The Think-Tank is not dead: A response to Aicha

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By Kemo Conteh

I read her piece. She touched on many things, some of them perhaps genuine talking points in the current national dialogue such as wide spread poverty, the education system, corruption in the public service, university fees, youth development etc.. however, the Think Tank is alive.

I will agree with Aicha that the growth of the institute may be too slow in the eyes of the public but it’s not dead. I think the press in particular should share in the blame for the slow growth of the think tank. Since its launching two years ago, we have never seen any member of the press or media who came to check what the think tank was doing or whether there was any message from there they could desiccate to the public. The press is the watch-dog in the state and should not relent on informing the public on the functioning and influence of relevant and essential public institutions in our new democracy.
We should praise the coalition executive and government for introducing the idea of a Gambia National Think Tank at the very onset of New Gambia as part of the institutional architecture of government to generate public ideas and frame them into public policy system to drive reforms change and modernisation in national development within the framework and context of our Gambianness, our cultures, traditions, values and aspirations.

With The Gambia National Think Tank, we are now aware that we should in fact encourage the culture of think tanks in the other sectors of society including private businesses, civil society, political parties and other interest groups and even independent ones. All of these have their different orientations of public policy and they should try to influence policy making with ideas and direction. Public policy is too important to be left only in the hands of government in a modern democracy. Democracies thrive on ideas and the more think tanks we have that can engage in deep thinking and comprehensive analysis of the big issues of our time, the better for the country.

In 2017 Prof James Magna of the Lauder Institute Unversity of Pennsylvania carried out a Ranking of Global Ideas and estimated that there were about 7000 think tanks around the world about half of them located in North America. They found that while think tanks are fast becoming the norm in most of the progressive democracies in Asia and Latin America, the growth of the think tank industry in Africa is particularly slow. The Gambia is not so much behind many other African countries when it comes to think tanks.

It is important to note that the national think tank has nothing to do with Barrow Youth Movement. The think tank is supposed to be an ideas bank and policy research, advocacy and advisory body for the country, not a development agency. The think tank has never been asked to conduct any study on the movement and we have no data relating to the role, functions or influence of the Movement in public policy in The Gambia.

On the National Development Plan, contrary to what many believe, the Think Tank contributed very well in the preparation of the plan. We also drafted a very forward looking cyber security plan and submitted a draft communication strategy for the office of the national security adviser. We are discussing now with the Directorate of Planning at the Ministry of Finance and Economic affairs and may possibly be asked to prepare or guide the preparation of the communication strategy of the national development plan. The Think Tank does not have an office outlet as at now. The coordination committee meets as needed to discuss issues and take decisions and membership to the committee is selective but voluntary for now.

President Barrow hasn’t scrapped the think tank. The think tank is placed under Office of the President and the Vice President. There are no indications that they are not supportive of the Tank. We have submitted a draft Cabinet Paper for the consideration of government to establish the institution and provide funding for its structures, logistics and operations.
I agree with Aicha about the slow growth of The Gambia National Think Tank but I do not agree with the derogatory and rather insulting manner she blamed the authorities and officials of the institution for the perceive failure of the Think Tank. The Think Tank is still alive.