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Thandika Mkandawire : The Nordic Africa Institute Guest of Honour 2011

In recognition of his decades’ long contribution to the advancement of knowledge production in Africa and in the world Thandika Mkandawire, Olof Palme Professor for Peace with the Institute for Future Studies in Stockholm and Professor of African Development, London School of Economics ; formerly Director of the United Nations Research Institute for Social Development (UNRISD) and Executive Secretary of the Council for the Development of Social Science Research in Africa (CODESRIA), has been appointed NAIs Guest of Honour 2011. This is the first such appointment ever and who could better deserve that than Thandika Mkandawire.

Having recently on behalf of Rhodes University of South Africa for his promotion to become a senior doctorate of Rhodes University, read through most of Thandika’s extensive scholarly production I am extremely honored to have been asked to make this presentation.

Thandika Mkandawire’s special field of activity has been “Development Economics” and/or “Political Economy”. He has published extensively from the end of 1970´s in a number of journals and books, which have been in the forefront in his field of study. He is extensively cited in the development discourse in a great number of journals and in many books in the field (423 hits on Google´s Scholar).

In his studies he has been dealing with central themes in the discourse of development in general and in Africa in particular. He has been an advocate of the counterpoint arguments to the mainstream discourse of neo-liberal economic theory (Björn Hettne 2005). He has with rigour been examining and criticising the mainstream discourse. While the mainstream discourse, for example, maintains that the different measures introduced through the structural adjustment programmes led to improved conditions for industry in the adjusting countries, Thandika shows already in his article of 1988 The Road to Crisis, Adjustment and De Industrialisation : The African Case that the measures instead led to de-industrialisation. His arguments from late 80´s and early 90´s, such as the one on de-industrialisation, became established truths in the late 90´s. Although his basic themes are mainly the same he examines the theory and practice of development from many angles and perspectives. He looks at the problem from the point of fiscal policies, industrial policies, privatization policies, domestic savings and domestic as well as external direct investments, the role of the state, the contradiction between economic and political reform and from the point of view of internal and external interventions.

At a general level, his most important contribution is that he succeeds to interrogate issues both from an economics and from a political science point of view. He integrates these two disciplines in a way very few other scholars do. Of particular importance is the way in which he questions the assumptions, which are underlying the economic theories. In his articles on the development of development economics over time he emphasises these points to an extent that it must be seen as breaking new avenues for the discipline. This is for example done by studying carefully the underlying reasons given for State Failure in the African context such as a) the dependence, b) the lack of ideology, c) the softness of the African state and its proneness to capture by special interest groups, d) lack of technical and analytical capacity, e) the changed international environment that did not permit protection of industrial policies, and f) the poor record of past performance (Thinking about the developmental states in Africa, 2001).

His major area of study in which he also possesses most knowledge is of Africa. His many years of studying Africa also give him ample knowledge of particular case studies, which he uses to support his theoretical arguments. However in the past decade he has widened his views considerably and brought in examples from both Asia and Latin America. Of particular interest are his views on what is relevant in the Asian experience for Africa where he again brings in counterpoint views to the mainstream discourse emanating mainly from World Bank financed studies. While it is now admitted that the state has played a central role in the development of Asian countries, it is suggested that replication of the Asian experience is somehow impossible for Africa (Thinking about the developmental states in Africa, 2001).

The area in which he definitely has contributed to the advancement of knowledge in the field of development economics is in the interplay between economic reform and democratization. Here he has even created a special term, which is attributed to him by all scholars in the field namely “choiceless democracies”. It was defined first time in his article in “Crisis management and the making of “choiceless democracies” in Africa in the book edited by C. Joseph in 1999.

All through his work he emphasises the role of the state. His article on “Thinking about developmental states in Africa” summarises well his arguments, which are present in most of his work. Here also, his pioneering critique of the implementation of the neo-liberal theories of the 80´s and 90´s comes to fore. He uncovers the contradictions between on the one hand decreasing the size and the duties of the state and on the other adding new demands on the state. ”Wrong diagnoses and the jaundiced view of the state have produced a number of paradoxes for neoliberal projects. Structurally adjusting an economy was a state activity that required much more capacity than was implied by simply retrenchment. Most of the measures proposed actually needed a strong state to see through the major structural changes implied by the policies” (Incentives, Governance and Capacity Development in Africa, 2002).

Mkandawire’s critique on the implementation of the neo-liberal theories has been strong and forceful. It has not been one-sided without seeing the problems on the ground and the need for major reforms. His critique is based on a deep understanding and historical knowledge of the situation in Africa and his major contribution is to point at lack of consistency and contradictions in the practical implementation of the theories (Fiscal Structure, State Contraction and Politics in Africa, 1995).

His personal experience as a fighter for democracy and Human Rights already at a young age has permeated all his writings and his engagement in these issues all through. Suffice here to mention the campaign for Academic freedom that he started and led from his position as Executive Secretary of CODESRIA [1986-1996].

In recent years he has also added a new dimension to his research and writings, by increasingly pointing at the importance of comparative studies and on using the insights and lessons for developing countries from experiences in other parts of the world including the developed countries themselves. In the recent UNRISD research on social policies this has been a major mode of work. . “…both the history and the current use of social policy in the developed countries can provide useful insights and lessons for developing countries” (Social policies in a development context : Introduction, 2004).

In conclusion there is no doubt in my mind that Thandika Mkandawire fulfils the conditions to become the first NAIs Guest of Honor. With his extensive publications over a long period of time he has made a distinguished contribution to the advancement of knowledge in development economics with particular emphasis on Africa. His writings are used as learning materials all over the world and he has through his important position in the past decade been able to engage other researchers in his field of research. His importance for engaging young scholars in particular during his years at CODESRIA should be specially emphasized. He is widely cited and his views have had impact on the discourse and policy implementation over the years. Already at CODESRIA he introduced efficient dissemination policies something he has refined during his years at UNRISD. Being a citizen of both Malawi and Sweden he has put both Africa and Sweden on the map of development research.

Lennart Wohlgemuth Guest Professor School of Global Studies Gothenburg University