The APRM: Celebrating A Decade of Peer Reviewing and Learning while Institutionalising Democratic Governance in Africa

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    Over the past decade, the African Peer Review Mechanism (APRM) has strived to demonstrate that monitoring and assessing tools originating outside Africa have proven to be ineffective due to their inherent design, accountability and ownership flaws. It has also shown that mechanisms that are designed and led by Africa stand a better chance of enabling decisions that empower citizens and support reforms.

    As the African Peer Review Mechanism (APRM) enters its tenth year of existence along side the 50th Anniversary since the formation of the Organisation of African Unity / African Union (OAU/AU), it is important to celebrate this uniquely home-grown African initiative, while assessing its significant contributions toward institutionalising democratic processes and new development paradigms across the continent.

    This is so because it is often misunderstood by observers outside the continent that the APRM is merely an African-owned and -led governance assessment tool. What is missing from such perspective is that, ultimately, the APRM is about institutionalising domestic accountability in governance, viewed against the background of externally driven democracy and governance reforms imposed on the continent over the last fifty-years or so.

    In this context, the mechanism has contributed to democratic processes throughout the continent in both visible and intangible ways, even if formidable challenges still remain in terms of sustainable institutional and organisational capacities. While external partners such as the European Union (EU) and the Africa-EU Partnership have made some fledgling contributions in the upstream stages of implementation, it is now time to establish partnerships that can support the implementation of the downstream stages of the process, including implementing the National Programs of Actions.

    APRM as a unique home-grown approach to African shared values

    APRM is often described as “Africa’s unique and innovative approach to governance“
     with the objective of improving governance dynamics at the local, national, continental and international levels. Since its adoption, the APRM has become the most visible achievement of the New Partnership for Africa's Development (NEPAD) in promoting good governance in Africa. The Constitutive Act (2002) of the AU signified the willingness of African States to relinquish a substantial degree of sovereignty in pursuit of continental political and economic objectives. It also marked the increasing awareness among African States of the need for commonly shared values to shape and determine individual and collective actions. The APRM was the most significant manifestation of these shared values and, also, the vehicle through which this new approach could be monitored and institutionalised.

    Viewed in the context of Constitutive Act of the African Union, therefore, the APRM embodies and seeks to promote three fundamental values of the African Union: Freedom and Human Rights, Participatory Development, and Accountability. The mechanism seeks to emphasise the interdependency of democracy and development and their mutual reinforcement. 

    The contributions of the APRM to the democratic process and development

    Since its first mention in the NEPAD official documents in 2001 and the subsequent adoption of the accession of the Memorandum of Understanding (MOU) in 2003, the APRM has made considerable progress in terms of the number of countries acceding, the rolling-out of the structures, institutions and organisation of the review process, as well as the degree of active participation and engagement of stakeholders, both nationally and continentally. Participation in the APRM process rate has been growing steadily since 2003. By January 2013, thirty-one countries had voluntarily acceded by signing the MoU - representing about 75 per cent of the continent’s population. 

    Another level of progress made in the implementation of the APRM process is the innovations seen in the setting up the national structures and institutions and in the marshalling of organisational capacity for undertaking the country self-assessment processes. In the end, however, the nature and quality of civil society participation in the APRM process is directly linked to the political context in each country. 

    Since its inception, the mechanism has registered some remarkable progress. One of the fundamental achievements emanating from a decade experience with the APRM is that it is gradually allowing a shift away from accountability to external actors or donors to domestically driven accountability processes. This means that unlike the era of structural adjustment, whereby states were satisfying the conditions and preferences of external actors, the APRM has initiated accountability to domestic constituencies of development policies, who are the citizens.

    The long-term implication of this shift is that there would be a decrease in Africa’s dependency on external ideas for policy-making to more internally driven policy making and setting of priorities. This issue is fundamental to the African transformative agenda.

    As a governance framework, the APRM is gradually fostering the practice of participatory governance through a deliberative process of consultation, dialogue and accountability. The APRM has created a heightened awareness of governance and development challenges among citizens and given them hope that their voices would be listened to and their desires implemented. Thus, we are beginning to witness an incipient transformation in the relationship between the state and society in Africa. 

    This transformation would lead to a new “social contract” that would be needed to ensure better development outcomes for all citizens. The lessons emerging from the recent global financial and economic crisis, the Arab Spring and the emerging consensus on post-2015 MDGs all point to the need for governance systems that foster a new “social compact” between the state and society. Another major contribution being made by the APRM to national, regional and continental policy-making is the availability of a huge corpus of data, knowledge, experiences and insights in the four thematic pillars of the mechanism.

    The APRM participating countries that have gone through a rigorous self-assessment exercise, have at their disposal, high quality data to draw upon in order to gain insight into the genesis of the present problems confronting them, to monitor progress towards the achievement of national and internationally agreed goals and, collectively explore the best approaches to resolving them.

    In addition, the APRM country self-assessment process and the external validation by peers and the panel have led to the acceptance of common structural and systemic challenges that confront ALL African states and the need for collective solutions among them. For example, the issue of Diversity Management – ethnicity, gender, youth, regionalism, race, xenophobia – are common challenges of nation-building which even advanced democracies cannot hide away nor pretend do not exist. Yet, the APRM has brought this issue to the fore and legitimised it as a challenge that must be confronted if Africa is to make headway in managing its rich tapestry of diverse communities.

    The issues of natural resource governance and management, land ownership and population growth, resource-based conflicts and climate change have all been highlighted by the APRM reports and collective efforts are now underway by the African Union, RECs and the APRM Strategic Partners to institutionalize best practices. The strategic important of using the APRM in collective bargaining in natural resource management and global climate change negotiations cannot be underestimated

    Challenges facing the Mechanism

    Despite the remarkable achievements chalked by the APRM since its inception some ten-year ago, the mechanism faces institutional and structural challenges related to the governance of the mechanism. First, the initial enthusiasm that greeted the inauguration of the process has waned down, with most of the initiating Heads of States – like President Obasanjo of Nigeria and Mbeki of South Africa – having stepped down from office. As a collective effort by the African Union, the enthusiasm of individual African leaders goes a long way in ensuring its success. In addition, the institutional set up of the APRM Secretariat has faced multiple capacity challenges, including the security of tenure of its staffing and the lack of clarity of the relationship between the APRM Secretariat and other governing structures of the mechanism such as the Committee of Focal Points, who report directly to the Heads of States. While such issues are currently being addressed , they are certainly bound to limit the realization of its full potential.

    Expected role of the Africa-EU Partnership in supporting the APRM

    Over the past decade, the APRM has strived to demonstrate that monitoring and assessing tools originating outside Africa have proven to be ineffective due to their inherent design, accountability and ownership flaws. It has also shown that mechanisms that are designed and led by Africa stand a better chance of enabling decisions that empower citizens and support reforms. The EU Governance Incentive Tranche (ECGIT) was established by the EU in 2006 with the purpose of allocating resources as a “governance incentive” to the ACP countries that “schedule governance reforms” in return for support. While this may sound like a benign form of conditionality, the EUGIT would be better off aligning this allocation with the APRM country National Plans of Action which is already owned and led by the Africa. If the purpose of the EU governance Tranche is to strengthen country owned and driven governance process, then it would have more positive outcomes through such alignment. The history of reforms has shown that conditionalities – whether consensual or not – only works when they are in touch with an internally driven process for reforms.

    Looking forward

    The APRM and its corollary program NEPAD, were created by the nascent African Union with the primary purpose of reshaping and transforming the governance systems and structures on the African continent in the context of development partnership between Africa and the rest of the world. Essentially, it was conceived as a double contract between African states and their citizens on the one hand (domestic accountability) and among African states themselves in pursuit of good political, economic, corporate and social governance standards. Ten-years down the road, the mechanism appears to be making significant contributions towards laying the groundwork for establishing domestic accountability – the extent to which the state is answerable for its actions to its own citizens, rather than to external actors, especially donors. This marks the beginning of a long journey towards consolidating democratic processes in Africa. 

    Kojo Busia has been leading United Nations Economic Commission for Africa (ECA)’s strategic, technical, analytical and institutional strengthening support to the APRM continental secretariat since 2007. He is currently being redeployed to lead the Governance Cluster Team of the African Mineral Development Centre in ECA.

    This article was published in GREAT Insights Volume 2, Issue 6 (September 2013).

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