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Gov’t asked to fund local think tanks

Kampala, Uganda | THE INDEPENDENT | The government has been asked to actively fund activities of local think tanks as their dependence on foreign funders could be affecting the kind of research they do.

Think tanks are organizations staffed with experts providing advice and ideas on specific political or economic problems.

Prof Ezra Suruma, the former finance minister said the government has to come in and fund their research. He said this can be done through the creation of an independent body or panel that can distribute these funds to several think tanks such that they aren’t biased.

Suruma was on Saturday discussing the paper by James Magara, the director of Castle Think, a think tank on the importance of think tanks in the policy system in the country.

The call comes at a time when there is expected squeeze in the money that comes into the country to fund such things as research at different local think tanks. This is mainly due to COVID-19 that has hit most funding agencies and countries’ economies. These may not prioritize funding in foreign lands like Uganda.

Magara said most think tanks in Uganda depended on foreign funding and most were likely to churn out research that reflects the views of the foreign funders and not what is on the ground and what the country needs.

Think tanks make research that informs policy. They also generate knowledge that can be used for various purposes including to determine whether particular government policies are have having intended impact or not.

Prominent think tanks researching in Uganda include Makerere Institute for Social Research (MSIR), Economic Policy Research Centre (EPRC), and Advocates Coalition for Development and Environment (ACODE) among others.

Most of these get funding from donors. EPRC gets 75% funding from the government according to its leader Dr Sarah Ssewanyana.

Ssewanyana said think tanks were critical in the entire knowledge system and must be supported to do their work. She also said think tanks needed to up their communication of research so that it doesn’t gather dust when so much money has been spent to generate it.

She said a lot of institutions were seating on heaps of research that they don’t know how to communicate these studies.

Dr John Muvwawala, the Executive Director of National Planning Authority (NPA), said the government was weak at financing think tanks and on those “we like are financed” which needs to change.

He said as NPA, their role was more of a synthesizer of think tanks in the country. And that they should be able to take critical information into government policy.

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