: “At national level, implementation challenges can be associated with the insufficient operational capacity for managing the development process. At regional level, there is slow implementation with most Regional Economic Communities (RECs) that are facing problems forming or implementing free trade area arrangements.
“At continental level, implementation challenges can be, among other factors, attributed to the lack of sustainable financing, with a majority of funding coming from donors, thus limiting the continent’s ability to carry out its reforms and programmes.”
As part of the solution, the ACBF Executive Secretary said the following six things were needed: (1) Getting the policies and programmes right; (2) creating an enabling environment; (3) having a transformative leadership at all levels and across sectors; (4) ensuring accountability and transparency; (5) making critical financial and non-financial investments, including soft capacities; and (6) taking concrete actions.
Going forward, Prof Nnadozie said: “Given the policy developments in Africa and all the questions raised on why implementation is slow, the several hundreds of think tanks in Africa can and should play a critical role as organisations designed for, and capable of, long-term thinking and reflection; and be proactive to provide the required practical intellectual insights for Africa to tackle its implementation challenges.”
To support this laudable venture, the Executive Secretary pledged that ACBF, through its five-year strategy, “will position itself to become a constructive partner in promoting policy implementation and transformation, with strategic engagement along the entire policy value chain. It will do so with its member states and with existing and emerging think tanks.”
In 2014, the ACBF, having created and funded most of the think tanks on the continent over the last 20 years, started the Africa Think Tank Summit, with the maiden edition being held in South Africa.
The Summit has since grown to become a high-level and well-attended annual event organised by the ACBF and its partners, where African think tanks share knowledge and experiences on what works and what does not, around critical development issues facing the continent.
The Summit has also become an important platform for sharing knowledge and good practices while defining solutions on how to make sure that African think tanks play their role in supporting the continent’s socio-economic transformation.
At the 6th edition held in Nairobi recently, Prof Nnadozie made a stirring call to African governments and development partners to continue supporting the think tanks through a coordinated approach so that they could better support African countries and provide home-grown solutions to the continent’s development problems.
Prof Nnadozie said the African think tanks faced challenges, key among them is their sustainability. Think tanks in many countries have not attracted the expected support from African governments and the private sector and this needs to be addressed.
“We at ACBF are committed to making African think tanks strategic intellectual partners and reliable institutions in the provision of home-grown solutions to tackling the implementation challenges for Africa’s sustainable development,” the Executive Secretary said, adding that “for think tanks to better play their role, special attention needs to be given to building their long-term capacities and supporting them to remain independent in setting their research agenda in support of the socio-economic transformation of the continent.
“This is best done through a coordinated approach if their needs are to be effectively addressed so they can contribute optimally to the continent’s transformation needs.
“Hence I call upon all continental key stakeholders and African governments to provide the necessary political and financial support toward ACBF and the African Union Commission to coordinate and work with the think tanks on the proposed initiatives and strategies aimed at tackling the policy implementation challenges in Africa.”
“It is my wish that a year from now, when we gather for our seventh summit, the think tanks present here will bring success stories on how they have influenced implementation of policies and programmes in their countries.”
Speaking at the same event, Prof. Kevin Chika Urama, a Senior Director of the African Development Institute (ADI), part of the African Development Bank (AfDB) Group, supported Prof Nnadozie’s call for help for the African think tanks, saying a review of a number of African think tanks suggests that the lack of financial solvency is a major driver for the lack of implementation capacity of the think tanks, and by extension, of the continent as a whole.
“In fact, the Think Tanks and Civil Society Program based at the University of Pennsylvania (USA) estimates that about 60% of think tanks in Africa are highly vulnerable with a serious risk of disappearing as a result of unstable funding, staff turnover, and brain drain,” Prof Urama said.
He therefore called on African governments to pay particular attention to the funding challenges faced by African think tanks as they hold the responsibility to provide thought leadership for inclusive and sustainable development of the continent.
“No one else can do this for Africa, because development cannot be externally driven,” Prof Urama argued. “The investments by our development partners can only support the development processes, policies and programmes put together by Africans and the respective member countries.
“Let us stand together to build capacity for the Africa we want. Let us ‘Think Africa, ‘Thank Africa’ and rapidly scale inclusive growth in Africa without which the global sustainable development goals will not be achieved,” Prof Urama added.