By Duncan Mlanjira
Council for the Development of Social Science in Africa (CODESRIA) has described Malawian economist, late Thandika Mkandawire a brilliant economist and prodigious scholar whose works on African political economy challenged dominant ways of seeing the African continent on a wide range of issues.
Late Thandika, who died on Friday, March 27 in Stockholm, Sweden aged 79, was former chairman of African Development and professor of African Development at the London School of Economics and was a widely published scholar on the social sciences in Africa.
According to Wikipedia, his research focused in development theory and economic and social policy.
CODESRIA says the African political economy issues that Thandika tacked included structural adjustment and economic reform, democratic politics, neopatrimonialism and insurgent violence.
“Thandika was a very dedicated member of CODESRIA. He led the Council as its Executive Secretary from 1985 to 1996 and continued to play important roles in the life of the organization after moving on to head UNRISD and later taking on a distinguished professorship at the London School of Economics.
“From 2015-2016, he led the internal review of CODESRIA’s governance and membership whose recommendations underpin an ambitious process of reform that the Council is undertaking.”
To honour the contributions that Thandika played for Africa and the world, CODESRIA organized a conference in Lilongwe, on April 11-13, 2016 with the theme ‘Thinking African, Epistemological Issues: Celebrating the Life and Work of Thandika Mkandawire’.
“Thandika will be sorely missed by the CODESRIA community and the entire African social science community. His brilliance was matched by his humility, wit and willingness to mentor new generations of scholars.
“CODESRIA extends its sincere condolences to Thandika’s family. May his soul rest in perfect peace.”
The statement adds that CODESRIA will announce its plans for celebrating the life and ideas of Thandika in the days ahead.
Responding to this message, Victor Adetula he first met the late Professor in 1992 and the “impact he made remains with me todate”.
“Our last meeting was in June last year at the Norxic Africa Institute — a gathering of three generations of Africanist scholars in Sweden to bid farewell to Lina Soiri, who ended her tenure as the Institute Director.
“I was excited to see him and l could not resist the temptation to publicly acknowledge his presence with a joke about his generation.
“Adieu, our towering academic giant.”
Former Malawian diplomat, Ziliro Chibambo simply put it: “Thandika; the great Don of the soil. Hamba khakle Mtanami.”
While Malawian scholar Steve Sharra said “although he passed on, he will live in the hearts of all of us who loved him so much.
“He was a great scholar, mentor and friend to me. He is the one who made me move from Fukuoka to Geneva, and influenced so much on my thinking and works. My deep condolences to his family and friends.”
Charles Andrew Adimu said Thandika had a clear passion and vision for Africa and that the continent has surely lost a brain — a high professional academician.
“As an alumnus of London School of Economics, the Professor will be greatly missed.”
Rob Chakwana said: “He was an academic giant who ever lived. Malawi has lost the great son of the world. RIP Professor!”
According to his resume, Thandika was born in Malawi and then moved abroad for college education where he received his Bachelor of Arts and Master Arts degrees in Economics at Ohio State University.
He worked as a professor at the Universities of Stockholm and Zimbabwe and later served as director of CODESRIA, which is the United Nations Research Institute for Social Development and Director of the Council for the Development of Social Science Research in Africa.
Thandika was awarded honorary degrees by University of Helsinki, University of Ghana and York University.
He was Chair and Professor of African Development at the London School of Economics and Political Science. He was Olof Palme Professor for Peace with the Swedish Institute for Future Studies.
According to equinetafrica.org, an interview he had done with an international media, explored how growing up under colonialism in Zimbabwe meant that huge decisions were being made that had profound effect on one’s life.
He is is reported to have said that he saw in the experience of his father as a unionised worker on a mine and a tailor at home.
“He recounts the conversations on politics and working conditions on the mines that took place while people waited for their garments, as people tried to make sense of policies they had no contribution to,” says an article on equinetafrica.org.
“As a school student in Malawi doing his ‘O Levels’ at a time of anti-colonial struggles, he was involved in demonstrations that exposed the brutality of the police.
“After school and working on a weekly paper, his experience of being arrested exposed the facade of rule of law in a trial that he called a farce.
“His study of economics was initially to be a better journalist. Studying in Latin America he saw the hostility of Latin Americans to the USA as a ‘more naked’ form of the ‘new imperialist order’.”
The report said he went into exile from Malawi and living in Sweden, where the thinking of Amartya Sen and others exposed the deeply social and political nature of economics, while the writing of African nationalists exposed the tension between class and nation as the overriding concern, a debate he continued to post until his death.
Living in Sweden at that time provided an experience of a democratic state that could “tame the structural power of capital”, reinforcing but also moderating his “leftist inclinations”.
The interview continues to track how his life experiences and work at institutions such as CODESRIA and UNRISD influenced his thinking on developmental states and his views on strategic responses to the structural adjustment programmes in Africa.
And of the role of intelligent, capable and democratic states as the only viable instrument for development, and of social investment as a developmental tool.
He has published broadly on the social sciences in Africa and on problems of policy making, adjustment and democratization.
Thandika is a member of the editorial boards of Africa Development; Africa Review of Books; Development and Change; Global Governance; Journal of Development Studies; Journal of Human Development and Oxford Development Studies.
He is also member of Africa Review of Books, and Feminist Economics; and has recently served on the executive committees of the International Institute for Labour Studies, the Swedish NGO Fund for Human Rights, the Comparative Research Programme on Poverty (CROP) of the International Social Science Council, Care International, the Steering Committee of the UN Project on Intellectual History and the African Gender Institute.