Capital Ethiopia Newspaper

Africa think tank aims to progress continent by maintaining identity

An Africa-wide think tank based on Mandela’s philosophies seeks to demystify the continent’s development conundrums by focusing on African heritages and maintaining African identity,

Michelle Ndiyae, Managing Director of the group said.           
The Mandela Institute for Development Studies (MINDS) wants to first bring about a new generation of African leaders with “self affirmation” and “decolonize our minds” to achieve sustainable development of the continent, Ndiyae said Tuesday in an interview in Addis Ababa.
MINDS aims to address the short, medium, and long-term development challenges of Africa in a “holistic and comprehensive manner” and always with the African heritage as a point of reference, according to the organization’s publications.
It emerged out of the realization that development efforts in Africa have failed to meet expectations with respect to social, institutional and economic outcomes in comparison to other regions of the world. And the failures are because the development strategies have mostly tended to ignore African heritages and identity, where countries in the continent simply duplicate and implement policies crafted by someone else somewhere else.
“The central hypothesis in setting up MINDS is that effective and sustainable development can only be achieved if development policies and practices are founded on the cultural heritage, value systems, knowledge systems and institutions of the people who are the subjects or beneficiaries of the development programmes,” reads a document issued at the group’s first dialogue forum early last week.    
The think tank held its maiden dialogue in Addis Ababa, from 17 to 18 April 2012 with the main topic of discussion being “In a World and an Africa that is changing fast and fundamentally, how can Africa best prepare its leaders of tomorrow?”
Prepare leaders of tomorrow indeed, because such breeds of leaders are in short supply in today’s Africa, critics argue. But, Ndiyae believes some of the current African leaders qualify to MINDS’ standards though she declined to name any of them. Instead, she referred to the Asian countries of Korea, Japan and China as the best examples.
“Look at the Asian countries, they are so modern but deep in their cultures. That is why they are where they are today,” she told journalists while in Addis for the two-day dialogue held at Radisson Blu Hotel.           
The event targeted political leaders, civil servants, members of civil society, academia, and members of the development community.
Thabo Mbeki, former President of South Africa, said in his opening address that preparing Africa’s future leaders means making such personalities understand the past and present of the continent in an African context.
“…one of the things we have to do to prepare Africa’s leaders of tomorrow is to ensure that they have proper understanding of our present and past reality, based on our own independent analysis and assessment,” Mbeki said in his 12 pages analysis meant to answer the question contained in the theme of the dialogue.
And to the fertile grounds to “cultivate and nurture” what he referred to as “the new African” are leaders in politics, public administration, business and economics, trade unions, academia, traditional governance and the media among others, according to him. He justified his suggestion to focus on these “corpus of leaders” to solve Africa’s development mysteries by stating the same examples Ndiyae mentioned.              
“I say this inspired by what I believe are concrete examples of what can be achieved, as provided particularly by the experiences of the Meiji Restoration in Japan and China in the post-Mao Tse Tung years,” Mbeki told participants who organizers said are a carefully selected few.     
He referred to literatures on political economy including Adam Smith’s The Wealth of Nations and Karl Marx’s Das Kapital: Genesis of the Industrial Capitalist in his attempt to help the discussants formulate a scheme that can sustain the hope of current generations of Africans “for the achievement of the renaissance of theirs and our Continent”.         
MINDS hopes to continue the dialogue series to which the African Development Bank (AfDB) is a partner by regularly engaging the targeted group including opposition politicians to maintain this platform for dialogues to address Africa’s development challenges by revisiting its rich cultural heritage to shape the debate and to influence policy formulation and practices.