"Participation Builds Unity"





Renée Bonorchis
Business Report
03 MARCH 2004


Nepad reviewers will not brook political interference

Kigali, Rwanda - They will neither visit prisons nor knock at the doors of presidential palaces to get first-hand information on how African leaders run their countries.

But a panel of evaluators, given the job of reviewing the governance and human rights records of African governments, say they have a credible process that is insulated from political manipulation, and promise to tell it as it is.

Under an economic rescue plan, the New Partnership for Africa's Development (Nepad), launched two years ago, leaders agreed to tackle problems like corruption, civil strife and outdated infrastructure in return for more aid and foreign investment.

A key part of the plan is the so-called "peer-review" system, where governments are subjected to examination on commitment to democracy, peace and security, economic policy and business environment by a panel of seven eminent Africans.

For donors and investors to consider the reviews credible, they should not vary too much from what the international community thinks about a country, one diplomat in Kigali said.

A situation like the 2003 elections in Rwanda, where African monitors gave a highly rosy view of the polls in contrast with the gloomy picture painted by Western observers, would be unfortunate, he said.

It remained to be seen how frank, in-depth and critical these reports would be, he said.

But Anglique Savane, chair of the panel of experts, said such fears were unwarranted because her team was fiercely independent and would not succumb to any pressures.

"We are not bound by any of these heads of state, so I have the right to say what I think ... They cannot ask me or any of our panel members to change our views," she said after attending a heads of state summit to launch the scheme.

"We are controversial people back at home and we cannot be manipulated," said Savane.

So far only 17 of the African Union's 53 member countries have agreed to be peer reviewed.

Oil producer Angola is the latest inclusion.

Analysts say it will be interesting to see the evaluators' report on Angola, where international agencies say as much as $4 billion in oil revenues - equivalent to 10 percent of gross domestic product - has been lost to graft over the past five years.

They have also set their eyes on Nigeria, where corruption has eroded billions of dollars in oil earnings, and Zimbabwe, where human rights activists say abuses have escalated rapidly since disputed 2002 presidential elections won by President Robert Mugabe.

Academics say elections in Namibia, Malawi, Mozambique, Botswana and South Africa this year will also signal whether Africans are prepared to hold free and fair polls and open the closely guarded political space.

The first to be scrutinised is Ghana, with preparatory work due to start this month in Rwanda and Kenya and in Mauritius shortly after. The reviews will take six to nine months.

The evaluators will send questions and later visit countries for three weeks to talk to the government, opposition politicians, civic bodies and donors before they make a report.

Savane, a Senegalese political activist, said the process would ensure that the end product was credible without necessarily being intrusive. "We are not an inspector-general," she said when asked whether the team would visit prisons to ascertain the truth.

Critics say the problem with the scheme is that it is voluntary, meaning countries with the worst records of democracy will avoid it. Another downside is that the reports will not be made public unless the heads of state agree.

But heads of state would act against a government, pulling in sanctions and other measures, if a president refused to embrace the changes recommended by the peers, Savane said.

The backers of the scheme say they are not surprised by the relatively small number of countries that have joined the group so far.

The fact that countries have to pay at least $100 000 (R650 000) to participate, coupled with a concern that the process gives opposition and civic groups too much voice, will put some leaders off - as will the thought of being sat down by fellow presidents, questioned and told what to do.

Officials say some countries have adopted a wait-and-see attitude to observe what benefits come to those who have signed up.

"Our poor countries have been cautious embarking on new innovative things ... The main thing is that we must implement the peer review so that we can show what the benefits are going to be," said outgoing Nepad head, Wiseman Nkuhlu.









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