By Patricia Huston
KAMPALA - Educators, researchers, lawyers, businesspersons, politicians and others from the United States, the United Kingdom and Uganda convened on October 25, 2017, to discuss the background, purpose and future of think tank organizations. The occasion at the Imperial Royale Hotel in downtown Kampala was the launch of Uganda Christian University’s (UCU) Africa Policy Centre (APC), a Christian-based think tank that has been germinating for the past year.
His Grace, The Most Reverend Stanley Ntagali, Archbishop of Uganda, initiated the centre with a blessing shortly after 11 a.m.
Based in the UCU School of Research and Post-Graduate Studies, the UCU-APC is one of 23 think tanks in Uganda, according to Dr. James Magara, founder of Jubilee Dental Clinics and the primary morning speaker on October 25. Quoting a Think Tank Index Report out of the University of Pennsylvania (USA), Magara said there were 6,846 think tanks worldwide in 2015 with the largest single number of 1,835 in the United States, followed by China, which had 435. The only two African countries on the top 25 list are South Africa and Kenya with 86 and 53 think tanks, respectively.
Christian Focused Think Tank
Dr. Lawrence Adams, an analyst/researcher from the United States and technical advisor/visiting professor at the UCU-APC, believes the new think tank is the only Christian-focused one in Africa. Dr. Dickson Kanakulya, a senior research fellow and primary leader of the UCU-APC, said the first 12 months have included research and communications regarding the fight against legalization of abortion in Uganda. The topic of Uganda land ownership also is being researched.
In addition to being a dentist, Dr. Magara is an author/speaker with a passion for transformational leadership, particularly for countries in Africa. During the morning of the eight-hour event on Oct. 25 and in his latest book, “Positioning Africa for the 2lst Century: The Pivotal Role of Leadership and Think Tanks,” he called for Africa to better use its intellect instead of relying on that of other countries. He applauded UCU “for taking this step forward” for Christianity and for Uganda.
“It’s important that we aren’t just ‘singing the master’s voice,’ but providing a range of options to allow decisions,” he said. Quoting Proverbs 11:14, he added, “Where there is no counsel, people fall; in the multitude of counselors, there is safety.”
History of Think Tanks
Before a group of 100 on the Imperial Royale’s fourth floor, Dr. Magara provided a history and description of think tanks. These started out to help the American military during World War II and expanded to economic and political issues in 1970s. Today, there are four main types of non-governmental think tanks: Academic, nonpartisan (like UCU’s APC); contract researchers; political; and advocacy that focus more on change and less on information.
“Nobody has eyes behind us,” he said. “With these alternative views, we get a more rounded understanding with alternative facts to augment decisions for the betterment... It is especially important to give a voice to the downtrodden.”
Julius Mucunguzi, Communications Advisor, Office of the Prime Minister, followed Dr. Magara’s remarks with his message about the need for think tanks to be strategic and “put salt in content to make sure (others) see the wisdom, basing it on evidence and fact.”
Success factors for Think Tanks
- Content/ideas/output must be mission driven – think tank leaders must understand their purpose and not depart from it;
- Message must be audience focused – don’t be so focused on ourselves that we lose sight of the people who need to understand our research and viewpoints; and
- Message must be action packed – audience needs to know what to do with our information.
“The Christian world view is based on truth and we need to make that truth known,” he said. “But we don’t (research) just to excite ourselves and stay in our comfort zones…A think tank must go beyond the Bible with reasoning and value…We need to provide evidence, fact, solid judgment and demonstration of consequences on both sides.”
Mucunguzi urged think tank leaders, including those for the new UCU-APC to “think” before acting and to provide nonpartisan information based on truth “and not on an emotional experience.” Further, he offered three specific pieces of advice to the new APC: 1) have “a certain level of independence” away from the bureaucracy of the university and church; 2) have a clean plan for funding; and 3) to be “a leadership that opens doors.”
Following the two main speakers, attendees offered opinions and advice. These included the following:
- Vision should be for the good of people and not driven by selfish interests;
- Be open to ideas from people at all educational, social and income levels and work to increase the numbers of in-depth thinkers;
- Be teachable, accountable leaders;
- Work to bridge the gap between thinkers and practitioners;
- Make sure the policy goes to the right people;
- Communicate well, including the use of graphics and charts and language that non-academics can understand;
- Include the media in your education of your message; and
- Work to be nonpartisan, showing both sides.
More than 200 men, women and schoolchildren attended the afternoon session that was welcomed by His Grace, The Most Reverend Stanley Ntagali, Archbishop of the Church of Uganda.
“We are at the critical moment when what we do is provided by those doing research,” he said. “I pray that God will bless the centre and that the centre will be a blessing.”
Can business build a better world?
Ram Gidoomal, a native of Kenya who grew up in India and now lives in the UK, served as the day’s main lecturer with his afternoon message about the need for business to think less about itself and more about its role in helping people.
Discussant was Ugandan businessman, Dr. Fred Muhumuza, who reinforced the lecturer’s point about understanding that “what happens at the bottom of the pyramid matters.” He urged participants to stop complaining about sex workers and bodaboda drivers with a single solution of banning them. Instead, leaders need a “build over ban” mentality in relationship to these less-educated Ugandans who use their money to pay school fees and “pay rent for your houses and by food that you sell.”
Additionally, he added, that if Uganda relied less on foreign imports, such as those from India and China, and worked to employ its own people more responsibly, the country’s poor might be better served.
“Beware that when there is clean up around you, you may follow,” said Muhumuza, a former economist at the Ugandan Ministry of Finance, Planning and Economic Development. “When lions move, they move out of greed. What turns business from destroyer to builder? Values.”
Other speakers, including the Guest of Honour, Prof. Maggie Kigozi, a former Executive Director Uganda Investment Authority reinforced the message of strong Christian values in business operations, quality products to build customer confidence, mentoring of youth for employment and fighting bribery.
The day was capped with a dinner honoring university leaders for their support of the APC. Plaques were presented to UCU Vice Chancellor, the Rev. Canon Dr. John Senyonyi; and Prof. Kukunda Elizabeth Bacwayo, Dean, UCU School of Research and Post-Graduate Studies.