The IMANI Center for Policy & Education was founded in 2004 in Ghana and is already one of the top think tanks in Africa. The University of Pennsylvania’s Think Tanks and Civil Societies Program ranks it the eighth best think tank in sub-Saharan Africa (tops in Ghana), the 10th best think tank with an annual operating budget under $5 million, and 25th in think tanks with the most innovative policy ideas/proposals. We asked IMANI Founder and President Franklin Cudjoe a few questions about IMANI’s work:
InsiderOnline: When you first started up the IMANI Center for Policy & Education, how challenging was it to get policymakers to listen to your ideas?
Franklin Cudjoe: Very challenging. Getting noticed by policy makers happens when the media gives you a platform. Incidentally our media at the time could only help after a good run of publication of policy opinions. Another factor was the dominance of our competitors in the media space. Today IMANI’s “competitors” in Ghana are on average more than four times older, with extensive networks across governmental and corporate circles, and thus a pedigree borne of the privilege that such access endows. It is therefore quite fascinating that IMANI is frequently cited as being in the same league as the most prestigious of these institutions. Since May 2008, our media metrics have consistently shown IMANI to be number one among Ghanaian institutions for “web presence” and number two when it comes to citations in the print press. Its profile in the broadcast media has also improved dramatically in recent times.
IO: Nine years later, the Center, with only six full-time employees, is already ranked as one of the most influential think tanks in Africa. How did you manage to build the Center’s reputation so quickly?
FC: We knew we were not well endowed financially, so we focused on building expertise in designing specific and rigorous tools in applying free-market solutions to an array of complex social problems. Crisp, clear, compelling data—or what we also call evidence-based advocacy—we thought was the most useful tool to provide to any media outlet; and it’s easy for the media to use without interpretation.
IO: What are the three most important problems that Ghana needs to fix?
FC: 1. The presidency is too powerful. It has become the strategic hub for policy planning from a financial and technical point of view. Political accountability resides in the executive, and that is enough. For most strategic projects, the requisite expertise may be spread across multiple ministries, departments, and agencies. The Cabinet Office with professional staffers rather than political appointees should be strengthened and given powers that allow it to coordinate expertise across the civil service.
2. Education prospects have weakened: The Ghana Education Reform Project has now run for five years, but not without disruption. The change of government at the turn of 2009 saw the duration of the secondary education program reversed from four years to three years. Apart from this action no significant work has been done to review the trajectory of the reform. A good example of the dysfunction is the distribution of free computer hardware without a corresponding effort to develop and disseminate even more vital software learning tools and content.
3. Wasteful projects continue: Even though we all applauded the decision to go biometric in the 2012 election, every objective observer knew we have already collected biometric details of citizens for the following purposes: national passports, the e-Zwich payments platform, and the national identification system. It has been proposed that we do the same for voter ID cards, drivers’ licences, and National Health Insurance Scheme cards. A harmonised system means you may be able to use one card for multiple systems. We believe we can save $250 million harmonising these biometric ID systems.