Nepad requires African solutions

President Thabo Mbeki has repeatedly stressed the importance of establishing a credible and effective African Peer Review Mechanism to help decide which countries benefit, and to what extent, from membership of the New Partnership for Africa’s Development (Nepad). Peer review is vital to his vision for Africa.

Integration must now replace liberation as Africa’s strategic objective. Integration may also take a century or more to achieve, but the nature of this struggle will be different.

Integration cannot be forced.
There must be no wars of integration. To be legitimate and viable integration must be voluntary.

Few African states have the political capacity or resources to experiment. So helping willing states improve governance as a precondition for national and regional integration and development is Nepad’s primary mission.

The African Peer Review Mechanism (APRM), to be submitted for approval at the July 2002 inaugural summit of the African Union in Durban, is appropriately located under Nepad’s “Democracy and Political Governance Initiative (DPGI)”. This initiative is Nepad’s engine, with the APRM serving as the transmission.

The DPGI is currently only a near final draft protocol for African heads of state. It lists 12 obligations and 20 required actions that conform to well-known international standards of good governance.

Some DPGI obligations, such as that requiring Nepad countries to set “fixed terms in office” for their leaders, may not survive. But most of the DPGI is likely to be unanimously adopted. Then what?

Countries join Nepad by signing up to the DPGI. They agree to an external peer review every three years, assessing how well they are fulfilling DPGI obligations. Nepad members and aspirants will be put in one of four categories: Nepad compliant, aspiring to Nepad compliance but in need of assistance, wilfully non-compliant, and post-conflict countries requiring special reconciliation and reconstruction.

The country being reviewed must submit a report, which will be weighed against evidence submitted by other sources, including the United Nations’s Economic Commission for Africa and “country missions” of eminent Africans selected by Nepad heads of state.

Could such a process work? Wealthy countries have accepted intrusive regular peer reviews for many years under the auspices of the Organisation for Economic Cooperation and Development, but these have been primarily economic. Nepad’s DPGI addresses more politically sensitive issues. Few, even those already on Nepad’s implementing committee, meet Nepad standards of democracy and good governance.

Cynics will denigrate Nepad’s prospects and use the impossible wish lists of some Nepad enthusiasts, such as growth rates of 7% to 8% along with $64-billion of new annual foreign investment, as tests of success.

Nepad is a long shot but no one so far has come up with a better alternative. Anyone interested in the real odds should keep an eye on at least three key Nepad features.

First, Nepad is more a political process than the reiteration of commitments to meet the development targets set by the UN Millennium Assembly. Nepad is notable for its focus on political development as the precondition for sustained economic development. Reaching a new African consensus on long-term goals for the continent and how to achieve them is as important as improving health care, the environment, agriculture, trade and the like.

Second, Nepad arrives amid a growing global consensus about core values. While many countries object to United States claims to global leadership, Nepad leaders would not challenge what President George W Bush calls “the non-negotiable demands of human dignity: rule of law, limits on the power of the state, respect for women, private property, equal justice, religious tolerance”. And many are compelled to accept such demands to placate their own citizens.

Finally, Nepad will face some early tests of the peer review. These will indicate whether this experiment in building international cooperation from below can succeed. How Zimbabwe’s crisis is resolved is the most obvious test, even though Nepad defenders note that the country is not a member and will not be under the present regime.

Mbeki’s personal representative to Zimbabwe, Kgalema Motlanthe, and Nigerian President Olusegun Obasanjo’s emissary, Adebayo Adedeji, are not due to resume their mission until May 13. But they appear to have made progress.

This African engagement is consciously more collective than might be expected from so dominant a regional power as South Africa. Achieving consensus among Southern African Development Community (SADC) leaders could be, however, more influential in Zimbabwe than unilateral action. Pretoria has reasons to demonise Mugabe, as Washington does. But Nepad seeks to move Africa beyond “big man” politics.

Dispatching special envoys to press Zimbabweans to devise their own, more Nepad-compatible standards of good governance will not produce a quick solution, any more than mediating in the Democratic Republic of Congo or Burundi has done. But there are few short cuts.

African solutions for African problems must not allow Western powers to escape accountability for past wrongs or their financial responsibilities as non-African Nepad partners. If South African, Nigerian, SADC peer engagement in Zimbabwe helps restore stability and democratic practice, this will have been accomplished on essentially African terms.

Stremlau is professor, head of international relations and co- directs the Centre for Africa’s International Relations at Wits University

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