Every year, the University of Pennsylvania releases a ranking of global think tanks. The report reveals that think tanks come in different flavors (autonomous and independent, quasi independent, government affiliated, quasi governmental, university affiliated, political party affiliated, corporate).

There are 8248 think tanks in the world, 612 of which are located in Sub-Saharan Africa: 4 in Angola, 17 in Benin, 13 in Botswana, 1 in Burkina Faso, 4 in Burundi, 22 in Cameroon, 2 in Cabo Verde, 2 in Central African Republic, 3 in Chad, 3 in Congo, 13 in Ivory Coast, 8 in DRC, 5 in Eritrea, 2 in Ethiopia, 2 in Gabon,  in the Gambia, 38 in Ghana, 2 in Guinea, 1 in Guinea Bissau, 56 in Kenya, 4 in Lesotho, 4 in Liberia, 4 in Madagascar, 15 in Malawi 11 in Mali, 8 in Mauritania, 10 in Mauritius, 5 in Mozambique, 16 in Namibia, 4 in Niger, 51 in Nigeria, 8 in Rwanda, 17 in Senegal, 4 in Seychelles, 2 in Sierra Leone,  in Somalia, 92 in South Africa, 8 in Sudan, 5 in Swaziland, 18 in Tanzania, 5 in Togo, 32 in Uganda 14 in Zambia and 26 in Zimbabwe.

Think Tanks in Sub-Saharan Africa punch above their weight. In fact, SSA hosts only 7.4 per cent of the total number of think tanks around the world, but it is home to 10 of the top 100 think tanks worldwide: Accord (RSA) is 30th, BIDPA (Botswana) is 43rd, the Institute for Security Studies (RSA) is 46th, the South African Institute for International Affairs (RSA) is 54th, the African Economic Research Consortium (Kenya) is 65th IMANI (Ghana) is 73rd, the Center for Democracy and Development (Ghana) is 78th the Ethiopian Development Research Insitute (Ethiopia) is 81st, the Center for Conflict Resolution (RSA) is 83rd, while the Kenyan Institute for Public Policy Research and Analysis (Kenya) is 97th.

The ranking of global NON-US think tanks seems to suggest that Accord is better than BIDPA and that IMANI (p. 57 of the above mentioned report). Yet on p.68 the above mentioned report provides a very different ranking.

ACET, which was not featured in the global ranking, comes in 4th position in SSA, Senegal’s CODESRIA which is 11th best African think tank in the global ranking comes in 5th position in the ranking for think tanks in SSA, South Africa’s SAIIA that was the fourth best African think tank in the global ranking (behind Accord, BIDPA and the International Institute for Securiy Studies) comes in 7th position in the ranking for SSA’s think tanks, IEA that was not among the 10 best African think tanks in the global ranking comes in 10th in the ranking for SSA and REPOA which was not in the top 13 African think tanks in the global ranking comes in 11th position in the ranking for SSA. The discrepancies as to how think tanks are ranked can be seen in the table below

rankings of think tanks in World (excluding US) SSA
1 Accord Bidpa
2 Bidpa Accord
3 Institute for security studies Imani
4 Saiia Acet
5 Aerc Codesria
6 imani Kippr
7 Cdd Saiia
8 Edri Edri
9 Center for conflict resolution Aerc
10 Kippra IEA
11 codesria REPOA

Now, the two rankings are so inconsistent with one another that one wonders whether one has to trust the first ranking, the second, or neither one. There is confusion as to how think tanks compare with one another between countries as well as within countries. Le’s take a closer look at South Africa and its think tanks. The global ranking tells us that the three best think tanks are, respectively, ACCORD, the Institute for Security Studies, and the South African Institute for International Affairs (while the center for conflict resolution is only the fourth best South African think tank). The SSA ranking lists ACCORD first and SAIIA second. The global ranking lists 4 South African think tanks among the top 10 think tanks in SSA, the SSA ranking only lists 2 South African think tanks among the top 10 think tanks in SSA.

It’d be great to have a good sense of which think tanks are doing a good job, which ones are great, which ones outperform the competition, and which ones have some catching up to do. But, given the discrepancies in the rankings we have just discussed, it is not terribly clear who is doing what and how well. What is clear, however, is that global report on think tanks, given how influential  is, should explain why such discrepancies can be detected and what a reader should look at to find out what are the elite think tanks in SSA.

Riccardo Pelizzo