The Gambia needs many think-tanks!

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New Gambia is a major turning point in the political history of the Gambia.

It opens up a fresh new page for the growth of responsive public policy development into the democratic future of the country.

Democracy thrives on ideas, and think tanks are idea banks which are built, resourced and made resourceful in the complex process of interaction of players and partners in and out of the state. Think tanks nurture public ideas and guide the framing of public policy through research and advocacy in a country at any time, and in any given political and institutional context.

In 2017, the Lauder Institute, University of Pennsylvania made an instructive survey of functioning think tanks around the world and they found out about 7000, roughly 3000 of which were located in the United States.

They reported an increasing rise the number of new public policy think tanks of different types and orientations in both Eastern and mainland Europe, Asia including China, Latin America and the Arab World, in that order, but less so in Africa.

The think tank culture comparatively is new, backward and underdeveloped in Africa, which perhaps partly links the case for Africa’s underdevelopment, behind the rest of the world, to the weakness of the ideas base of public policy frameworks in African countries in general.

The good news is that the international community has noted this, they are taking actions, and the situation is changing with the new world order of democracy and political openness blowing across Africa in the 21st century.

The Africa Capacity Building Foundation (ACBF) is spear-heading the change. They have in place an innovative and comprehensive scheme of intervention, encouraging and supporting the formation and capacity building of think tanks in Africa.

The turning point that the Gambia made in January, 2017 meant everything in the political narrative of the country, but in my view, it meant perhaps even more emphatically that public policy in the Gambia is no longer subject only to the wishes, capacities, mandates and directions of government.

The democratic dispensation of New Gambia means that the public policy goal of the country must be seen to be nurturing and guiding an environment of a free, open and equal society. This of course demands a new public policy perspective that is driven by the new public management (NPM) strategies in a public space in which the government, private business, political parties, academy, civil society and local communities all interact as partners and stakeholders in the policy base of the country.

They all have equal access to public policy, they can each hold and interpret a piece of public policy item, can relate to it in the context of their reality in the national policy framework, and they can initiate and drive an encompassing public policy process in coordination with other partners and stakeholders in the NPM system.

It meant in process that the public order of the 2017 change of government in reality demanded not only institutional reforms as in the Hon Sallah “System Change” but perhaps more critically, an aggregate of “Mentality Change” in the Public Policy Community of the country.

The so-called elite class which constitutes the human resources stock of the policy system of the country. The ones who are engaged in the business of public ideas and policy framing in the country are perhaps the most critical component in the entire policy system of the country at all levels and sectors of Gambian society.

In rhetoric the private sector is the engine of growth but Nkrumah said, I quote; “seek ye first the political kingdom” In practice he meant that it is the decisions we make in the public policy space that will oil the wheels of the engine of growth for the continued growth, stability and modernization of the country.

Look at the trend of think tank formations around the world…..does it surprise you that America, the country with the largest number and variety of think tanks in the world is also the most advanced country in the world today, economically, scientifically, technologically and militarily?

And on a linear scale, do you not see a correlation between the rising trend of think tanks and country/regional development patterns at the global level?
By Kemo Conteh