African Unification Front

From, by Ernest Harsch of Recovery Africa

Across the African continent, debate about the New Partnership for Africa's Development (NEPAD) is heating up. No longer are discussions about the strategy confined to a handful of government leaders and their expert advisers. Parliamentarians, civil society representatives, church figures, trade unionists and many others are now clamouring to be heard. Some believe NEPAD is on the right track, and are pressing African leaders to move rapidly towards implementation. Others worry that the plan itself may be fundamentally flawed.

Whatever their particular outlooks, all seem to accept that the New Partnership, formally adopted in July 2001 by African heads of state, is now the continent's main official development framework. The international community also has come to that view. NEPAD was discussed extensively at the industrialized countries' Group of Eight (G-8) summit in June, and the UN General Assembly voted to endorse it on 4 November. In recent months, the signs of public interest in NEPAD have been growing:

- In late October, nearly 200 legislators from around Africa converged on Benin to endorse the New Partnership and discuss ways to advance it. By linking their own national concerns to the continental plan, parliamentarians are forging stronger "links of solidarity" across Africa, commented Mr. Adrien Houngbedji, speaker of Benin's National Assembly.

- Just a few days later, a conference of lawyers in Durban, South Africa, heard pleas to support NEPAD's objectives by promoting justice and respect for the law.

- In Senegal, future civil servants and judges now receive instruction in the New Partnership's goals and priorities, and university campuses regularly feature seminars and workshops on the topic. An association of "NEPAD clubs" has been launched to spread information about the programme, initially in Senegal's 11 regions and later in neighbouring countries as well. "Our aim is to become marketing agents to promote NEPAD among the people of Africa," explains Mr. Babacar Diagne, the association's president.

Although a number of governments and civil society groups have initiated debates about NEPAD, the process of public consultation has only just begun. Overall, knowledge about the New Partnership remains limited. Printed versions of NEPAD are not widely available outside government circles, and many Africans do not have speedy or affordable Internet access to download the on-line version of the lengthy document (

A forum organized by non-governmental organizations in Abuja, Nigeria, maintained that little has been done to implement NEPAD domestically, even though the Nigerian government has been one of its most vocal promoters internationally. In Ghana, Ms. Ama Benyiwa-Doe complained in late October that she and other members of parliament "do not understand NEPAD." Proponents of the New Partnership acknowledge that this is a problem.

"NEPAD needs to be better explained and better understood by all development stakeholders," declared African ministers of finance, planning and economic development meeting in Johannesburg, South Africa, on 19-20 October. So that the plan can have a real impact on the lives and livelihoods of Africa's people, they said, it will be vital "to engage parliaments and private and civil stakeholders in country-owned development strategies."

At an earlier forum on NEPAD in New York, Prof. Adebayo Adedeji, a former executive secretary of the UN Economic Commission for Africa, made the same point in somewhat stronger language: "Until NEPAD becomes owned by the people of Africa, its civil society and grassroots, the initiative will not take off at the national level. And without taking off at the national level, the plan is as dead as a dodo." Still looking outward?

The New Partnership strongly emphasizes Africa's need to mobilize more resources domestically: through increased national savings and investment, more effective tax collection, rationalization of government expenditures and resolute action against corruption. Within that context, it sees external support - "partnership" - as complementary to Africa's own commitment and efforts.

However, because NEPAD was first presented in a prominent way to leaders of the major industrialized powers, an impression has been given that it will rely mainly on external backing: more aid and debt relief, greater access for African exports to Northern markets and significant new inflows of foreign investment. At an April 2002 consultation in Abidjan, Côte d'Ivoire, between the African Development Bank and African civil society groups, the latter questioned the New Partnership's perspective. "The vision is built on selling Africa to the outside," reported a summary of the civil society view. "There is a lack of internal strategy."

A few African leaders share that concern. At the launch of the African Union in Durban in early July, Libyan leader Muammar el-Qaddafi maintained that NEPAD seeks to impose the "Western democratic model" on Africa, contrary to African religions and traditions. Later that same month, Gambian President Yahya Jammeh said that while he did not criticize NEPAD itself, he worried that its implementation seems dependent on "begging" from outsiders. "People have had enough of begging," he said, "and of an Africa of beggars." Also in late July, Namibian President Sam Nujoma, while discussing NEPAD, warned against "succumbing to foreign ideologies and influences."

Other African leaders deny that they aim to perpetuate Africa's aid dependency. What NEPAD seeks, Senegalese President Abdoulaye Wade said at the UN in September, is "partnership, not aid." Above all, he stressed, Africa needs to be able to produce more goods domestically and to enhance its foreign earnings by selling more on the world market.

Even with their best efforts, however, African countries will continue to face serious financing gaps for some years to come. For that reason, South African Finance Minister Trevor Manuel told the African ministers' meeting in Johannesburg, Africa must receive increased aid flows and further debt relief. The aid flows, however, need to be more predictable than in recent years and should be "supportive of the development strategies of the recipient countries."

Soliciting investments

The New Partnership also notes Africa's need to attract significantly greater foreign direct investment (FDI). Some African leaders put a particular emphasis on that source of financing. President Wade, who speaks frequently about the potential role of foreign investment in stimulating growth and development, helped initiate a NEPAD financing conference in Dakar in April, attended by numerous private investors from Africa and abroad. The following month the New Partnership was promoted at a tourism fair in South Africa, involving 1,300 enterprises from 70 countries. Then in September a West African regional conference on private sector support for NEPAD was held in Ouagadougou, Burkina Faso, drawing several hundred participants.

Many experts agree that Africa's investment potential is enormous, and that the continent already is attracting greater interest. Last year, FDI flows to Africa unexpectedly peaked to $17 bn, nearly twice the level the year before, according to estimates released in September by the UN Conference on Trade and Development. But this is still a tiny share of FDI flows worldwide. And within Africa, the flows go to only a handful of countries, either major oil producers like Angola and Nigeria or more industrialized nations such as South Africa and Morocco.

Noting the difficulties that even South Africa faces in attracting significantly more FDI, Mr. Adedeji cautioned the New York forum in July that "the premises on which NEPAD has been based requires a critical and more realistic look, to avoid the negative consequences of unfulfilled high expectations." In a similar vein, UN Under-Secretary-General Ibrahim Gambari noted the "disappointment in some African quarters" over the donor countries' limited commitments at the G-8 summit (see Africa Recovery, September 2002). He urged supporters of the New Partnership not to engage in "wishful thinking."

Globalization and adjustment

Among civil society groups in Africa, the New Partnership's insistence that Africa must find ways to better harness the globalization process has been controversial. Since few Africans have seen any concrete benefits from world market integration - and many have actually suffered from its disruptions - there is a tendency to equate globalization with unfettered market forces and increasing inequalities between rich and poor.

At an April conference in Accra, Ghana, two prominent academic and non-governmental organizations, the Council for the Development of Social Science Research in Africa and the Third World Network-Africa, criticized perspectives that favoured "the inappropriate integration of our economies in the global order." Specifically on NEPAD, the two groups perceived a "neo-liberal economic policy framework at the heart of the plan, which repeats the structural adjustment policy packages of the preceding two decades and overlooks the disastrous effects of those policies."

Around the same time, the Organization of African Trade Union Unity, which represents most of Africa's union federations, complained that NEPAD "seems to hinge heavily" on neo-liberal perspectives. A later statement signed by 40 African civil society and human rights groups rejected the New Partnership outright, maintaining that it "accepts the fundamentals of the neo-liberal" framework underlying structural adjustment programmes.

In June, the South African Council of Churches complained that "NEPAD's vision is blurred by fixing its sights on increased global integration and rapid private sector growth."

As some advocates of NEPAD point out, such characterizations are a matter of interpretation. The document does look toward Africa's greater integration into world markets, but also embraces a number of elements that did not figure in structural adjustment policies. These include a strong state role in facilitating the development of roads, electricity networks and other infrastructure, the diversification of agricultural and industrial production and greater regional integration within Africa.

Only twice does NEPAD explicitly refer to structural adjustment. It demands that developed countries also be obliged to undergo structural adjustment, to remove protection on industries with which developing countries are competitive. Within Africa, it notes that adjustment programmes "provided only a partial solution," chiefly by removing price distortions, and that they "gave inadequate attention to the provision of social services."

However, some civil society groups have argued that the New Partnership itself does not sufficiently address social development issues. During a May Day celebration in Dakar, Mr. Alioune Sow, head of one of Senegal's major labour federations, told President Wade that his union regretted "the absence of the social dimension in NEPAD." The South African Council of Churches charged that the plan seems "unaware of the severe negative social impact" in poor communities, as a result of rapid privatization of basic social services.

Gender blind?

Various parts of NEPAD touch on issues of gender equality and women's empowerment. One of the New Partnership's primary long-term objectives toward achieving sustainable development is "to promote the role of women in all activities." Specifically, this would entail eliminating gender disparities in primary and secondary education (by 2005), giving special attention to reducing poverty among women, ensuring that women farmers gain access to credit and can improve productivity, and targetting assistance to women entrepreneurs.

Among the positive responses was an international conference of women business leaders in Dakar in late June, in which those from Africa vowed to play their part in helping finance NEPAD's implementation.

Some have been more critical. Several of the civil society groups at the April meeting with the African Development Bank detected a "major gender gap" in the New Partnership, arguing that it "does not give adequate attention to gender-related issues." At a different conference that same month in Nairobi, Ms. Sara Hlupekile Longwe, from Zambia, claimed that NEPAD is "almost completely gender blind." While the New Partnership acknowledges the need for women's equality in economic and social development, she said, it is silent on gender issues when addressing democracy and governance. A similar point was raised in November by Ms. Mariamé Ouattara, coordinator of the Network of African Women Economists, who detected in NEPAD a "near-total silence on the question of African women's rights."

To some extent, African leaders have acknowledged these concerns. At the launch of the African Union, the assembled heads of state issued a NEPAD declaration on democracy and good governance which stressed the importance of human rights, including for women. "In Africa's efforts at democracy, good governance and economic reconstruction," it declared, "women have a central role to play. We accept it as a binding obligation...."

Concerns specific to women may also gain greater attention as African countries move toward implementation of the New Partnership. The UN Economic Commission for Africa (ECA), in a paper on NEPAD's implications for African policy makers circulated at the October ministerial conference in Johannesburg, noted that some countries are setting up gender task teams to ensure that poor women's concerns are addressed in national poverty reduction strategies.

ECA drew attention to the "promising innovation" of gender-based budgeting, a process already under way in South Africa and Tanzania, in which government budgets are analyzed according to how their spending allocations affect women (see Africa Recovery, April 2002). "Gender-responsive budgets," said the paper, "empower women's organizations and civil societies to hold public spending accountable to international and national commitments for promoting gender equality."

Rights and democracy

The New Partnership recognizes that Africa's development "is impossible in the absence of true democracy, respect for human rights, peace and good governance" and commits African leaders to promote those principles in their own countries and regionally. It envisages the establishment of a "peer review" mechanism through which Africans can monitor progress in this direction (see page 10).

Some African civil society associations regard the New Partnership's references to human rights and good governance as largely rhetorical. A "People's Forum" held in Bamako, Mali, in June, argued, in a declaration on NEPAD, that "the African elites who have embezzled money still enjoy impunity." Displaying little confidence in Africa's leaders to police themselves, the forum called for the establishment of international inquiries into such "ill-gotten gains" and for an international court to punish economic crimes.

However, many other pro-democracy activists and human rights advocates have welcomed the political aspects of NEPAD. Even some of those sceptical of the commitment of African leaders regard the document as a valuable lever for advancing those goals.

"NEPAD is essentially a programme for human rights," affirms Mr. Azzédine Abdel, president of the Algerian Human Rights Committee. The African Commission on Human and People's Rights, a pan-African organization headquartered in Banjul, Gambia, has held several sessions to examine NEPAD. Commission Chairman Kamel Rezag-Bara holds high hopes for the plan's "bold consensus on good governance, transparency, development and the rule of law."

At a February 2002 workshop on NEPAD in Dar es Salaam, Tanzania, two human rights advocates from Kenya, Rev. Jephthah Gathaka and Prof. Smokin Wanjala, expressed concern that the New Partnership is essentially a declaration of principles put forth by the same "African political leadership that is largely responsible for the malaise that afflicts the continent." Nevertheless, they recognized that NEPAD is different from previous African initiatives in that, "for the first time, it acknowledges the fact that poor political leadership characterized by human rights violations, economic mismanagement, and corruption is the cause of the African problem."

As a way to hold African leaders accountable, the peer review mechanism in particular has drawn wide interest. Rights advocates have asked for assurances that government officials will not be the only ones to manage it. A NEPAD/civil society seminar in Addis Ababa in March recommended civil society participation in the peer review process, so that it is transparent and accessible. When the NEPAD Implementation Committee released a more detailed set of guidelines in June outlining the peer review's structure and processes, it explicitly stated that review teams, when visiting countries, should consult with "representatives of civil society organizations (including the media, academic, trade unions, business, professional bodies)."

Greater civil role

As the New Partnership as a whole moves closer to implementation, civil society involvement is likely to become more important across the plan's different priority areas. While the debates on NEPAD have so far been contradictory, Senegal's Minister for Parliamentary Relations Mamadou Diop Decroix noted at a seminar in late July, different sectors of the population each have a key responsibility for ensuring its success. At the same event, Mr. Bouba Diop, president of Senegal's main non-governmental coordinating body, stressed, "Citizen participation must animate and imbue the African renaissance process."



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