Tribute to Professor Thandika Mkandawire (1940-2020)

April 15, 2020

One of Africa’s foremost development economists and icon of African unity, Professor Thandika Mkandawire passed away in Stockholm, Sweden, on 27 March 2020 after a long battle with cancer. He was laid to rest on Wednesday, 15 April 2020, in Stockholm.

Thandika was an intellectual giant who understood the importance of building a truly pan-African intellectual community and devoted all his life to building that community. Professor Thandika Mkandawire, a former Executive Secretary of the Council for the Development of Social Science Research in Africa (CODESRIA) and former Director of the United Nations Research Institute for Social Development was a prodigious scholar and highly respected voice in the global intellectual community.

He was the first person to take on the position of Chair in African Development at the London School of Economics (LSE) in addition to several other pioneering accomplishments.

Born on 10 October 1940 in Gwanda, Zimbabwe, of a Zimbabwean mother and a Malawian father, the highly celebral Mkandawire spent most of his formative years as a student in Zimbabwe, before returning to  Malawi at age 13.

As a young man Mkandawire joined the nationalist struggle for independence in Malawi. During that time, he worked as a journalist until he was exiled by Kamuzu Banda in 1965, ending up as a political refugee in Sweden. But, even in the diaspora, Professor Mkandawire continued to speak truth to power as he sustained his struggle for the emancipation of the downtrodden  not only in Malawi, but throughout Africa.

A brilliant scholar and fiery activist, Prof Thandika Mkandawire’s work include several seminal submissions in reputable academic journals.  Some of his formidable and influential book-length publications include African Voices on Structural Adjustment (Africa World Press, 1991); Our Continent, Our Futures: African Perspectives on Structural Adjustment (1991, Codesria); Between Liberalisation and Oppression: Politics and Structural Adjustment in Africa (1996, Codesria); Social Policy in Development Context (Palgrave Macmillan, 2004); African Intellectuals: Rethinking Politics, Language, Gender and Development (Zed Books, 2005).

He was expected in Dakar, in September 2019 to speak at TrustAfrica’s Conference on: Challenging Orthodoxies in Economic Thinking in Africa. Unfortunately, he was not able to make it due to health reasons.

TrustAfrica is sharing with you tributes in honour of this great pan-Africanist.

Tribute by Ebrima Sall, TrustAfrica’s Executive Director

Dear Friends, Sisters and Senior Sisters, Brothers and Senior Brothers,

Our dear Thandika Mkandawire was laid to rest this Wednesday, 15 April 2020.

As you know, he passed away in Stockholm on Friday 27th March 2020 at 4am.

We have lost a brother, a friend, a man of great integrity, and a true citizen of Africa and of the world whose commitment to social justice was total. He was an intellectual giant who understood the importance of building a truly pan African intellectual community and devoted all his life to building that community. As someone working for one of the funding institutions described him when he completed his second term as executive secretary of CODESRIA in 1996: “Thandika breathed CODESRIA”, an institution that he never ceased to believe in, defend, or support.  

For me, and for many other people, it was a blessing to have him as a mentor. He was generous with his time and knowledge, and combined maximum scientific rigour with humility and accessibility. “Social science is not for monkeys. It is for human beings”, he once told me as we were discussing the social sciences and social transformation in Africa. His contribution to the advancement of the social sciences has been highlighted in many of the wonderful tributes that have been written by people who knew and worked with, studied under, or read him. His contribution to policy debates are equally important, as more tributes will show (including a longer one that I am writing).

As fate would have it, he left us at a time when we couldn’t even bid him farewell because of the lockdowns. But that probably was the whole point: we are not supposed to bid farewell to what he represents or stood for. In that respect, he is actually not gone: he lives, and will continue to live in many of us, and in everything that can make Africa more dignified and the world fairer, more just, and better.

My deepest condolences to Kaarina, Joshua, Andre and all the Mkandawires; to the CODESRIA, UNRISD, and LSE communities; to Africa, and to you all.

A Dieu Mwalimu. Rest in Peace!

Ebrima Sall,
Executive Director 

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