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States call each other to account

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States call each other to account

New African peer review programme promotes rights, accountability
From Africa Renewal: 
Photo: AP/Khalil Senosi
Under the previous government, Kenyan riot police repressed dissent. Today, Kenya is among the first countries to have its human rights and governance records reviewed under the APRM. Photo: AP/Khalil Senosi

Setting the pace for other African states, Rwanda has become one of the first to allow external oversight of its performance under a new continental peer review programme. Rwanda's assessment began in February 2004 under the African Peer Review Mechanism (APRM), an instrument that seeks to promote democracy and accountability on the continent. "Despite the significant economic and social progress made in the recent past, Rwanda still faces heavy challenges," says Mr. Claver Gatete, a high-ranking Rwandan government official. Those relate mainly to the economic structure and poor governance, which contributed to the 1994 genocide, he explains.

Rwanda confronts insufficient or ineffective government structures, a weak public sector, high population growth rates and unemployment. It also faces a host of economic and social problems that make the country difficult to run. Rwanda witnessed one of the worst genocides in modern history when 800,000 people, mainly ethnic Tutsis, were killed by militias and armed forces linked to the government in power at the time.

The country is now under a new government and is rebuilding its national institutions. Mr. Gatete says that Rwanda has a lot to learn and gain from the APRM. Under the scheme, for the first time on the continent, African states will voluntarily assess each other's political and economic management. The review is open to all 53 members of the African Union and is a programme of the New Partnership for Africa's Development (NEPAD), adopted by African countries as the continent's development framework in 2001.

The APRM "aims to foster the adoption of policies, standards and practices that lead to political stability, high economic growth, sustainable development and accelerated subregional and continental economic integration," says Ms. Marie-Angélique Savané of Senegal, who chairs the Panel of Eminent Persons that directs and manages the APRM. She says the aim is to promote the sharing of experiences among countries and showcase outstanding examples.

Countries that agree to go under APRM review must conform to agreed values in four areas: democracy and political governance, economic governance, corporate governance and socioeconomic development. African heads of state and government endorsed the APRM in 2003 and so far, 24 countries have joined the programme. A team from the APRM secretariat carries out each review with the participation of the host country. The APRM team consults government officials, members of opposition political parties, civil society groups, the corporate sector and the media. It gathers relevant documents to prepare its final report and recommendations.

The APRM is "a self-monitoring and control mechanism to ensure compliance with the principles of NEPAD," says Mr. Kojo Assan, who heads the NEPAD directorate in Ghana, a country that is also under review.

Key constraints

In October 2004, at the African Development Forum hosted by the UN Economic Commission for Africa in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia, representatives from Ghana, Rwanda, Kenya and Uganda reported on their experiences and on the lessons they have so far learned from the exercise.

One implementation challenge in Rwanda is "consultation fatigue," explains Mr. Gatete. Already there are various programmes that require public participation, such as World Bank/International Monetary Fund poverty reduction programmes, government- and donor-led development projects and efforts to halt the spread of AIDS and corruption. The process of rebuilding national institutions in Rwanda also requires broad consultation. The country has so far set up a Human Rights Commission, a Unity and Reconciliation Commission and an Office of the Ombudsman.

The APRM exercise is time-consuming, says Mr Gatete, requiring anything from six to nine months of consultations. It also is "expensive in terms of logistics required, preparation of workshops, conferences and meetings all over the country."

There are no exact figures on the costs of running a review, but expenses may include setting up a fully equipped secretariat to service national commissions, reproducing documents, translating and disseminating those documents, and conducting workshops and informing citizens. At the launch of the peer review process, member countries recommended that each participating state pledge a minimum of $100,000 to finance the programme while a long-term funding formula is worked out.

Countries should also individually plan for APRM financing in their national budgets, says Ms. Savané. Development partners may also be engaged, but "this has to be African-owned and primarily African-funded," she told Africa Renewal.

A full APRM review takes place in several stages:

  • In preparation for the review, a particular country's national commission carries out a self-assessment based on a questionnaire from the APRM secretariat and drafts a national programme of action.
  • An APRM team visits the country and consults government officials, parliamentarians, civil society organizations, the media, trade unions and others.
  • A country report is prepared by the APRM team and discussed with the government.
  • The country report is submitted to a committee of participating heads of state for consideration and recommendations.
  • The country implements the programme of action.

If a country is willing to correct its shortcomings, other African countries and donor nations are encouraged to assist. If the political will is lacking, other states try and persuade it to comply through dialogue. However, if that fails, collective action will be taken and participating heads of state will alert the particular government on the measures they intend to take.

Not another donor condition

Kenya's Planning and Development Minister Peter Anyang' Nyong'o stressed that it is important at the outset to define what the APRM is and what it is not, what it aims to achieve and the context within which it functions. This would counter the "various forms of scepticism around the APRM," Mr. Anyang' Nyong'o told the ECA conference. At the meeting, the Zimbabwean delegation was infuriated by references from donor nations that if African countries were serious about the APRM, they should use the mechanism to promote good governance in that country. The APRM review "is not a donor condition," noted Mr. Anyang' Nyong'o. "It is not there to satisfy the 'please donors' syndrome. And it is not a process to punish wrongdoers, however they may be perceived by whomever."

In Ghana, when the process of implementing the APRM began, there was also a need to dispel "any erroneous impression that the review would affect only the executive arm of government," said Mr. Kojo Assan. It was therefore important to inform people that all the three arms of government - the executive, legislature and judiciary - would be reviewed. In addition, the public was told that independent institutions such as the Electoral Commission and the Commission on Human Rights, civil society organizations and the private sector would also be assessed. "The review process is thus national in character, and as such, a country assessment of the state of governance in Ghana in its entirety," he says. "The success of the APRM process is premised on the open participation by all in the process."

The success of the programme will also depend on the ability of countries to implement it fully, say Mr. Ravi Kanbur, a former World Bank economic adviser and now professor of world affairs and economics at Cornell University in the US, in a paper on the APRM. For each of the four areas - democracy and political governance, economic governance and management, corporate governance and socioeconomic development - there is a list of about 100 indicators, standards and criteria used to collate surveys. "Even allowing for some repetition and the initial attempt at comprehensiveness, there is a sense in which this list is too long to implement competently," writes Mr. Kanbur. He suggests that the areas covered be limited, at least initially, to democracy and political governance, "to ensure that the whole effort does not sink under its own weight."

Civil society involvement

The success of the programme will also rest on the quality of the APRM secretariat and the technical skills of its staff and individual country assessment teams. In addition, observers stress that the independence of the APRM is paramount and any suggestion of outside influence on the reviewers would undermine its integrity. To some extent, the independence of the APRM relies on the personal authority of the APRM Panel. The current panel is composed of distinguished Africans including Mrs. Graça Machel of Mozambique, Prof. Adebayo Adedeji of Nigeria and Mr. Chris Stals of South Africa.

Another major test for success will be civil society participation. The process would benefit from a vibrant civil society dialogue and a wide range of reviews conducted by various sectors of society, says Mr. Kanbur. As part of the APRM process, notes Mr. Kanbur, NEPAD should "set aside significant resources to allow civil society in the reviewed country to do assessments of its own and to critique the APRM assessment."

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