Civil society activists are pinning their hopes on African leaders to revive a flagging continental mechanism for improving governance, at a summit in Addis Ababa this week.
The African Peer Review Mechanism (APRM) is a 14-year old process whereby volunteer African countries scrutinise each other’s performance in adhering to codes of good political, economic, social and corporate governance.
It was launched with great fanfare by former South African President Thabo Mbeki, former Nigerian President Olusegun Obasanjo and other African leaders in 2002.
It was widely hailed by the international community as a commitment by African leaders to improve their own governance, rather than have donor countries putting pressure on them to do so.
It has produced 17 country reports which are widely regarded as the benchmarks for assessing their governance. But after peaking about six years ago, the APRM went steadily into decline, dating more or less from the time when its great champions, Mbeki and Obasanjo, left the political stage.
New volunteers have been few since then.
And at a seminar in Addis Ababa on Monday, APRM experts said that only 17 of the 35 member countries which had joined the APRM had actually submitted themselves to peer review. Some undemocratic countries seemed to have joined merely for good publicity – or even to undermine the process.
And few countries which had been reviewed had implemented the recommendations for improvement which the APRM had made.
The last reviews were launched in 2011 and completed in 2013. And no country had yet had an envisaged second review. The APRM had stagnated, said Grant Masterson, head of the APRM programme at the Electoral Institute for Sustainable Democracy in Africa. (EISA.)
Since 2008, the APRM secretariat, based in South Africa, had not had a permanent CEO. Many member states had not paid their dues, even though, for all but the five biggest states, these dues had remained at only $100 000 a year from the start.
And the large international support which the APRM had once enjoyed had markedly declined, with only Switzerland still providing it with funds.
Masterson said that there had been some hopeful signs of revival at the June 2014 African Union (AU) summit in Equatorial Guinea when some leaders called for a new CEO to be appointed. But they only appointed a temporary one.
Further hopes were raised at last year’s AU summit in Sandton, South Africa, when Kenyan President Uhuru Kenyatta was elected to head the African Peer Review Forum, the committee of leaders of countries which have joined the APRM.
He made a strong plea for revival of the mechanism and announced an extraordinary summit of the APRM to be held in Nairobi in September. But that was cancelled at the last moment without notice, though Kenyatta said it had actually been postponed to this Friday, January 29, on the eve of the full AU summit this weekend.
The other hopeful sign was that the APRM secretariat eventually managed to raise the money to conduct a long-delayed peer review of Djibouti’s governance. There were also signs that country reviews could soon take place in Cote d’Ivoire, Senegal and Sudan.
Steve Gruzd, who heads the governance and APRM programme at the SA Institute of International Affairs, said civil society had been counting on Kenyatta to inject new life into the APRM and so was extremely disappointed when the extraordinary summit was cancelled.
It seemed he did so because he was concerned that he would be embarrassed as very few heads of state would attend. However a Kenyan seminar participant said the real reason was in-fighting in Kenyatta’s cabinet about who should control the APRM.
Gruzd said it was unclear what would happen at the APRM Forum summit on Friday. He was concerned that because it would be slotted into a limited amount of time among all the AU summit events, the leaders would not have time to do all that was needed to revive the APRM.
He said civil society had drawn up a list of what the APRM Forum leaders should do. This included; appointing a permanent APRM CEO urgently; funding the mechanism adequately; establishing an induction programme for new heads of state and government to ensure they fully understood the APRM; temporarily suspending the APRM membership of countries which joined but then failed to submit to peer review; making public all APRM national implementation reports; allowing civil society to participate in all APRM meetings to boost awareness and effectiveness of the mechanism; and encouraging debate at the highest level, nationally and continentally,on the findings and lessons learned from the APRM reports.
Unless new life was injected into the APRM very urgently, it would go the way of many other past programmes to uplift the continent, Gruzd and Masterson warned.