African voices in policy analysis

I’ve been thinking a lot recently about how important it is for African governments and aid agencies to listen to their citizens, and view them as valid producers of knowledge about development.  This is clearly not a new insight.  And yet a lot of what passes for “listening” within the democratic sphere or by development agencies is limited and stylized, from the high-level data provided by national vote counts or Afrobarometer polls to the context-specific practice of participatory development projects, where the perspective shared matters for that project and nothing else.  Furthermore, African scholars and policymakers are generally not well-represented among the think tanks which guide development policy, or within the aid agencies that control funding flows.  (There’s a real shortage of funding for tertiary education within Africa as well as study abroad, which is probably the underlying problem, but there are still plenty of African scholars who could have more exposure.)

On the academic side of policy analysis, some of the best sources I’ve found are African think tanks. A representative sampling:

The African Women’s Development Fund maintains a list of experts in a variety of thematic areas.  Internationally, the Brookings Institute’s Africa Growth Initiative is run by three African scholars, and the Wilson Center offers an occasional Southern Voices program, which features monthly policy analysis pieces by African scholars.  Jonathan Bhalla has pointed my attention to Africa Research Institute’s Policy Voices series.  The Social Science Research Council also runs a site called Kujenga Amani (“to build peace” in Swahili) featuring essays by African analysts.

One of the main avenues for citizen engagement with African politics and development is radio, since it’s accessible in places where poor infrastructure or illiteracy hinder the reach of print media.  I don’t have any specific recommendations here, but if any readers have stations they’d like to recommend, it would be great to hear about them.  GlobalVoices also aims to capture citizen media stories about sub-Saharan Africa.  The Mail & Guardian’s Voices of Africa series also sources stories from around the continent, although they tend to be more focused on social issues and less political.

Finally, there’s some really exciting work going on among diaspora networks.  While not aimed at policy analysis per se, Africans in the Diaspora is working to engage Africans abroad with development at home, and providing funding and training to domestic NGOs.  The Diaspora African Women’s Network also looks like a great resource, with articles like this one on how diaspora organizations can influence the global development debate.

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