African Peer Review Mechanism: Mbeki’s pet project on life support

African Peer Review Mechanism: Mbeki’s pet project on life support

The African Peer Review Mechanism was established so that African leaders could learn from each other. But the lessons that African leaders are learning are perhaps not those envisaged by the mechanism’s ideologically-driven founders. By CARIEN DU PLESSIS.

African presidents are learning from one another, but not always in a good way. One of the latest fads on the continent seems to be how to extend term limits, should the president need more time in power than their country’s constitution allow.

But what about the ambitions of the likes of former presidents Thabo Mbeki and Olesegun Obasanjo to get leaders to teach each other positives?

Earlier in May, civil society organisations met in Nairobi’s Intercontinental Hotel – a four-star secured upmarket hotel in the city centre – for what was possibly the last meeting of its kind about the African Peer Review Mechanism (APRM).

Donor funds had dried up for the NGO programme to popularize the ambitious 13-year-old continental mechanism by which countries review each other’s governance. The jury is out over whether it meant the end of the APRM or just the beginning of a new chapter.

Should the APRM member countries fail to pay all their contributions – many are lagging behind – and should it not manage to convince its former or potential future partners to help with funds, the mechanism is facing a tough future.

On the up side, Kenyan president Uhuru Kenyatta, elected last year as the chairperson of the APRM, has been pushing for its revival. Chairperson of the African Peer Review Panel of Eminent Persons, Mustapha Mekideche, said since Kenyatta took charge “we are moving forward once more” after a lull of about four years.

South African academic and former foreign relations civil servant Eddy Maloka was appointed chairperson of the APRM secretariat in January after that position remained vacant since 2008. The mechanism recently did its first country review (Chad) in three years.

Maloka has been upbeat. Driving the APRM’s three R’s – restoration, reinvigoration, revival – is after all part of his job description. He told Daily Maverick that the ultimate aim would be to get all 54 African Union member states on board, and to incorporate the mechanism into the AU’s Agenda 2063 programme – which also feeds into the United Nations’ Sustainable Development Goals, adopted last year.

Currently 35 states have acceded to the APRM. Maloka faces an uphill battle, though – Botswana, for one, has refused to sign up, arguing that its governance systems were sufficient and not in need of review.

Maloka pleaded with members of the Pan-African Parliament earlier in May: “The APRM has to redeem itself, advocate for its programmes and initiate a universal accession of non-members to the mechanism, because its gains are enormous. This will indeed bring harmony across Africa in the implementation of AU programmes and initiatives.” Four missions were launched this year: Liberia, Chad, Senegal and Cote d’Ivoire. Sudan, South Africa and Uganda are in the pipeline – some for second country reviews.

There are others who believe, however, that the APRM’s moment has passed. Jakkie Cilliers, Head of African Futures and Innovation at the Institute for Security Studies said better political leadership was needed for the APRM to work. “The essence of the APRM was to find a way in which to report on domestic issues that heads of state could not object to,” he told the institute’s Liesl Louw-Vaudran in ISS Today. “It required real ownership and the commitment of (scarce) resources. While donors quickly adopted the APRM, African leaders did not.”

Louw-Vaudran also argued that the process of country reviews was too complex and that the mechanism was “simply too comprehensive and too ambitious”, and the APRM was bound to fail despite good intentions.

Jeggan Grey-Johnson, from the Open Society Initiative for Southern Africa, said current African heads of state could not provide the leadership required for the mechanism to work – and in terms of the current architecture of the APRM, leadership at the top is key.

“When the three founding fathers were there, we were in a much better position [to make the APRM work],” Grey-Johnson said, referring to former presidents Mbeki (South Africa), Obasanjo (Nigeria) and John Kufuor (Ghana). The APRM was officially launched in 2003, and much has changed since.

“Under the current set-up of the APRM, it is driven by not even the leaders of the legislature or other arms of government, but by political leaders, by heads of state,” he said. “Evidence has shown that if a certain president vests his personal time in the APRM, it flourishes in a certain country, for example South Africa in Mbeki’s time, in Nigeria, in Ghana. When leaders took the initiative and embraced the APRM, we saw it flourish.”

In South Africa, for instance, the APRM was mentioned in Mbeki’s State of the Nation Addresses from 2004 until his last one in 2008, but it hasn’t really featured that prominently under President Jacob Zuma. However, whereas Mbeki met South Africa’s first country review with a measure of denial, under Zuma in the country’s third feedback report, problems like crime and xenophobia were more readily acknowledged – although the recurrence of these issues showed not much was actually done about them.

Kenya, too, has recently witnessed brutal police action against opposition protesters, despite a previous country report stating that police played a role in the 2008 post-election violence.

Nixon Marabwa from the APRM Youth Working Group in Kenya said if the APRM were just noise, “it’s a waste of time”. He said the fact that Kenyan citizens were demonstrating (against alleged bias and corruption in the country’s electoral body) was “not evidence that the APRM has failed – it is the custodians or leaders of the APRM that have failed”.

Grey-Johnson also said presidential peers were learning the wrong things from one another: “Currently the trend of upholding any semblance of commitment at national level of respecting constitutions and separation of powers is not happening. It’s the complete opposite. If presidents are not able to circumvent the rule of law, they change the constitution to suit their needs. This makes it very hard to see why leaders would start to embrace a primary governance mechanism like the APRM and a citizen-driven process.

“One of the primary areas the APRM talks about is constitutionalism, but what we’ve seen is a trend gaining momentum where peers look at the worst practices they can adopt to entrench themselves into power,” he said.

In Burundi, for instance, a court has granted President Pierre Nkurunziza another term, while in Rwanda President Paul Kagame called a referendum to get the go-ahead to run for a third term in his country’s elections next year. In the Democratic Republic of Congo President Joseph Kabila is pushing for November’s elections to be postponed so that he can be in power for longer than his country’s laws allow.

The list goes on.

The Electoral Institute for Sustainable Democracy in Africa’s (Eisa) Grant Masterson is more upbeat. (Eisa and the South African Institute of International Affairs organised the civil society conference in Nairobi.) Masterson said: “The APRM’s continuance is now a done deal. The real question is what the APRM will be and do, going forward?”

It’s up to Africa’s leaders to answer that question. DM

Photo: South African President Thabo Mbeki (R) chats with his Nigerian counterpart Olusegun Obasanjo at the start of the meeting between leaders of the Group of Eight and developing nations at the Akasaka State Guesthouse in Tokyo 20 July 2000. EPA PHOTO AP POOL/MICHEL EULER


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