1963-2018 - 55 years of Research for Social Change

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Reflections of an Engaged Economist: An Interview with Thandika Mkandawire

5 Dec 2019

Professor Thandika Mkandawire is a leading development economist specializing in the comparative study of Africa. His prodigious understanding of the varied history, political economy and development economics of a wide range of African countries underpins a reputation for incisive analysis of African development that reverberates through orthodox as well as heterodox economic circles. A Swedish national of Malawian origin, Thandika (as he is widely known by students and colleagues) was born in 1940 and raised in southern Africa during the late colonial period. He studied economics at Ohio State University, obtaining his BA and MA in the early 1960s, and continued his graduate studies in economics at the University of Stockholm. He was Director of the United Nations Research Institute for Social Development (UNRISD) in Geneva from 1998 to 2009.

Short abstract of the interview from the author, Kate Meagher:

KM: At the time, did you see the Swedish model as something that had possibilities for the future of African states, or was that something that came later?

TM: No, to be honest, I didn't, I was just fascinated by it. At first, it just looked too much out there, you know, it was too advanced. With the exception of Gunnar Myrdal no one had suggested that the Swedish experience could provide useful lessons for developing countries. It took me years to realize that. Ironically, it was when I came to UNRISD (in 1998) that I realized people were studying social policy with little mention of the Nordic experience. If you are interested in development and insisted on a democratic order, then you had to bring in the Nordic experience because it was there. It demanded attention, not as a model to be replicated, but as one suggesting alternative paths of development for late industrializers. I also felt that social policy in developing countries had to go beyond the ‘welfarist’ task and become more transformative or developmental

Read the full text on Development and Change.