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NEPAD - DEVELOPMENT FOR WHO?

This Day (Lagos) OPINION
13 August 2003

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It is a concept? no, it is an initiative.

It is a process for the elite? no, the target is the African masses.

Numerous questions have been asked at all levels about the New Partnership for Africa's Development, with focus on its objectives, scope, and anticipated impact on the continent. Abimbola Akosile asks.

NEPAD, the latest development brain-wave of African leaders, as a concept, has failed to ignite the much-desired popular appeal. So many people have consistently wondered what the pro-development initiative entails. Others have sought to differentiate between NEPAD and the National Electric Power Authority (NEPA); given the similarity in names and perceived cloudiness in their operations.

In as much as Africa is today concerned with the level and challenge of development, NEPAD as a framework for development in Africa has remained vague to majority of the people.

African leaders, while adopting NEPAD in Lusaka, Zambia, in July 2001, has advertised NEPAD as a concerted approach to actualise the long-term development philosophy of the continent under the auspices of the African Union (AU).

NEPAD, as a concept, is a merger of two separate development initiatives, which were conceived at the outset of the 21st century as the long-term development vision for the continent. These two initiatives were the 'Millennium Partnership for African Recovery Programme, put forward by Presidents Obasanjo of Nigeria, Thabo Mbeki of South Africa, and Abdulaziz Bouteflika of Algeria; and the 'OMEGA Plan' proposed by President Abdoulaye Wade of Senegal.

Beyond the key objective of NEPAD, which is to eradicate poverty, the question is can NEPAD, as presently constituted, possibly work, given the various drawbacks, conditionalities, cultural diversity, and poor level of communication in Africa?

What do the stakeholders feel concerning the concept? How are the African countries (particularly those who were not part of its formulation) responding to it; is NEPAD really geared and adequately equipped to reach the grassroots in concerned countries; what section of the society will benefit the most, elite or masses?

Is the concept African in its origin, or borrowed from a foreign culture; or better still a western script being acted out by select African leaders to curry favour and concessions? How involved will the African Union and regional bodies like ECOWAS be in the formulation and actualisation process?

There are so many questions concerning the initiative, that one is tempted to conclude that the drawbacks and potential obstacles may well be the death knell of the noble concept before its actualisation and impact on Africa and the rest of the world.

The fact still remains that majority of African countries are still in the dark as to what NEPAD and its various components really stand for and the vehicles for widespread education and enlightenment are yet to be employed.

Experts have postulated that since the concept emerged, there has been a lot of misconceptions about its essence and focus.

Likely responsible factors include alleged failure by the key initiators and proponents to adopt a 'bottom-up' approach by first popularising the idea in their respective countries before the Lusaka adoption in July 2001. Also the argument is that NEPAD as a framework for economic development of Africa has remained at best vague and hazy to a majority of the people.

To some, NEPAD is a blueprint for Africa's development; others call it a framework, a process, or an initiative. The bottom line, according to the African Development Bank (ADB), is that NEPAD was formulated by its initiators as a holistic, integrated strategic development plan to enhance growth and poverty reduction in Africa by addressing key social, economic, and political priorities in a coherent and balanced manner.

The key objective of NEPAD, as agreed by the African leaders, is the eradication of poverty on the continent, placement of African countries, both individually and collectively, on a path of sustainable growth and development to help halt Africa's marginalisation in the global village.

Others include to achieve and sustain an average Gross Domestic Product (GDP) growth rate of above 7 percent per annum for the next fifteen years; to reduce the proportion of people living in extreme poverty by half by 2015; to make progress toward gender equality and empowering women by eliminating gender disparities in the enrollment in primary and secondary education by 2005.

NEPAD seeks to reduce infant and child mortality ratios by tow-thirds by 2015; to enroll all children of school age in primary schools by 2015; and to provide access for all who need reproductive health services, among others.

The priorities of the initiative include peace, security, democracy and good governance; economic and corporate governance, including banking and financial standards; regional cooperation and integration; infrastructure, including Information and Telecommunications Technology (ICT), energy, transport, water and sanitation; human development through education and health; agriculture and environment; and market access and export diversification.

As noble and commendable as the above-mentioned factors are, majority of Africans are yet to feel any impact of the initiative. The media, which would have been the best channel for information dissemination and awareness creation, is hardly carried along in the scheme of things.

To make NEPAD more acceptable and entrenched in the public consciousness, experts have called for greater involvement of the media (journalists and mass communicators) through education so that they can in turn educate and inform the rest of the society.

Until there is adequate awareness creation on the NEPAD initiative, the concept will only remain what it is now, a commendable initiative, on paper.

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