Signing on to a toothless accord
At the recently ended Africa Union meeting in Addis Ababa, President Hage Geingob signed the nearly 15-year-old African Peer Review Mechanism (APRM), and I cannot quite understand why.
The APRM is an instrument voluntarily acceded to by the member states of the African Union (AU) as a self-monitoring mechanism. It was seen as a vehicle for demonstrating greater transparency in public policy decision-making. I found no review of its effectiveness or impact penned after 2008.
Namibia’s accession to this mechanism is puzzling. What is the possible benefit for the current during its current tight economic conditions, drought, unemployment and increasing poverty, and dwindling access to direct budget-support from foreign aid programs?
I can only hope that this signing is a part of a hush-hush deal to get Namibia into donor programs that will provide immediate cash budgetary assistance.
Back in the day, I had assumed that Namibia did not sign up for the APRM, because our leaders did not want/need to dance for the West, in order to receive donor aid. Our commitment to enforcing our Constitution was clear and no outside mechanisms were needed to rap us over the knuckles, as we made our own choices on behalf of our own people.
The APRM was intended to force African heads of state to exercise some form of surveillance over each other, in a bid to ensure ‘good governance’ (as defined by the West). I am certain our leaders at that time knew that the countries promoting the New Partnership for Africa’s Development (NEPAD) and the APRM were the same ones who supported apartheid South Africa in its racist and brutal colonial occupation of Namibia; their objectives have never proven to be in Africa’s best interest.
Indeed, “NEPAD surfaced only after extensive consultations with the World Bank president and IMF managing director (November 2000 and February 2001); major transnational corporate executives and associated government leaders (at the Davos World Economic Forum in January 2001 and in NYC in February 2002); G8 rulers (at Tokyo in July 2000 and Genoa in July 2001); and the European Union president and individual Northern heads of state (2000-01)”, according to www.njas.helsinki.fi.
This criticism is given credence by the intrusive conditions underlying NEPAD, which are similar to those associated with the hated and failed Structural Adjustment Programs (SAPs) imposed by donor countries and international lending institutions, which wrecked the economies of a few African countries and provoked violent rebellions and coups in others. NEPAD and SAPs were linked and this tainted the former.
But, I have perceived a change in today’s world that further buries the relevance of the APRM, as a way to garner more donor aid dollars.
In this post 9/11 terrorism-shocked world, if an African country has some strategic value to the donor country’s security policy goals, then they will receive pats on the back, donor aid cash or development assistance, whether or not they murder their people in the streets, or sing the Star Spangled Banner, the Marseilles and Deutschland über Alles, in a loud tenor voice.
For developing countries without strategic significance, donor aid is now given on the basis of their GDP level as a first check point, and secondarily on the basis of their open markets and profitable raw materials (oil, diamonds, gold, etc.), and then on the basis of democracy and rule of law. Does Namibia’s signature on the APRM change any of this?
Other than natural disasters (drought, Ebola outbreaks, etc.), corruption, waste, inefficiency and skills gaps are the main albatrosses hanging around Africa’s neck. We can debate the lingering negative impact of colonialism, the slave trade, racism, apartheid, the brain drain and the greed of developed nations (they want cheap raw materials), as the reasons economic development in Africa is a challenge.
NEPAD, designed by those very Western powers that want access to African resources and markets, was not designed to foster afro-centric economic development, South-South trade and cooperation, or independent international political thinking, in terms of bolstering Africa to be a world player for the benefit of its 1,1 billion people. For so many decades, politically, it was all about Western countries helping themselves to Africa’s raw material exports as quickly and cheaply as possible, and then it was about the Cold War, and then about challenging Chinese positioning and the war against terrorism. Never has an AFRICAN focus been adopted by the West to guide its relations with the continent.
There is no doubt that African governments across the continent misused and stole billions in development assistance over the decades preceding the APRM. Equally, yet less noted, there is no doubt that Western donors forced ridiculously unsuitable programs, products, tools, equipment and so-called ‘experts’ down Africa’s throat, that also wasted billions in development assistance. How has NEPAD or the APRM changed any of this in 15 years?
I recall an EU-funded program from some years ago that forced our Ministry of Environment and Tourism to use EU companies to supply road grading vehicles, whereas more climate-appropriate vehicles with affordable spare parts and maintenance options were readily available, at a cheaper price, from other sources. But to get their financial assistance, Namibia was forced by EU rules to use their aid money to buy the European road graders, which promptly broke down within a year in Namibia’s heat and dry, sand-blasted conditions.
Will African leaders, who are Western trained and co-opted by a need to be loved and applauded by prominent world leaders, ever have sway with other African leaders, who have risen out of the poverty and energy of the masses of their people? Will smaller, less pivotal and largely disregarded African leaders ever hold sway with economic and population giants in their regions? Africa is not a monolith, as most uninformed people in the world seem to think it is; there are thousands of languages, cultures, religions, belief systems and prejudices. Many of our African leaders don’t respect each other and don’t get along. Where is the APRM in managing this reality? Can peer reviews ever be objective?
I take note that Namibia has received massive development assistance over the past 27 years, and qualified for highly competitive donor programs, by meeting strict ‘freedom and democracy’ criteria. All of this has been done without acceding to the controversial APRM or embracing NEPAD. Cream always rises to the top, as has Namibia. So why accede to the APRM now? What’s in it for us that we aren’t already getting?
I have another concern with the APRM. Are we ready for the political implications of signing it? Ponder this scenario: Angola’s Eduardo Dos Santos has been president for 37 years – well past his sell-by date - and the economy has tanked, thanks to the oil downturn and wrong-headed decisions to not use oil revenues to develop their other natural resources or provide social services to the people. Let’s say Dos Santos decides not to step down as announced and the APRM compels us to vociferously support regime change in Angola. Will Namibia join this effort? I think not.
Are we ready, as the 36th signatory of the APRM (out of 54 nations), for the technical implications of signing the 15-year-old review mechanism? Can we afford the membership fees? Annual payments of US$100,000, are required according to one source that also records that most member states are in arrears with their payments?
Do we have the required ministerial level panel up and running that will serve as our ‘focal point’? Are we ready for the long, tedious five-phase process, which includes visits by committees to ‘assess Namibia’ and fill out a questionnaire about us? All too often in Namibia on a policy and law-making level, we leap before we look. Could this be the case here?
One of the NEPAD objectives, of 15 years ago, was to, “halve poverty in Africa by 2015”. Has that goal been achieved or approached due to NEPAD or APRM actions? I think not.
Attaching Namibia’s solid international reputation, as a well-run African nation, to the deadweight of unachieved NEPAD objectives, may not serve this country very well.
Namibia has signed already so it’s a done deal. I just hope the results are what we expect.