Africa’s development agency has tweaked its name. But is that enough to make it relevant again? Tanya Pampalone talks to Nepad Planning and Coordinating Agency (NPCA) CEO Dr Ibrahim Assane Mayaki to find out where it is headed.
There has been a lot of criticism that New Partnership for Africa’s Development (Nepad) has not achieved what it set out to — including the comments from Senegalese President Abdoulaye Wade’s last year that a lot of money had been spent on Nepad without much being done and that the problem with the agency could be compared to “a Mercedes without a good driver”. How do you respond to comments like these?
I think these criticisms could be understood in the light of the following reasons. First, Nepad’s mandate was not clearly defined, which meant that impact and output were subject to strong interpretation. The second was that interaction with the African Union Commission was not designed with clearly delineated roles. I can tell you that now, very humbly, that the Mercedes has a chauffer. We needed integration into the AU and a reorientation into key priorities.
Can you explain how the newly named NPCA is different from what was formerly known as the Nepad Secretariat?
The old structure was linked to Nepad as a programme but didn’t have a legally based mandate because it was not created by African Union structures. The consequence of that is that delivery on the ground was realised — there were a number of impacts in agriculture, science and technology and infrastructure — but the criteria to evaluate the impact of the delivery was limited by the fact that the mandate was not legally binding and precise. The new structure has been created by a decision by the heads of state of the African Union and defines very clearly what the mandate will be. And that mandate is focused on implementation.
In the last structure, we created a mentality of silos. Sectors were not successfully communicating so they were designing programmes that were independent. In each of our interventions, we were producing knowledge but in our silos, we lost that knowledge. For example, when we intervened in a gender programme, we learned about the condition of women entrepreneurs, we learned about the condition of women entrepreneurs in rural areas, about the constraints of the financial system, about the level of training in small enterprises — but it was not linked to other projects of learning. The key issue now is to build that knowledge system. There was also a lack of prioritisation, which is linked to this silos behaviour. The other problem was being demand-driven.
So it was reactionary?
Yes, you can characterise it like this. But the other problem was that the necessary coherence with the AU didn’t exist. So what you had was a competing mentality on the same scenes of interventions. Our new structure will allow us, in long term, to transform the agency into the single most important public African think-tank.
When will it finally move into a think-tank role?
We are now a sound technical arm dedicated to implementation, and in that objective we need to build capacity with all African stakeholders. Once that capacity is built, then we can shift to that think-tank role.
Why was the decision made to leave the base here in South Africa with AU structures continuing in Ethiopia?
Moving wasn’t even considered. The AU signed a host agreement with government of South Africa that gave us diplomatic status. And now we are going to move into a functional, adapted building, which is provided by the government of South Africa in the former Oracle building in Midrand. We will reassemble all the offices that we have throughout the country into one building.
Have the agency’s fundamental policies shifted since it launched?
The vision and the mission have not changed. We still use what we call the yellow book, which is Nepad’s bible, and was created by leaders like former president Thabo Mbeki. The challenges listed in that yellow book are the same as they are today. The first was the recognition that Africa’s development would be accelerated by integration, that Africa’s competitiveness would have to be built in regional markets, and third was that we needed to shift from a poverty-reduction paradigm to a growth-expansion paradigm. And the fourth was before liaising with cooperation partners, we needed an owned framework — and that framework was Nepad.
A report from the South African Council of Churches, when Nepad was initially formed, noted that — to the detriment of the continent — trade with the rest of the world accounted for 45,6% of its total economic activity. Has there been any shift in those numbers?
The way Africa is, grossly, integrated in the world economy is one of the export of raw materials. We have certain expectations in South Africa, Egypt and Tunisia. If we want to change this system we need to industrialise ourselves. We need to reorient our policies to internal markets — and we have an internal market of one billion people. This way we can provide for Africans, and shape our competitiveness. We have the cheapest labour in the world, and a strong potential in resources. Southern Africa is maybe the biggest mineral deposit in the world, and West and Central Africa have some of the biggest deposits of oil in the world.
But if we keep exporting raw materials we will be marginalised in terms of trade. When we, for example, deal with China, we need to say to the Chinese, don’t just come and take our raw materials and transform them in China. You need to help us locally transform these raw materials through an industrialisation process.
The Chinese are understanding that because more and more African leaders are conscious of the fact that you can’t use the copper companies from Zambia and send the raw material to China where it is transformed, and have locomotives built there and then these come back to work in the mines of Zambia. The Chinese see the continent as an opportunity. And this is great because most northern countries just see a list of problems.
But has trade shifted at all?
The most important indicator is an increase in intra-African trade. It has not increased significantly, but trends are better than 20 years ago. We will deal with that issue with the creation of regional markets, and a certain level of protection will support these regional markets. We are the most open and least protected continent in the world; the barriers of trade are extremely low, which is not the case with other countries. When the United States decides to give the market for military planes to Boeing while EADS is better positioned, this is clear protectionism. We know Europe is also protecting itself through formal and informal barriers, and how China is dealing with the issue.
Nepad has faced criticism since its inception for partnering with the International Monetary Fund (IMF) and embracing neo-liberal policies. How have Nepad’s policies shifted, if at all, in the past few years?
I think the criticism is understandable. We didn’t communicate enough on the content of the programme and the leftist intellectuals in Africa attacked it as a neo-liberal programme for adapting policies of the IMF. The other criticism was that Nepad was not open enough to civil society or the private sector.
But it was not right to say that it was a neo-liberal project. It was not externally imposed. And when you look at the issues of agricultural development and giving priority to small farmers, or the issue of inter-African trade and giving priority to regional markets or of pharmaceutical innovation — which said that we must innovate in the production of our own medicines — this is not a neo-liberal project.
That yellow book is not static, it has to evolve. To make it evolve we will work with key actors who were not identified initially — civil society and the private sector. For example, in our agricultural programme today, we invite farmers to participate as actors, not as just mere spectators. They tell us what their interests are and on which points they agree with our orientations. So we engage with them in a policy dialogue. We have to take this into account or it won’t be credible — otherwise we have invited them to be seated, we take a picture and there is no impact at all. On the private sector we are opening ourselves to Nepad business groups and we liaise with them in a constant manner to help us shape the right policies.
Which Nepad programmes will have strongest focus over the next five years?
Agriculture and infrastructure. But when I say that I must add that agriculture is no longer a sector. Take the example take of food security. When you launch a strategy of food security, you not only look at agriculture factors but you need to look at trade, transport and adaptation to climate change. The challenges are no longer sector challenges, there are inter-sector challenges. And in infrastructure it is the same — you need to take into account political issues, environmental issues, capacity-building issues. If you take most of our utilities, for example, our problems are intrinsic capacity, which is linked to the quality of human resources.
What programmes do you find most promising?
The programme we have in science and technology, which was launched by the African Ministerial Conference on Science and Technology, and sponsored and supported by the AU Commission. One of the key dimensions of the programme is how to use bio-technology in order improve issues related to health, agriculture and the environment. For example, a good number of countries are using genetically modified organisms (GMO). They have the right policy frameworks and the right regulatory frameworks. GMOs can be extremely useful to enhance productivity but have to be used intelligently, so we have built bio-safety networks, so that they can not only provide useful information to the governments in order to design policy frameworks, but at the same time they can pursue useful research.
Why has the African Renaissance passion, which fuelled Nepad in its early days, waned?
The expectations were very high and perceptions of results was low. So there’s a gap and we have to fill that gap. At the same time, we have to recognise one very important thing: that most initiatives launched at developmental level have failed. The only one that has subsisted is Nepad. And Nepad is being transformed today as the first development agency of the continent. It’s a precise mandate. This instrument will really help us achieve the expectations that were designed at the beginning and will help us reduce that gap between high-level expectations and a low level of result perception.
The other initiatives of development failed because they didn’t tackle the issue of implementation. They stayed floating with eternal discourses, workshops, conferences and seminars repeating the same thing but not delivering. If there is no delivery on the ground, then the perceptions of results are low. It’s evident. If we want the African Renaissance to work, it has to show that rural women in remote areas can, when they give birth, have access to a dispensary that is 5km away. We still have the highest maternal mortality in the world. It doesn’t make sense. The maternal mortality is an indicator of the dysfunctions of all health systems.
The things that have to be done are simple and clear. Farmers who produce need to have information on markets where they go to sell products and at the same time will need roads to get there. Our urban centres can’t be composed of 60% to 70% of people living under the poverty line. You can’t let them live without water and electricity because it has a direct impact on the level of education. Concrete things have to be done in terms of delivery on the ground. This is where people will judge us.