Improving Africa’s governance, before it’s too late

Peer review opening avenues for citizen engagement
From Africa Renewal: 
page 20
Egyptians in Cairo's Tahrir Square celebrate the fall of the Mubarak governmentVoting in Juba, South Sudan: The Peer Review process not only assesses member countries’ electoral systems, but also a broad spectrum of political and economic governance issues.
Photograph: Panos / Sven Torfinn

The ongoing agitation in Africa triggered by the “Arab Spring” demonstrates yet again the importance of good political and economic governance for the continent’s development. Through their street demonstrations, Africans are expressing their will to reassert control over their own destinies. They are struggling for dignity, freedom, genuine social justice and access to economic opportunities.

The Arab Spring has dramatically shown that economic performance alone is not enough in the long run. After all, Tunisia, Egypt, Libya, Algeria and Morocco were among the fast-growing “African lions” (analogous to the Asian tigers). As leading development practitioners emphasize, economic prosperity and political freedom must go hand in hand.

African leaders understood this when they launched the New Partnership for Africa’s Development (NEPAD). To more specifically promote good governance, human rights and sound economic management they then initiated the African Peer Review Mechanism (APRM) in March 2003.

Innovative and inclusive

The APRM, one of the most innovative facets of NEPAD, is a voluntary self-monitoring mechanism by which African leaders subject their policies and practices to peer review by other Africans in four related areas: democracy and political governance, economic governance, corporate governance and socio-economic development.

The reviews are comprehensive and inclusive. Consultations are not only in the capital city with government officials but also in the countryside and with representatives from the private sector, civil society, trade unions, parliaments, local councils and so on.

A full peer-review cycle goes through five stages: a country self-assessment; a country review; a review report; the actual peer review — in which review findings are discussed by heads of state at summits of the African Peer Review Forum — and the publication of the report. Fourteen of the 30 countries belonging to the APRM have completed their first peer reviews.

Reviews have pinpointed overarching issues, such as diversity management, electoral violence, land reform, youth unemployment, gender equality and corruption. These suggested the theme of the UN’s eighth African Governance Forum, to be held in Johannesburg, South Africa, in 2012: “Democracy, Elections and the Management of Diversity in Africa.”

Critical challenges

Yet the APRM is facing critical challenges, including limited financial and human resources and problems in enforcing and implementing the recommendations in the reviews’ national programmes of action. Some experts argue that the master questionnaire, used in conducting the review, is not covering enough of issues such as agricultural policy, the informal sector, environmental protection and media freedom.

The recent social unrest could have been prevented if the APRM had been effectively operating and its recommendations had been implemented. These protests have the merit of bringing urgent issues of democracy and freedom to the centre of the political agenda for both Africans and their development partners. The APRM can capitalize on the bottom-up approach promoted by these revolts.

David Mehdi Hamam is chief of the Policy Analysis and Monitoring Unit and Ben Idrissa Ouédraogo is a programme officer at the UN Office of the Special Adviser on Africa.