The African Peer Review Mechanism - the continent's home-grown governance assessment and promotion tool - seems to be slowly turning its fortunes around.
On 6-7 September, it will hold a workshop in Sandton discussing how to implement its first ever five year strategy for 2016-2020.
Stuck in stasis for years amid lukewarm political commitment, evaporating financial contributions and lack of visionary leadership, a new energy around the APRM was palpable at its 25th Summit held in Nairobi, Kenya on 26 August 2016.
South Africa's Professor Eddy Maloka was appointed as the first permanent APRM CEO in over seven years in January, and has wasted no time putting plans in place to rejuvenate the APRM. The Nairobi meeting endorsed the strategic plan, called for member countries to adequately finance the mechanism, and, uniquely, held a stand-alone event for African civil society to raise their concerns.
What will it now take to get the APRM ship sailing full steam ahead?
Poor Attendance Should be Addressed
This meeting was deferred from the African Union's midyear Summit in Kigali, Rwanda in July, given that the AU wanted to devote more time to discussing African conflicts and tried (but failed) to elect a new AU Commission Chairperson.
The APRM Forum (of participating heads of state and government) was held on the fringes of the 6th TICAD (Tokyo International Conference on Africa's Development) Summit in Nairobi. But attendance, once again, was poor - only six out of 35 presidents were present, from Kenya (as chair), Liberia, Mozambique, Senegal, South Africa and Uganda - strengthening the case for holding standalone Forum meetings. By contrast, over 30 African heads of state attended TICAD VI itself.
The absence of presidents from Chad and Djibouti - both said to be on their summer vacations - meant that regrettably their Country Review Reports could not be debated, putting them on ice until the January 2017 Summit. Senegal indicated it was not ready to be reviewed and will also be bumped to January. This calls into question commitment to the APRM at the highest levels.
The Forum called for 2018 to be the year of universal accession to the APRM. But, as argued in previous SAIIA research, including all states will not necessarily make the APRM more functional and relevant; indeed in several recalcitrant current member states no movement has occurred despite accession over a decade ago. Will adding everyone - especially if capitals are not genuinely committed to reform - not overburden the stretched APRM system?
Fixing the Finances
Several APRM countries have never settled their membership dues, and others are years behind in payments. The Forum extracted "a commitment that APRM member states pay contribution arrears within three years" and agreed that their "annual contribution increase from the current $100,000 to $200,000 USD with effect from 2017."
No details were given on how that will get non-paying governments to now cough up double subscriptions, but this is at least a positive political step to address significant financial shortfalls. This has to be one of Maloka's prioroties.
Greater Civil Society Engagement
The meeting also confirmed that Kenya is expected to be the first country to undergo a second review. It has trod a long and troubled path to this point, but is expecting a Country Review Mission in October 2016, and peer review at the Forum in January 2017. At the civil society outreach event held on 23 August, many Kenyan participants demanded more involvement, having felt largely excluded from the country's second self-assessment process. The new Chairperson of Kenya's National Governing Council - the multi-stakeholder 'board' that oversees the national review and upholds its integrity - Professor Michael Chege, promised deeper and broader engagement with citizens and CSOs going forward. Kenyans should not miss these opportunities to weigh in on governance issues.
Timeous National Programmes of Action Reporting
Mozambique's president presented his country's second APRM National Programme of Action Implementation Report, some seven years after the publication of its Country Review Report. According to the meeting communiqué, issues highlighted included elections, HIV/AIDS, youth unemployment and access to land. However, as was evident in the 2014 Mozambican elections, these issues remain significant, along with key political and financial reform challenges, and require dedicated attention to ensure that Mozambique does not find itself in the same quagmire three years down the line. This also demonstrates the need to speed up review and reporting processes if the APRM's products are not to become irrelevant.
Linking Governance and Development
The Forum also discussed a presentation by Ugandan President Yoweri Museveni which outlined 11 "bottlenecks" holding back development in Africa. His list in unsurprising: "ideological disorientation; interference with the private sector; under-developed infrastructure; weak states, especially the army, police, etc.; fragmented markets, market access and expansion; lack of industrialisation and low value addition; underdevelopment of human resources; underdevelopment of agriculture; underdevelopment of the services sector; attack on democracy and governance; and non-responsive civil service." It underscores that governance appears to be firmly back on the development agenda.
Going forward, the APRM's five year strategy for 2016-2020 should be made public, to allow Africa's citizens to understand the plans, comment on them, and be fully part of the revival of the APRM. The mechanism needs all the support it can muster.
Steven Gruzd is the Head of the Governance and Foreign Policy Programme at the South African Institute of International Affairs. He was in Nairobi for the APRM's meeting with civil society on 23 August.