Africa "peer review" governance plan moving slowly
SOWETO, South Africa (Reuters) - Africa's plan to open governments to closer scrutiny and make them more accountable is moving slowly due to a manpower shortage and a reluctance to punish countries that do not conform, analysts said on Thursday.
As South Africa launched its draft self-assessment on Thursday, joining Rwanda, Kenya and Ghana, it was increasingly clear that basic problems such as crime, unemployment, graft and poor financial management were dogging the continental project.
The African Peer Review Mechanism (APRM) -- under which governments rate each other's economic performance and advise on how to improve -- is a core project of the New Partnership for Africa's Development (NEPAD), the 53-member African Union's (AU) homegrown economic recovery plan.
The APRM has won acclaim from G8 wealthy nations which have pledged support for well-run countries. But it has strong critics in Africa who say it is being implemented too slowly and too gingerly to force real change in poorly-run countries.
Analysts say countries like Mauritius and Botswana, where corruption is low and public finances are well managed, were eager to embrace peer review but nations like Zimbabwe and Swaziland, which rights groups accuse of trampling on civil liberties, gave it a wide berth.
"The biggest failure of the peer review mechanism is that there are no sanctions for leaders who fail to fulfil the agreed set of values because it is voluntary," said economics professor Chileshe Mulenga of Lusaka's Institute for Economic and Social Research.
NO RECORD OF DEMOCRATIC PRACTISE
Analysts also say countries that wield power in the AU such as Congo Republic, where the current AU chair comes from, or longtime AU heavyweight Libya, have little or no record of good democratic practise and the APRM is not pushing them to change.
"You've to move from a talking shop mentality, presenting candid reports that you then immediately shelve. You need to deal with issues of human rights with a view to correcting them," said University of Zambia professor Bennett Siamwiza.
Other analysts said despite the APRM's emphasis on rule of law and transparency, governments were lagging on the key task of figuring out ways to improve intra-African trade.
"There should be a link but it is not there yet partly because of capacity problems and also because African governments have not internalised in their systems the international trading system," said Professor Gerhard Erasmus of the Trade Law Centre at the University of Stellenbosch.
Some 26 countries -- including Angola and Nigeria where international investors have previously complained of corruption -- have requested to be reviewed although others, such as Namibia, have suggested the APRM may not be worth it.
Even in South Africa, the continent's economic powerhouse and the main political driver behind NEPAD, problems are mounting.
In Soweto on Thursday, the government, charities, rights groups and think-tanks met to discuss South Africa's APRM self-assessment -- and a draft report showing that violent crime, graft, and the country's indirect, proportional representation electoral system were of concern.
The report said many South Africans were concerned that the party list system "stifles dissent and ensures accountability to parties rather than citizens" -- a rare poor mark for a country widely seen as the continent's leading democracy.