Democracy or dependance

  • 14/10/2002

Democracy or dependance
NEPAD is a long shot but no one has come up with an alternative

Together, the new African Union (au) and the New Partnership for Africa's Development (nepad) reflect a new imperative in Africa's international relations. Integration has replaced liberation as the continent's strategic goal. And for average Africans the material gains from integration could be greater than from liberation.

nepad proposes to proceed bottom-up, drawing in civil society, promoting development of politically capable governments willing and able to agree and abide by increasingly complex bargains that meet local and international standards of accountability, with promises of rewards from western donors.

nepad is also an attempt to adapt to the new forces of global integration. Reversals are inevitable when powerful domestic forces impede integration, or when western governments enact trade-distorting agricultural subsidies hurtful to Africa, or when African governments take repressive measures offensive to the west. nepad offers a framework for voluntary integration, based on reciprocal confidence-building measures and rewards for good performance. Its emphasis on improvements in political and economic good governance locally, as preconditions for cooperation, are a significant departure from past African practice, with an indigenous peer review mechanism that has yet to be tested.

The African Peer Review Mechanism (aprm) is located under the Democracy and Political Governance Initiative (dpgi), which lists obligations and actions that conform to international standards of good governance. Countries join nepad by signing up to the dpgi. They agree to an external peer review every three years, based on which they will be put in one of four categories: fully nepad compliant, aspiring to nepad compliance but in need of assistance in developing compliance capabilities in specified areas, the wilfully non-compliant, and post-conflict countries requiring special provisions for reconciliation and reconstruction.

Could such a process ever work? Wealthy countries have accepted highly intrusive regular peer reviews for many years. But these have been primarily economic in nature. dpgi addresses politically sensitive issues. Few, even those already on nepad's Implementing Committee, meet its standards of democracy and good governance.

Cynics will denigrate nepad's prospects in the face of Africa's poor record or use the impossible wish lists of some nepad enthusiasts, such as growth rates of seven to eight per cent along with us $64 billion of new annual foreign investment as tests of success. nepad is a long shot but no one so far has come up with a better alternative. Anyone interested in the real odds should keep an eye on at least three key nepad features.

First, nepad is a political process. nepad is notable for its focus on political development as the essential precondition for sustained social and economic development. Reaching a new African consensus on long-term goals for the continent and on frameworks for collective action are as important as the need to improve programmes in health care, the environment, agriculture, trade, and rest of nepad's agenda.

Second, nepad arrives amid a growing global consensus about core values. While many countries fear and object to us claims to global leadership, and are quick to note the gaps between us ideals and practice around the world, nepad leaders would not challenge what us president George W Bush calls "the non-negotiable demands of human dignity: rule of law, limits on the power of the state, respect for women, private property, equal justice, religious tolerance.' Repeated endorsements by African leaders will have positive cumulative effects in creating a political base for regional and global integration.

Finally, nepad will face some early tests of the peer review, which will indicate whether this experiment in building international cooperation from below can succeed. How Zimbabwe's crisis is resolved is the most obvious test, even though nepad defenders rightly note that the country is not a member and will not be considered for membership under the present regime. While the crisis in the Middle East has seemingly rendered Zimbabwe irrelevant to the west, progress in resolving the worsening situation there would give the politics of establishing nepad's credibility at the g8 summit a big boost. And an important and distinctly African form of peer review is underway.

John Stremlau is head of international relations and co-director of the Centre for Africa's International Relations and the University of the Witwatersrand

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