Appraising the Role of Think Tanks in Peacebuilding in Africa


Over the years, think tanks have been very instrumental in the process of peacebuilding across Africa through their programs and mechanisms. They conduct policy relevant research, understand the root causes of conflict, analyze conflict, map out solutions and make policy recommendations to policy makers and public opinion on a broad range of issues around peace, security, governance, and development. However, African think tanks face several structural challenges. These include, inter alia, inadequate funding, limited collaboration with the AU and RECs, the issue of independence, and shrinking space.

To address these, on February 8, 2023, the African Union officially launched the African Network of Think Tanks for Peace (NeTT4Peace). They launched with the objective of driving the partnership between the African research community and the African Union Department of Political Affairs Peace and Security (DPAPS) on governance, peace, and security (1).

This paper seeks to assess the contribution of think tanks to peacebuilding in Africa, as well as the challenges they face and propose evidence-based recommendations for the advancement of their work in the area of peace and security in Africa.

Overview of Peacebuilding Processes in Africa

Created in May 1963, the Organization for African Unity (OAU), was transformed into the African Union (AU) in 2002. During its 39 years of existence, the OAU established a Mechanism for Conflict Prevention, Management and Resolution in 1993 to ensure the maintenance of peace and security on the continent (2). However, due to the failure of the OAU to address the challenges of the continent, it was transformed into the African Union in 2002.

The Constitutive Act of the AU – the institutional and normative foundation of the African Union’s peacebuilding approach – had as one of its objectives as ‘promote peace, security, and stability on the continent’ (3). With new hope of dealing with the security challenges of the continent, the African Peace and Security Architecture (APSA) was established, with its main pillar being the Peace and Security Council (PSC) adopted in June 2002. It had well-defined objectives through which the peace and security of the continent would be achieved (4).

It is supported in its mandate by other structures such as the Panel of the Wise, the Continental Early Warning System (CEWS), the African Standby Force (ASF) and the Peace Fund (5). Despite its elaborate institutional setup, the AU’s ability to fully confront African challenges is hindered by inadequate logistical and financial resources, thus, its need for external support (6).

Contribution of Think Tanks to Peacebuilding in Africa

Think tanks are ‘termed as organizations that seek to influence the policy making with research, analysis and advocacy’ (7)

One major contribution of think tanks to peacebuilding is that they serve as a catalyst for ideas. Ideas that can be put into practice are crucial in a world that faces many critical issues, such as extreme poverty, armed conflict, inequality, climate change, rapid urbanization, the spread of infectious diseases, terrorism, organized crime, and the proliferation of nuclear weapons. Think tanks broker ideas, stimulate public debate, and offer creative, yet practical solutions to tackle the world’s most pressing problems (8).

In addition, they contribute to knowledge production. Think tanks conduct in-depth, evidence-based research and produce a wealth of empirical evidence, lessons learnt, findings, data and information that can be synthesized in a way that can inform policy.

Again, they help to set the policy agenda. Being the bridge between knowledge and government policies, they provide policy analysis and set the research and policy agenda by prioritizing some subjects over others and influencing policy makers to formulate policies around those subjects.

Moreover, think tanks contribute in capacity building. Think tanks assist in the generation, dissemination and application of knowledge and concepts related to policy. This is done through the organization of training workshops for civil servants, heads of organizations, the general public, and closed-door sessions with policymakers.

Challenges Faced by Think Tanks in Peacebuilding in Africa

One of the challenges faced by think tanks in Africa has been that of inadequate financial resources to sustain them. Most African think tanks do not get local funding as their funding is mostly from western and international donors. Others are dependent on corporate funding or contributions by individual stakeholders, which is often insufficient, uncertain, irregular, and unequally distributed in the think tank space (9).

Another major challenge is that of independence. The issue of funding and independence are inter-related. Due to the private nature of the funding of most think tanks, their results are biased to a varying degree. Some argue that think tanks will be inclined to promote or publish only those results which ensure the continued flow of funds from private donors. This politics of expertise is one of the reasons, why the image of think tanks is blurred (10).

One other challenge impeding African think tanks is the shrinking space. This is partly due to the fact that African governments barely support the work of think tanks. During the 6th African Think Tank Summit in 2019, the African Capacity Building Foundation Executive Secretary, Professor Emmanuel Nnadozie, complained about the lack of support from governments for African think tanks and how this causes unsustainability (11).

Africa Portal illustrates this, following the September 11 terrorist attacks on the U.S., where there was an increase in government-affiliated think tanks on national security and foreign policy in the U.S. But Africa’s responses to security issues is “closing the space for think tanks and democratic institutions to operate and affect policy. This opens the space for military approaches, para-govt activities and private security services”(12).

This lack of support could also be explained by the fact that African governments have limited resources to fund think tanks, and also because some consider think tanks as a threat to their regime.

The Way Forward

  • African governments should reduce the shrinking space for think tanks by improving the legal and administrative conditions which they need to operate properly. They need to adopt a coherent and structured policy to ensure that space for think tanks does not deteriorate further.
  • In order to address the issue of funding, nation states should provide unrestricted, periodic subvention tothink tanks, to enable them deliver policy-relevant research
  • For enhanced cooperation and coordination of think tanks, the African Union should create liaison offices between the AU, the RECs and the think tanks. This would enable a smooth exchange of information between these research institutions and policy makers.
  • Think tanks need to improve on the quality of their research and output; that would make them become more credible and influential to policy makers. Solidarity between think tanks in Africa is also of utmost importance. African think tanks should seek to complement, rather than compete with each other.
  • African think tanks should take advantage of the internet age to easily share ideas and find a platform or community to support them.

The vision of the African Union’s Agenda 2063 for “an integrated, prosperous and peaceful Africa driven by its own citizens and representing a dynamic force in the global arena,” will not be attained without the contribution of the right functioning think tanks.

Despite the many challenges they face, their work is imperative for policy formulation. In order for think tanks to better play their role, African governments need to make the political environment conducive for them to operate, while also supporting them financially.

Muriel M. Kinkoh
Research assistant, the Peace and Security division | + posts

Muriel Kinkoh is Research assistant at the Peace and Security division of the Nkafu Policy Institute. Prior to joining the Foundation, she was administrative and coordination intern at ILIAN Consulting Company Limited; supporting advocacy, peacebuilding and conflict resolution programming.

+ posts

Tazoacha Francis is the Director of Peace & Security at the Nkafu Policy Institute. His areas of expertise ranges from Peace-building, Conflict Resolution, Governance and Democracy.


  1. Can Africa become a peaceful continent when there is already widespread violence in the families? This question is asked by Austrian peace researcher Franz Jedlicka (“The forgotten peace formula”) after he examined data about child corporal punishment in the countries of the world and compared them with the Global Peace Index. So maybe it is true that a very basic step for peacebuilding is a legal ban of child corporal punishment (and domestic violence against women).



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