Friday, March 23, 2007

Days are numbered for NEPAD

A summit of 15 African leaders in Algeria has given New Partnership for Africa's Development (NEPAD) a year to integrate into the African Union. Nigerian President and outgoing head of NEPAD implementation Olusegun Obasanjo said the transition period will last until June 2008 at which time NEPAD will merge into the AU. Many of NEPAD’s functions overlap with the AU and supporters hope the new merged entity will bring the get the most from the synthesis of two organisations.

NEPAD itself is a merger. It brings together two economic regeneration plans; South Africa’s Millennium Partnership for the African Recovery Programme (MAP) and Senegal’s OMEGA plan for Africa. These plans attacked infrastructure, education, health and agriculture issues for the continent. The idea arose from the general feeling that Africa was not matching the growth experienced by developing countries in Asia. And so NEPAD was launched in 2001 in Abuja, Nigeria, one year before the AU as a “Vision and Strategic Framework for Africa’s renewal”.

At the Abuja meeting, the Organisation of African Unity (OAU), the precursor to the AU, gave a mandate to five initiating Heads of State (Algeria, Egypt, Nigeria, Senegal, South Africa) to produce a NEPAD strategic framework document designed to combat escalating poverty levels, underdevelopment and Africa’s continued marginalisation on the world stage. Its primary objectives were to eradicate poverty, promote sustainable growth, integrate Africa into the global economy and promote empowerment for women.

However these grand ambitions have never quite been matched by the reality. Critics claimed that NEPAD was spending an enormous amount of time and money on conferences but had achieved few tangible results. Infrastructure projects were stalled or never started. Its problems included the implementation committee failing to clearly assign responsibility or demand performance, and the Secretariat not following an effective operating plan. Wiseman Nkuhlu, head of the Nepad Secretariat, countered that Nepad was failing because member countries were not implementing actions or taking ownership.

In the meantime its hegemony as the leading economic organisation for Africa was short-lived. In 2002 the OAU re-organised itself on the European model and rebadged itself as the African Union. While the OAU had set its purpose to rid Africa of colonialism and safeguard sovereignty, the AU’s goals were the accelerated socio-economic integration of the continent, safeguard the rights of women and children and promote peace, security and stability. Some of these goals overlapped with Nepad.

Thabo Mbeki is the leader most closely associated with Nepad. Mbeki formulated a concept of what he called African Renaissance which is a key driver of Nepad. Speaking in 2002 he said: "The challenge to end the economic marginalisation of Africa, and therefore to attract the necessary resources into our continent to ensure its development, stands at the heart both of the vision of an African Renaissance and Nepad.

Through this vision, Mbeki has helped negotiate peace deals to end the civil wars in Congo, Burundi, and Liberia. But his stony silence over Mugabe’s continued misrule in Zimbabwe is deafening. South Africa now holds the rotating presidency of the United Nations Security Council. Zimbabwe's economy is highly dependent on fuel and aid from Pretoria, but neither Mbeki nor many other African leaders have spoken out against him.

This failure has raised serious questions as to the credibility of Nepad. Its claim to support “a democratic Africa will become one of the pillars of world democracy, human rights and tolerance” looks completely hypocritical in the light of its inaction over Zimbabwe.

Its sublimation into the AU offers African leaders a way out of its charter it has no intention of meeting. Algeria’s President Abdelaziz Bouteflika was aware of this when he bemoaned the "unhonoured pledges" of Africa's partners in the implementation of NEPAD projects. The merger recommendations of the Algiers meeting will be submitted to the next African Union (AU) Summit scheduled to take place in Accra, capital of Ghana. The NEPAD Secretariat will continue to headquarter in Midrand, Johannesburg but will take direction from the AU Commission sits in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia.

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