‘In 10 years, NEPAD has achieved a lot’

Ibrahim Mayaki, head of Africa’s partnership initiative
From Africa Renewal: 
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Ibrahim Assane Mayaki, CEO of the NEPAD Planning and Coordinating AgencyIbrahim Assane Mayaki, CEO of the NEPAD Planning and Coordinating Agency, during a week of events in New York in October 2011 to mark the plan’s 10th anniversary.
Photograph: Africa Renewal / John Gillespie

In July 2001, African leaders adopted the New Partnership for Africa’s Development (NEPAD), the road map for the continent’s development. The following year a resolution of the UN General Assembly supported NEPAD as the main channel for UN assistance to Africa. More recently, in January 2010, the NEPAD structures were fully integrated into the African Union as the NEPAD Planning and Coordinating Agency. Since its adoption a decade ago, how much has the plan achieved? In a frank, plain-talking interview, Ibrahim Assane Mayaki, the chief executive officer of the NEPAD Agency, responded to Africa Renewal’s André-Michel Essoungou.

Ten years after the adoption of the New Partnership for Africa’s Development (NEPAD), what is your assessment of it?

There are three major ways in which NEPAD may be assessed. First, NEPAD is the only development initiative available on an African scale. It has been with us for the past 10 years, yielding conclusive results in areas such as science, technology, agriculture and infrastructure. Ten years on, the initiative has just been relaunched with its recent integration as a development agency in the structure African Union. I am not aware of any other African initiative that has lasted this long and relied on a formal, institutionalized framework such as this one, with a mandate focusing on issues of implementation.

My second point is that NEPAD is directly responsible, from the start, for some of the most important development strategies implemented in key areas such as agriculture, with CAADP [Comprehensive Africa Agriculture Development Programme], or infrastructure, with PIDA [Programme for Infrastructure Development in Africa], areas that are also deemed to be of the utmost priority. The fact that all African countries strive to implement the rules and norms of both strategies at the level of our continent is a great achievement.

My third point, little known though eyed with envy by Europe as well as other regions, has to do with the African Peer Review Mechanism (see Interview with Amos Sawyer). This original approach is about evaluating political or economic governance in countries that are willing to be assessed. It is a unique experiment, unmatched by any other region anywhere in the world.

Still, there are many people, particularly in Africa, who wonder what NEPAD is and what use it is.

The problem is that many Africans spend too much of their time repeating what the Western media says about the continent and about us. It will take some time to ward off this colonial way of thinking. Obviously, when you watch the way Africa is treated on a major news channel like CNN, the feeling is that Africa is plagued by misery and ruled by inept and corrupt leaders who hardly give any thought to the greater public interest. Many among us Africans tend to repeat what CNN and others have to say without taking a step back and reflecting about what we just heard. We seem to wallow in a kind of self-disparagement. Nowhere else is such an attitude so widespread than on our continent.

Unfortunately, this self-disparaging attitude does have a negative impact. We cannot afford to keep on offering our children a negative image of Africa. We need to put things into perspective. A country like Rwanda has made significant progress while reducing its reliance on foreign aid. By mobilizing its own resources, Cape Verde has succeeded in becoming a middle-income country. Judging from the design and implementation of its new constitution, Kenya is now making significant progress in terms of governance. Botswana refuses to appeal for foreign aid, with many other countries following its example.

But to return to NEPAD, the plan remains an abstraction for many ordinary Africans. Why?

NEPAD remains an abstraction because people do not know what it’s achieved, since NEPAD’s achievements were not communicated. This has to do with the wider issue of public information about Africa.

If you look at one of our most recent publications reviewing NEPAD’s achievements over the last 10 years, you will note that we succeeded in the many areas I mentioned earlier, and on many other issues as well. All this is little known. We need to develop strategies to increase the awareness of our achievements in the public. It is a major challenge.

Let’s speak in practical terms about two challenges that Africa is facing at the moment: famine in the Horn of Africa, and the lack of political change, which has at times resulted in revolution, as in North Africa. What does NEPAD have to offer to face up to these challenges?

First on the issue of political change and democratization, let me say one thing: the number of countries organizing democratic elections in Africa rose sharply in the last 15 years. Also, across the continent, there are only seven countries facing very serious governance issues, out of a total of 54. But all we hear about is those seven countries with problems, not the 40 or so other countries that are better rather than worse off.

About the famine threatening the Horn of Africa and the question of food security across the continent: let us not forget that most of our countries have seen their population multiplied five times in the past 50 years. Most countries also succeeded in reaching levels of agricultural production that were unheard of 20 years ago. Obviously famine is an issue, but if you look at the 54 countries of Africa, less than a dozen countries are actually concerned by the problem.

More important still, in the last five or six years, investments in the agricultural sector are on the rise. There is still a long way to go at the political level, or in terms of resources and the way these resources are shared, or as to how producers may take part in the definition and implementation of policies. But we’re on the right track.

NEPAD's Richard MkandawireRailway line in Angola: NEPAD emphasizes building up Africa’s transport and other infrastructure links to promote trade and closer integration among African economies.
Photograph: Alamy Images / Zute Lightfoot

Upon hearing such arguments, many would be tempted to say that you’re overly optimistic. How do you respond?

I am mainly realistic. I am trying not to overdo it, but my feeling is, quite simply, that when it comes to African issues, people tend to shun the more realistic approach because of the vision of Africa that is continuously being forced down our throats.

Africa has two major advantages: it possesses the most important pool of natural resources and has the youngest population in the world. It is the continent of the future. And if we do not want Africa to play its role, the trick is to instill in the elites the idea that they are incompetent, corrupt and responsible for all the misery around. This is certainly not true.

One last question, on the ideological choices of NEPAD: many analysts have noted that it draws mainly from capitalist, even free-market tendencies. Capitalism has been a formidable tool geared towards the production of wealth. It has also generated sharp inequalities. Wealth on the one hand, poverty on the other. Is this the direction the continent is taking under NEPAD?

I have often heard these arguments, but they are not in the least justified. The impression that NEPAD is a neoliberal programme stems from the fact that, when the active minority of leaders pushed for its creation, they sought recognition from the world’s most industrialized nations, the G7 (and G8 thereafter). This resulted in some confusion in terms of public information, as many people were led to think that if NEPAD was recognized by the G8, its philosophy had to be neoliberal. Since then the suspicion and accusation have stuck, in a way.

But NEPAD is not a neoliberal project. It claims that for African agriculture to develop, regional markets should be created and, in turn, protected. This means that a number of different economic approaches are part of the project, such as protectionism. NEPAD also says that for the benefit of its own development, Africa should reintroduce planning as part of its economic policies. This is not what I would call “neoliberal” in terms of policies. I should also add that NEPAD claims that the free market has demonstrated its limits, and that it has become necessary to reinvent a development state in Africa. You will agree with me that this does not have much to do with a neoliberal approach either.

NEPAD anniversary marked in New York

Beyond the varied projects and programmes initiated across the continent under the New Partnership for Africa’s Development (NEPAD), the plan is also seeking to rebuild African countries’ capacity for “strategic thinking,” which had been seriously eroded during many years of economic decline and austerity, NEPAD CEO Ibrahim Mayaki told a high-level panel discussion in New York on 7 October.

Joining him on the podium and addressing different aspects of NEPAD were a number of other UN and African dignitaries, including Under-Secretary-General and Special Adviser on Africa Cheick Sidi Diarra, Deputy Secretary-General Asha Rose Migiro, Amos Sawyer, member of the African Peer Review Mechanism Panel of Eminent Persons, and Amos Namanga Ngongi, president of the Alliance for a Green Revolution in Africa.

The panel was just one of several events to mark NEPAD’s 10th anniversary, organized by the NEPAD Agency, the UN Office of the Special Adviser on Africa and the UN Department of Public Information. There were special briefings to African ambassadors and UN agencies, the General Assembly’s consideration of two reports by the Secretary-General on NEPAD and the causes of conflict in Africa and a commemorative lecture by Mr. Mayaki at Columbia University on “Africa’s Decade of Transformation.”