The New Partnership for Africa’s Development (NEPAD) was created in 2001 and introduced with great fanfare trumpeting a new day in which Africa would help itself. NEPAD was promoted as Africa’s means of achieving the Millennium Development Goals and establishing good governance. By the end of the recent African Union heads of state summit in Addis Ababa, though, NEPAD as a stand-along institution was phased out and integrated into the African Union structure relatively quietly and without much public notice.
NEPAD was the result of the melding of two plans for Africa’s economic renewal. One was the Millennium Partnership for the African Recovery Programme, led by former South African President Thabo Mbeki, former Nigerian President Olusegun Obasanjo and Algerian President Abdelaziz Bouteflika. That plan was seen as more of the same dependency on developed nations to fund Africa’s revival. The other was the OMEGA Plan for Africa developed by Senegalese President Abdoulaye Wade, which was viewed as more of a self-help approach to development. The then-Organization of African Unity resolved to combine the two plans at an extraordinary summit in Sirte, Libya, in March 2001, and NEPAD was formally adopted by the OAU at its July 2001 summit in Lusaka, Zambia.
What was it that caused such a promising program for African self-help to go quietly into the night, so to speak? There are three things that stymied NEPAD’s success in achieving its goals and its broad acceptance by the international community. First, NEPAD early on promoted its African Peer Review Mechanism (APRM), which was designed by Africans to accept examination of the quality of their governance as measured by internationally embraced standards in cooperating countries and hold nations accountable to those standards. However, the APRM was a two-edged sword.
On the one hand, it offered an admirable means for Africa to police itself through its nations accepting responsibility for keeping one another on the right path as they defined it.
Unfortunately, the outside world seemed not to hear the term “voluntary” in the APRM description of its process, and donor countries demanded that NEPAD go straight to nations such as Zimbabwe and measure their governance record as the first step in forcing them into compliance with APRM standards. Governments such as that of President Robert Mugabe refused to submit to being scrutinized by their peers, which made the APRM and NEPAD itself seem like a toothless tiger. Developed countries began to see NEPAD as more hype than hope, despite the cooperative spirit of leaders in Ghana, Rwanda and Mauritius, who agreed to undergo the public scrutiny of an APRM review and accept the criticism the examinations brought.
A second issue was ownership of the NEPAD process. South Africa bankrolled much of NEPAD from its inception. The secretariat was located in Midrand, South Africa, and its first chief executive officer was South Africa’s Wiseman Nkuhlu. Nkuhlu and South Africa began to be seen as the moving force behind NEPAD, which created tensions within the governing Heads of State and Government Implementing Committee, whose chair was Nigeria’s Obasanjo and deputy chairs were Algeria’s Bouteflika and Senegal’s Wade. The other leaders reportedly began to see South Africa as exerting undue control when they saw Mbeki as just one of the originating partners. The jockeying within NEPAD began to slow down the laudable initiatives.
This tension about NEPAD’s role in the larger organization grew within the new African Union. From its early years, NEPAD’s leaders, especially South Africa, implied that NEPAD was a completely new African program apart from the obsolete OAU. When the AU was formed, its reorganization took several years, during which time NEPAD was the new focal point for African development. While NEPAD was always conceived by the OAU as one of its programs, the shift to the AU created room for NEPAD to do its own thing for awhile. AU leadership began tightening the leash on its program. The culmination of this reining in of NEPAD resulted in its integration into the parent body.
The third issue was the failure of much of African civil society to endorse NEPAD, which was seen as the “Washington Consensus” model of African development. Mbeki, Obasanjo and Bouteflika initially presented their plan to the developed world while asking for help to implement it, which gave rise to the view that it was created to please the West. Not even the inclusion of the OMEGA Plan changed that view. In July 2002, a cross-section of African trade unions, non-governmental organizations, religious organizations, youth groups and women’s organizations signed onto what was called the African Civil Society Declaration on NEPAD. That document rejected the African regional development program, as did the 2002 Accra Declaration on Africa’s Development Challenges created by African scholars and activist intellectuals. The main reason for the civil society rejection of NEPAD was their near-total exclusion from its creation and adoption.
NEPAD was a grand idea. Beyond the APRM, the Comprehensive Africa Agriculture Development Programme (CAADP) promised the enable Africa’s shift into a much-anticipated green revolution. However, too many saw NEPAD as failing to fulfill its vision and mission. One of its founders, Senegal’s Wade, accused NEPAD of wasting hundreds of millions of dollars while achieving nothing.
NEPAD certainly didn’t achieve all its lofty goals, but it may be a bit of an exaggeration to say it has achieved nothing. It has, after all, shown that Africans themselves can institutionalize the concept of self-help and accountability, even if it has taken longer to meet its targets than NEPAD has yet been given. We shall see if the AU is strong enough and organized enough to bring the dream of NEPAD to reality.