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The daunting task of peer review in Africa


A prevailing dilemma for leaders from the Group of Eight (G8) and Africa centres on the future prospects of the much-hailed New Partnership for Africa's Development (Nepad).

Following its inception in 2001, Nepad has been envisaged by its founding members as an ambitious and comprehensive initiative from the continent. It has been designed to address the negative direction of underdevelopment and poverty, and to end the continued and deepening marginalisation of Africa in an interdependent international system.

It can be distinguished from other, failed past initiatives in the sense that it has been initiated and driven by African leaders to help promote peace, security and economic development at grassroots level, while consolidating democracy, good governance and sound economic management. For the first time African leaders have committed themselves to hold each other accountable for its implementation.

However, five years on and questions have started to surface about the effectiveness and viability of the Nepad process, reflecting both the fear and optimism surrounding the future of this initiative.

Whether Nepad will succeed in achieving its goals ultimately depends on three factors: the support of the developed states in investing in the continent; the continual commitment of African leaders to the process itself; and the continued implementation and guaranteed integrity of the African Peer Review Mechanism (APRM).

As the most important innovative component of Nepad, the APRM represents the commitment of African states to submit themselves to a peer-review process, in order to demonstrate their adherence to good corporate governance and socio-economic development, democracy and good policy governance, and good economic governance and management.

The peer-review process is seen as crucial for the successful implementation of Nepad's highly ambitious objectives. While most African countries lack an implementation mechanism that could deliver tangible results with regard to deepening poverty, political turmoil, unemployment and underdevelopment, the APRM presents itself as the only opportunity for African governments and institutions to respond by addressing these challenges.

Limitations and constraints
However, the APRM faces a daunting task to live up to its expectations, given some of the limitations that exist within the process, as well as other environmental constraints surrounding it.

In the broader context, the APRM faces serious constraints that are deemed harmful to its effectiveness, integrity and practical implementation. As an instrument voluntarily acceded to by member states of the African Union to facilitate an African self-monitoring mechanism, it lacks the authority to sanction non-compliant governments.

The effectiveness of the peer-review process largely depends on the level of persuasion that other African governments may exert on the states that are being reviewed. It is only after peer pressure and dialogue have failed by a given date that participatory governments can take appropriate measures against a non-compliant government.

Critics have pointed out that verbal condemnation in the absence of sanctions will not bring about the necessary reform needed to address governance issues in non-compliant states.

In addition, as an African self-monitoring mechanism, peer pressure and review rest solely with the African governments. The exclusion of institutions such as the International Monetary Fund, the European Union, the World Bank and the G8 has arguably prevented African governments from undertaking more punitive measures against non-compliant states, such as the withholding of donor aid and trade restrictions.

A continuous reliance on institutional capacity rather than on political will is threatening to undermine the process even further. The APRM has yet to bring an end to the solidarity existing among African leaders who have long supported each other to remain in office by rigging elections and undermining the election process.

For example, at a Commonwealth Meeting in 2002, a decision was made on behalf of the 54-nation group to suspend Zimbabwe from the Commonwealth for 12 months, following widespread electoral fraud and large-scale violence against -- and intimidation of -- opposition groups and the independent media. However, both Nigeria and South Africa, both founding members of Nepad, were bitterly opposed to the suspension.

Funding and peer review
The process is furthermore weakened by two important constraints, namely the necessary funding and an inability or unwillingness by a number of African governments to submit to a peer-review process.

With regard to the first issue, the African Peer Review Secretariat does not receive any funding from Nepad or the AU. Participatory countries are burdened with carrying the costs of peer-review processes. This presents a problem within the African context, given the high levels of debt and poverty that exist on the continent.

Secondly, more than two dozen states have yet to signal their intention to submit to a peer-review process. There are a number of reasons for this reluctance, ranging from an unwillingness to submit to international scrutiny with regard to past human rights violations and lack of good governance principles, to a lack of readiness for the process, given its magnitude and the effort required to make it a worthwhile exercise.

Aside from broader concerns surrounding the APRM, there are countless country-specific challenges that participatory governments have been grappling with during their peer-review process.

In the case of Mauritius, the country has struggled to identify an existing structure via which the various structures of its peer-review process could be managed. The Mauritian government appointed the National Economic and Social Council as the country's institution responsible for managing the structures of the APRM. Yet, the institutional framework supporting it, which had been designed to facilitate the work, was not properly conceptualised, resulting in a degree of confusion among the different stakeholders. The slow response by the government to rectify the situation has delayed the required level of readiness in the country to undergo a peer-review process.

On the other hand, implementation of the APRM in Rwanda faced a different set of challenges. These included consultation fatigue suffered by individuals who had been exposed to several consultative processes in areas ranging from HIV/Aids to corruption and sector strategies; the need to take the process to the population at large and exposing and sensitising them to the process; the lack of expertise from within the country regarding the APRM process; and logistical problems in reaching stakeholders across harsh terrain and amid poor infrastructure and a lack of roads in rural areas.

Following critical scrutiny, some critics have pointed out that the APRM process is structurally weak due to its all-encompassing nature. The fact that the process is covering a wide range of areas -- including economic, corporate and political governance, as well as democracy -- threatens to curtail the desirability for it to be more focused, while hampering its ability to deliver in the long term.

Nevertheless, the extent of its success will ultimately depend upon the resolve of African governments and civil society to submit themselves to scrutiny, while holding one other accountable for the resultant findings.

The challenge facing Africans now is to sustain the optimism and hope that surround the process by taking ownership not only of Africa's problems, but also of the continent's future as a whole.

Hany Besada is the Business in Africa researcher at the South African Institute of International Affairs

Expert opinion

Halter Marek


Halter Marek
Le College de France
Olivier Giscard dEstaing


Olivier Giscard dEstaing
COPAM, France
Mika Ohbayashi


Mika Ohbayashi
Institute for Sustainable Energy Poliy
Bill Pace


Bill Pace
World Federalist Movement - Institute for Global Policy
Peter I. Hajnal


Peter I. Hajnal
Toronto University, G8 Research Group

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