19 February 2004

Africa: Peer Review Moving Forward, Says Nepad Secretariat Chief

Washington, DC — African leaders have made "a very important commitment in terms of a new direction" to achieve recovery and development, according to Professor Wiseman Nkuhlu, who chairs the steering committee of the New Partnership for Africa's Development (Nepad) Secretariat.

This commitment encompasses democracy, human rights, gender equality, good governance and people-centered development, he said. Nkuhlu was addressing a small luncheon, Thursday, hosted by the Leon H. Sullivan Foundation, which was established shortly after Sullivan's death in 2001 to promote the international humanitarian and development concerns that occupied his life. "The reality now is that Africa for the first time is taking responsibility for itself," Nkuhlu told his audience.

Africa has reached the stage of "implementation" of its new commitments, and in this respect, he said: "We believe that Africa is better organized to engage the developed countries."

However, it would be a mistake to think that private sector investments and initiatives alone can renew Africa's health, Nkuhlu said, even though African nations have been shedding unwieldy state-run economic institutions. "We feel there must be a proper balance in terms of increased investment by the countries, and increased development support to deal with what we regard as the basic conditions in health, in education, conflict prevention and so on," he said. "And then a combination of the public-private sector to deal with infrastructure."

Building "capacity" is key; lack of it, "is a serious weakness," said Nkuhlu. Although there is some "limited expertise that Africa has trained over the last 40 years," Nkulu said, "more than forty percent of those people" are living outside Africa now.

Regional organization can lead the way to developing greater capacity, he said. "Planning a program and thinking that you can implement or coordinate it at a continental level is too ambitious; it will have serious management problems. That is why we say that while Nepad,is a continental vision, implementation is at the country level or the sub regional level."

A significant country-by-country step toward implementing the new commitments Africa has been made with Nepad's peer review mechanism. In a process sure to be carefully watched by industrial nations and private investors, a peer review forum comprised of African heads of state and government will monitor each other's performance on economic management, human rights, corruption, and democracy. Teams of experts will travel to the countries that have enlisted for review.

Nepad has entrusted the United Nations Economic Commission for Africa (ECA) with primary responsibility for working out objective indicators that can be used to measure governments' adherence to such standards.

A two-day summit of the nine African heads-of-state who comprise the implementation commission for the Peer Review Mechanism, which convened on February 13 and 14 in the Rwandan capital, Kigali, adopted rules and procedures for the mechanism. But the debate in Africa continues. One African ambassador present at Thursday's luncheon, whose country has volunteered to undergo the process, said there are still some important issues that must be resolved. It would be "very unrealistic" for donors to delay disbursement of assistance until a country's review is concluded, he said. "It is going to take time for peers, like presidents, to think clearly about other countries," he said. Interference in another country's affairs is tricky, he added. "Nepad should explain that. Nepad should have a way to lower expectations about that."

Sixteen nations have signed up for peer review thus far, Nkulu said. The first visits will take place next month - to Rwanda, Ghana, Kenya and Mauritius. Sixteen is "a good number" he said, because Nepad only has the capacity to do four peer reviews a year.

Asked about the absence from the list of South Africa and Nigeria -- two nations that took the lead in shaping Nepad and the peer review mechanism - Nkulu pointed to South Africa's upcoming elections in April and added that Nigerian President Olusegun Obasanjo's role chairing the peer review forum makes it inappropriate to start the process with that nation. "Let's really test the objectivity of the process over some time," Nkulu said.

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