TCS Daily

Wounded NEPAD

By Stephen Mbogo - July 16, 2004 12:00 AM

NAIROBI, Kenya -- The zealous display of patriotism by President Robert Mugabe's administration may appear to benefit thousands of landless black Zimbabweans who are now able to own a chunk of property that once belonged to someone else. Ethnic cleansing in Sudan, another show of misguided patriotism, is appeasing the Arab ruling class in Khartoum. Yet for Africa, these are wounds that will not just heal. Their consequence is vicious civil wars, as is happening in Sudan, and a tragedy for Africa's human development.

"They [African civil wars] are retrogressive, holding back the gains already made," said Ross Herbert, head of the NEPAD Governance Project at the South African Institute of International Affairs (SAIIA).

It is five years now since African leaders initiated NEPAD, which aims to re-start Africa's development process by raising capital to build new bridges, roads, hospitals and evaluate governance trends by regularly monitoring performance of political regimes. The NEPAD blueprint is meant to be a panacea for Africa's many socio-economic problems. Yet little has been achieved outside the seminar, conference, and summit rooms.

When a non-African reads and hears about what is happening in Zimbabwe, Sudan and the Democratic Republic of Congo, the questions spring up: where is NEPAD's peer review mechanism that is supposed to check on governance? Where is the African Union peacekeeping force? While most Africans hope NEPAD will offer the answers, that hope has become the initiative's main weakness because it is not an implementing agency for projects: it does not do the ground work.

Regardless of this fact, little progress has been made in contracting the private sector to undertake projects identified by NEPAD.

Moeletsi Mbeki, of Endemol, a South African media company that produces the Big Brother Africa program, said there is a need to infuse seriousness of purpose for the NEPAD to succeed. "The NEPAD office in Johannesburg is understaffed. Getting your calls answered there is a problem,"" says Mbeki.

Indeed, NEPAD has been dismissed in some quarters as a money-spinner for people interested in holding conferences and seminars in order to get the attendance allowances that go with such gatherings. This cynicism is founded on the fact that five years down the line, NEPAD has not implemented any serious program, despite it being the subject of discussion at every regional and global meeting looking at Africa's development agenda.

For instance, during the recent Africa Economic Summit in Mozambique, African leaders like Mozambican President Joaquim Chissano waxed lyrical about how NEPAD holds all the solutions to pan-African problems. What Chissano failed to mention is that his immediate neighbor to the west, Zimbabwe, is sinking fast and threatening to derail the continent's progress.

African leaders do not appear to have the political will to take on the problems afflicting their countries. They are not too keen to get involved in the affairs of other African countries despite visible evidence that these problems are retarding development not only in the specific nations, but also the continent as a whole. That is why when millions of Africans are killed or displaced from their homelands in Sudan by the Arab ruling elite, African leaders watch and wait for the Americans to react and provide money to facilitate peacekeeping activities.

"We need to address the challenge of dealing with the concept of Africa," South African President Thabo Mbeki said when he spoke at the economic summit in Mozambique. "We forget that [Africa] is 53 states, and at times there's an expectation that decisions will be reached faster."

J. Brooks Spector, a former American diplomat who served in Africa and Asia, says that the common denominator defining Africa is lack of democratic institutions. It is poor governance and not the perceived diversity that is holding the continent back. African leaders give the impression that they understand this. For instance, at the end of the Maputo economic summit, they issued a communiqué that recommended good governance as a way of fighting poverty that will eventually lead to the development of the continent.

Indeed, successive studies have pointed to how poor governance in Africa has been the catalyst for the many civil wars that have been fought in the continent in the last four decades and how such wars have eventually eroded the socio-economic status of the continent. A senior US administration official attending the just concluded G8 Summit noted that while billions of dollars have been invested in Africa, it is the one continent that will probably not meet the Millennium Development goals by 2015. This means that the developed world has not had answers to the problems facing African countries.

Nevertheless, he said the US was optimistic about the potential of NEPAD. "NEPAD is probably the first and the strongest indication of a coordinated effort on the part of Africans to be held accountable for the problems and solutions," the official added.

To counter bad governance, the architects of NEPAD came up with the African Peer Review Mechanism (APRM). "The mechanism is the most tangible manifestation out of the NEPAD process," says Stanley Subramoney of the NEPAD Business Group.

The APRM is a voluntary mechanism open to all member states of the African Union. To join, the country concerned has to sign up to the NEPAD Declaration on Democracy, Political, Economic and Corporate Governance, and agree to allow periodic peer reviews of good governance at both the political and economic levels. It is a polite way of telling errant governments that they are stepping out of line. Nineteen countries have already signed up to the APRM. Ghana will be the first to be reviewed, followed by Uganda. Lack of how to censure those nations who do not toe the democratic and economic governance line is watering down the mechanism.

In early June, African leaders meeting in Mozambique refused a request from business leaders to give the mechanism additional muscle to censure errant governments. The group expressed frustration with the "toothless" peer review system, saying business intended pushing for an additional rating mechanism to assess a country's political governance as an investment aid.

African political leaders think otherwise. President Chissano, the present AU chairman, said punishment would come when investors shy away from countries found to be lacking in good political and economic governance. He said that if investors found that in a country the tax or the judicial system was not good, "they will not come".

Herbert said there is one major flaw with the mechanism: it only looks at the existing political and economic governance systems in a specific country. It does not address the big question of why the problems happened in the first place.


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