Vol. 47 No. 2 (2022): Forthcoming Issue - On Resuscitating the Aborted National Project: A Retrospective and Prospective View (Notes from my Last Conversation with Thandika Mkandawire)
Text of the Inaugural Thandika Mkandawire Annual Memorial Lecture presented at the 3rd edition of the Social Policy in Africa Conference convened virtually from 22-24 November 2021.
First of all, let me thank my long-time friend, Professor Jimi Adesina, for inviting me to give this inaugural address. It is a tall order to try to give a talk on the intellectual contributions of Thandika Mkandawire to the social sciences. He covered so many timely and important topics in the field of development; his work was too cumulative and exhaustive for me to be able to summarise and discuss them in the time allotted to me.
I also want to thank Professor Jimi Adesina for carrying the ‘transformative social policy’ torch – a topic so close to the heart of our late colleague, Professor Thandika Mkandawire. This is a topic that Thandika theorised deeply and he subsequently built one of the most successful research programmes during his tenure as Director of UNRISD. He dedicated his time to grounding theoretically the transformative role of social policy. This particular theoretical journey into social policy came after his groundbreaking work on the harmful effects of structural adjustment programmes. While others, such as Sir Richard and his colleagues at UNICEF, had started to take a critical look into SAPs and introduced the idea of ‘Adjustment with a Human Face’, Thandika took theorising on the transformative role of
social policy to the next level once he arrived at UNRISD in 2009.
It is difficult to think of a scholar who is as driven as Thandika was on the imperatives of promoting development in Africa. Because of his lived experience and encounter with colonial rule, he was a fierce nationalist, pan-Africanist and anti-imperialist. Because of his demeanour and way of speaking, one would not suspect that he carries all these admirable labels. It was not only the radicals who always sought his wisdom and critical perspectives on any topic; but also, conservative academics and politicians who disagree with him on so many issues, and still seek his acquaintance. The more he provoked them; the more he demolishes their distorted worldview; the more they actually want to engage him in a debate. He was an amazing storyteller: he was a voracious reader and interested about everything under the sun. More importantly, he had a fine sense of humour and loved to have
a good time with friends.