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The imperative for establishing a think-tank in Tigrai

By Tsegai Berhane (PhD) Mekelle University, School of Law
Tigrai Online, October 16, 2015

Though I am quite aware that the concept of think-tank may be subject to different ideological and definitional interpretations, my use of the concept in this short article is limited to a committee of renowned academic professionals from different disciplines mandated to make a scholarly research and advise to the chief executive of our Region and his Cabinet on different policies and legal matters. Especially, on issues of good governance, rule of law, economic policy, social policy and environment policy.


Even if the history of think-tanks shows the existence of different think-tank groups in our world, the type of think tank I am having in my mind is the one which exclusively aims on scholarly policy research and that advises the executive body accordingly. In order to achieve credibility, the think-tank to be established in our Region need to be independent. Because, the seriousness with which think-tank research is taken depends on its being viewed as independent of specific political and financial interests. This is also in line with the thinking that the greater independent opinion intervenes in the policy process, the greater the chances for the democratization of decision-making. Of course, with time and learned experience this limited concept of think-tank could be broadened to include its wider understanding and application.

However, in order to address the issue loudly crying in the title of this short article—why the imperative for establishing a think-tank in Tigrai—it might be proper to ask two cardinal questions like—why establish think-tank? And why at this moment of time?

To address the questions I raised above, I would humbly try to address them below one by one. With regard to the first question—why establish think tank?—different scholars provide different answers. For instance, James G. McGann argues that "the ever-accelerating pace of communication and the immense quality of information we are bombarded with every day makes it even more difficult for policymakers and the public to gain comprehensive understanding of contemporary issue." Accordingly, he underscores that "think tanks have been increasingly required to bridge the gap between: the world of ideas and politics; raw information and relevant data; scholarly research and policy relevance; and the medium and the message." (James G. McGann, 2007) In other words, for James G. McGann, think-tank helps to promote the widely accepted motto that knowledge must be brought to bear on government decision-making process.

Hence, with regard to the first question, I believe that the establishment of a think-tank could provide policy advice and create clarity of thought to the executive branch in our Region. I am also of the opinion that establishing think-tank could provide a venue for debate, cutting through political discourses to identify the real problems, defining the questions that shape public policy, providing support for various policy alternatives against others, and broadening the range of policy options. However, I must make myself clear that I am not claiming whatever ideas the think-tank comes with is a panacea for every problem but the point I want to make is even the conflicting ideas that may circulate among the members of the think-tank could help to arm policy makers (the Regional Executive in our case) with clarity of thought and mastery of the issue of the problem at hand. The establishment of think-tank in our Region also helps the Regional Government to avoid the habit of talking and listening to itself. In other words, it helps the Regional Government to enhance its community outreach, legitimacy and its commitment for renaissance.

With regard to the second issue—why the imperative for establishing think-tank at this moment of time?—I argue that the imperative for establishing a think-tank at this moment could be attributed to the ruling party’s (EPRDF’s) openly proclaimed commitment to renaissance.

It is to be recalled that ahead of the new-year, the ruling party of Ethiopia conducted one of its vital Organizational Congresses. If my memory serves me right, it was between August 28 and 31 that the ruling party held its 10th organizational congress in Mekelle the capital city of our Region under the theme "To Live up to Peoples' Trust, Utmost Growth and Transformation.”

In my opinion this Organizational Congress was a grand and historic occasion attended by over a thousand voting and other non-voting members of the party. It really heralds a brighter new year and a journey to renaissance. The importance of the Congress was also highlighted by the EPRDF Chairman Hailemariam as:

"We are holding our 10th organizational congress at a time when we are further committed to strengthen our renaissance journey. This Congress is taking place at a historic juncture when we are preparing to launch the second Growth and Transformation Plan. While implementing GTP I, we have acquired enormous experiences from planning big to breaking the impossible mentality that in turn is instrumental in consolidating our renaissance journey. Thus, we draw practical lessons both from our successes and weaknesses.”

Indeed, EPRDF's 10th Organizational Congresses was very historic and grand but the point is what our Region (Tigrai) should do to realize this publicly proclaimed journey to renaissance. In my humble opinion, establishing a committee of renowned academic professionals from different disciplines mandated to make a scholarly research and to advise the Chief Executive of our Region and his Cabinet on different policy issues is the first step to start the journey. What is more, the establishment of this think-tank could help to address the identified weaknesses in the Congress like—corruption, chauvinism, narrow nationalism, undemocratic practices and rent-seeking.   

Finally, I would like to conclude by quoting Victor Hugo “Nothing is as powerful as an idea whose time has come.” I believe, the imperative to establish a think-tank in our Region has come and we need to give it a try.

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