Meet the Africans working programmes at influential US suppose tanks

This is a component 1 of a 7-part sequence

The make-up of this latest gathering, nonetheless, was historical past making: In a discipline lengthy dominated by older white males, right here was a brand new technology of African-born leaders who’re rethinking African improvement and US engagement with the continent on the nation’s main suppose tanks.

Although he couldn’t attend, the casual assembly was a dream come true for Aloysius Ordu, the director of the Africa Growth Initiative (AGI) on the Brookings Institution. Long accustomed to being one of many solely Africans within the room, Ordu out of the blue finds himself surrounded by a half-dozen diaspora thinkers who’ve taken cost of Africa programmes in Washington over the previous 18 months.

“For many, many years, it used to be just AGI that had an African,” says Ordu. “No disrespect to the middle-aged white guys in charge of Africa in all these (other) places, but for the first time now, there are many of us.”

Team Africa

The Nigerian-born Ordu is the de facto dean of the brand new group, having joined AGI in August 2020. Since then, French-Senegalese politician Rama Yade and Congolese-born Mvemba Dizolele have taken over the Africa programmes on the Atlantic Council and the Center for Strategic and International Studies (CSIS), respectively.

After shedding management on its historical past, Africa could lose management of its future if this continent doesn’t management the narrative about itself.

Over the identical interval, three others have been tapped to begin new Africa programmes from scratch: Nigerian economist Zainab Usman on the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace; Cameroon native Joseph Sany on the US Institute of Peace; and Morocco-born Intissar Fakir, who heads the brand new programme for North Africa and the Sahel on the Middle East Institute.

Together, they’re serving to reframe the US imaginative and prescient of Africa from a continent of strife to a land of alternatives.

“After losing control on its history, Africa may lose control of its future if this continent does not control the narrative about itself,” says Yade. “It’s very important to give the floor to Africans to speak about that.”

Changing of the guard

Until just lately, Africans in control of Africa programmes at Washington suppose tanks may very well be counted on one hand.

In addition to Ordu and his predecessors at Brookings, the Zambian-born Monde Muyangwa has led the Africa programme on the congressionally chartered Woodrow Wilson International Center for Scholars since 2014. Muyangwa, nonetheless, is leaving the Wilson Center to take over as the highest official for Africa on the US Agency for International Development.

The Center for Global Development (CGD) additionally has a prime African fellow, with Liberia’s former public works minister W. Gyude Moore, who joined the suppose tank as a fellow in 2018. The CGD, nonetheless, doesn’t organise its programmes by geography however as a substitute by space of focus.

And in Europe, Comfort Ero, who was born in England to Nigerian dad and mom, turned the primary Black girl to guide the Brussels-based International Crisis Group in December after greater than a decade working the suppose tank’s Africa programme.

Newfound curiosity

The new diaspora leaders credit score a confluence of occasions for Washington’s newfound curiosity in African voices. These embody the racial reckoning over police violence, Africa’s rising political and financial clout, and US competitors towards China for affect on the continent.

“In the 21st century,” says Usman, “with a lot of advocacy around representation and inclusion, perhaps having an Africa programme at a top think tank is more palatable generally if you have someone who has at least spent some time on the continent, maybe was born there or was raised there or has tangible links.”

If you aspire to be a world suppose tank, it doesn’t look good to exclude Africa…I feel there’s a realisation that this can be a fast-growing continent.

Dizolele says the think-tank world is seeing a number of the similar dynamics which might be at play within the humanitarian area, the place non-governmental organisations are determining the best way to “localise” their objective setting.

“The question is, who determines the agenda?” he says. “How do we move forward in bringing the voices of the recipients of aid into the discourse, into the decision making?”

Meanwhile, the rise of Africa itself is prompting suppose tanks to re-evaluate their areas of focus.

“If you aspire to be a global think tank, it doesn’t look good to exclude Africa,” says Fakir. “I think there is a realisation that this is a fast-growing continent. There is a lot of commercial interest. There is a lot of industrial interest, energy, minerals, all of that. So I think that’s maybe what’s driving this.”

Making an influence

The altering of the guard has broad implications for the way forward for US coverage making.

Muyangwa’s nomination is a well timed reminder of the revolving door between suppose tanks and the federal government. Likewise, Dizolele’s instant predecessor, Judd Devermont, left CSIS final 12 months to craft a US Africa coverage for the administration of President Joe Biden.

Even exterior authorities, suppose tanks may also help steer coverage making, says the Atlantic Council’s Yade.

“Foreign policy, it’s a bureaucracy. It’s heavy. It’s very tough to mobilise the whole administration to change its policy,” she says. “I think the change can come from the think tanks because they have more flexibility. And that’s why it’s so important to take this opportunity to [help] this administration reflect more the reality of the new Africa.”

AGI’s Ordu says a possible disadvantage to the out of the blue busy Africanist sphere in Washington is a proliferation of invites to African leaders and thinkers. He hopes extra coordination amongst suppose tanks may also help minimise overlap and competing occasions.

“That’s the rationale behind having us at least know what the left hand is doing and the right is doing,” he says.

…and there are critics

The development of diaspora management just isn’t with out its critics.

One supply with expertise inside each the US authorities and the suppose tank world tells The Africa Report that exterior lecturers are sometimes unfamiliar with the nuances of US politics and establishments, probably undermining suppose tanks’ effectiveness in pushing their insurance policies.

Ordu acknowledges the purpose however says it isn’t an insurmountable downside.

“I can learn that part of my job,” he says. “But [you don’t have] an understanding of dialogue in Africa because you met the finance minister of Ghana on a platform at Brookings. Do you know what the civil society conversation on the continent is about? Do you know what the youths are saying? Do you know what the women’s groups are saying? Do you know what the industrialists are saying? That, you can’t read from a book.”

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