The African Peer Review Mechanism (APRM) has potential to dramatically change the governance landscape on the continent. However, 10 years after its formation, the APRM has not fully captured the interest of African citizens and media. Why is this the case?
To answer this question, SAIIA's Governance and APRM Programme, together with Zambia's Foundation for Democratic Process (FODEP), hosted a regional training workshop for journalists and members of civil society in Lusaka on 7-8 May 2013. Over two days, discussions and debates ensued about media attention given to the APRM in Zambia, Tanzania, Malawi and South Africa.
"Engaging with the Media on APRM Issues: A Civil Society How-To Guide", written by SAIIA researcher Nicole Beardsworth, assisted participants in looking at ways of improving coverage of the APRM in the media, both quantitatively and qualitatively. The guide offers practical advice on engaging the media effectively, to increase reporting on the APRM and the governance issues identified in its reports. It also explains how to utilise press releases, media alerts, opinion articles and social media, such as Facebook and Twitter, to achieve this. Useful tips for drafting a media strategy and preparing for an interview are provided throughout. Click here to download the guide.
The choice of Zambia as a host country for the workshop was strategic. The country's vibrant civil society was extensively involved in the APRM during the self-assessment that started in 2010, even forming a Civil Society APRM Secretariat. However, Zambia's government changed twice since it acceded to the mechanism in 2006, and eventually the APRM fell off the radar and the agenda of non-governmental organisations (NGOs). Even the country's Civil Society APRM Secretariat was disbanded.
However, Zambia's peer review during the 18th APRM Forum in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia in January 2013, created an excellent opportunity to revive the process and determine how civil society and the media could be involved in the post-review phase and particularly in the implementation of the country's National Programme of Action (NPoA). The NPoA is a plan that a country under review commits to as a way forward to address the governance challenges and shortcomings identified during the review. Unfortunately many APRM member states do not pay sufficient attention to the implementation and monitoring of their NPoAs and as a result the process tends to fade away following the completion of the review. Zambia's current government, however, seems committed to the APRM, as was demonstrated by the attendance of the workshop and delivery of the keynote address by the Deputy Minister of Information and Broadcasting Services, Mr Mwansa Kapeya.
Another country that has to prepare for the post review phase, i.e. creating a roadmap for civil society's engagement in the implementation and monitoring of the NPoA, is Tanzania. It was peer-reviewed in January 2013 alongside Zambia by the APR Forum - the APRM's highest decision-making body, comprising of heads of states of countries that are members to the process. Nonetheless, the process is more prominent in Zambia than in Tanzania. The main reason for this is that the APRM process in Tanzania was unable to carve out its own space and was drowned out by multiple other governance initiatives in the country.
This seems to be a common problem. In South Africa, which was reviewed in 2007, the APRM has mostly escaped media scrutiny and thus the public eye, in spite of the publication of two NPoA progress reports in the interim by the South African government. South Africa is currently preparing for its third NPoA report and has conducted a number of provincial consultations. It is likely to request a follow-up country review once its third NPoA report has been presented to the APR Forum.
Malawi, the fourth case study discussed at the workshop seems to have made the least progress. Although it was one of the first countries to join the APRM in 2004, the process has barely moved since this time. Civil society is hoping that under the new president, Joyce Banda, the country will finally embark on its review. Given that state control over civil society and the media has lessened since the new administration came to power there is room for optimism in this regard. Malawian civil society is thus positive that it will be given sufficient space and freedom to participate in the APRM, when the APRM process starts.
However, the disconcerting conclusion was that in all four countries, the APRM is perceived as an elite initiative, which is led by governments and select NGOs, and one that is far removed from the concerns of ordinary citizens. As a consequence it suffers from a lack of media scrutiny. Moreover, the media's disinterest is also rather perversely informed by the fact that the process is not well-known in society. Therefore, unless the media and civil society work together, it will remain difficult to popularise the APRM.
This is deeply ironic as the process focuses on key governance-related societal challenges across four thematic areas: political governance; economic governance and management; corporate governance and socio-economic development. One of the main messages that came out of the workshop was that the media should keep track of the issues raised by the APRM, mainly by examining them through a governance prism. Civil society organisations can play a critical supporting role in this regard, as they are intimately involved in many local governance challenges on an ongoing basis. The media and civil society should work together more effectively to ensure that the issues raised in the APRM review processes receive the follow-up attention and action they deserve.
Yarik Turianskyi is the Programme Manager with SAIIA's Governance and African Peer Review Mechanism.