Thandika Mkandawire (1940-2020)
Development Economist, Pan-Africanist and Mentor
Thandika Mkandawire, who passed away in Stockholm on 27th March 2020, was one of the most significant economists of Africa’s development. He served on the Editorial Advisory Boards of several journals including Feminist Economics. A heterodox economist who combined disciplinary rigor with an admirable commitment to inter-disciplinary scholarship and produced a critically important body of work that had cross disciplinary appeal. Thandika wrote and spoke with compelling lucidity and fluidity on important questions such as Africa’s development, Africa’s structural adjustment experience, developmental states in Africa and the developmental potential of transformative social policy. He debunked facile and ahistorical explanations of the trajectories of African economies and challenged in turn the Afro-pessimism and Afro-optimism underpinning both the academic and popular literature on Africa.
Thandika was Professor at Stockholm’s Institute for Future Studies and the first Chair of African Development at the London School of Economics. Before taking up these positions, he was Executive Secretary of the Council for the Development of Social Science Research in Africa (CODESRIA) between 1986-1996 and Executive Director of UNRISD (1998-2009), two organisations that thrived under his leadership in terms of research output, vibrancy of research communities, reputation and influence. In these capacities, he gave unstinting strategic, intellectual and practical support to feminist scholarship. CODESRIA organised a historic meeting on Engendering African Social Sciences which resulted in several initiatives to attract more women scholars and institutionalise feminist scholarship in CODESRIA. It was also during his time that UNRISD produced some of its most important research and publications on gender relations and women’s lives under the leadership of Shahra Razavi. Thandika was gregarious, engaging, warm, extremely generous with his time and a raconteur par excellence. He is survived and mourned by his partner Kaarina Klint, his sons Andre and Joshua, his grandchildren, his families in Malawi, Zimbabwe and Sweden, his numerous friends around the world and the generations of African scholars he mentored and inspired.