- The Washington Times - Thursday, November 21, 2002

In a letter to Canadian Prime Minister Jean Chretien this month, South African President Thabo Mbeki defended Africa's latest plan to spur development, an ambitious blueprint for linking the developed world's technological prowess, wealth and appetite for investment to the needs of Africa, as Africans see them.
The plan, called the New Partnership for Africa's Development (NEPAD), had drawn criticism from newspapers in South Africa, as well as the Group of Eight, as straying from what it was designed to do spur the economic uplift of Africa while steering its politics toward democratic institutions.
Not so, Mr. Mbeki indicated in his letter to Mr. Chretien, host of this year's G-8 summit.
"Good governance on our continent, comprehensively understood, is of fundamental interest to the people of Africa," Mr. Mbeki wrote, adding that "the [African Union] is the primary organization that unites the people of Africa. NEPAD is its socioeconomic development program."
In other words: To the extent that good governance can be mandated by international institutions outside the governments of African countries, it is the responsibility of the African Union, not of NEPAD.
In a sense, the debate has the flavor of an academic argument, because neither the AU nor NEPAD can dictate specific recipes for either economic or political development.
Still, ever since the Clinton administration began treating Africa as a player on the world stage, the United States has praised "emerging democracies" in Africa, citing Uganda as an example, and has made it clear that such countries would be favored as economic partners.
The Africa Growth and Opportunities Act, a new U.S. law, is infused with the notion that good governance counts when deciding on trade benefits, and the Bush administration has not backed away from this ideal.
With that in mind, NEPAD was formally inaugurated this year to coordinate global assistance programs, with Africans acting as partners in the process.
Spelling out the continent's needs and making recommendations was to be done through an "African peer-review mechanism," under which heads of states that voluntarily joined the process would draw up scorecards on how African states were faring on the democracy and trade fronts.
So high are hopes riding on this bid for a meaningful linkage between the developed world and continentwide economic development that the South African president called it an "epoch-making process."
The program, formally instituted in July, is the brainchild of five African heads of state Mr. Mbeki; Nigerian President Olusegun Obasanjo; Senegalese President Abdoulaye Wade, who agreed to integrate his similar Omega Project into NEPAD; President Abdelaziz Bouteflika of Algeria; and President Hosni Mubarak of Egypt.
For all its high aspirations, NEPAD is a modestly organized program.
It is not even an organization in its own right, but part of the newly created AU, successor to the continentwide Organization of African Unity.
Under the AU, there are three levels of authority: A Heads of State Implementation Committee (HSIC), consisting of 17 African leaders, meets at regular intervals to sign off on proposed decisions. Below HSIC is a steering committee, and below that a secretariat.
However, NEPAD is not housed with the AU, which has its headquarters in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia. It is run out of Midrand, South Africa, a suburb of Johannesburg.
In charge of NEPAD's secretariat is Wiseman Nkuhlu, an economic adviser to Mr. Mbeki.
In an interview last week, Mr. Nkuhlu said: "While, of course, conflict resolution and good governance is a common interest of all Africans, we must bear in mind that NEPAD's most productive labors will bear fruit in economic development."
NEPAD's mode of operation is, first, to draw from all project sources regional economic blocs in Africa, economic schemes hatched for Africa in the developed world, international agencies such as the World Bank and the African Development Bank, and other development agencies.
Then it seeks to formulate these projects according to Africa's needs and capabilities and to mobilize and coordinate the flow of development assistance.
"We deal with specific projects, but with the interests of an entire continent in mind," said Andre du Plessis, first secretary for economic affairs at the South African Embassy in Washington.
Added Vicky Maharaj, press officer at the embassy: "The purpose of NEPAD is to influence projects by pushing for the use of African expertise as far as practically possible."
For example, he said, in building a bridge, NEPAD would push for the use of African engineers or the training of Africans during the project. The objective is to refocus development from a donors' show to an effort that meets the real needs of the continent.
NEPAD programs are implemented though the regional economic communities, such as the Economic Community of West African States and the Southern African Development Community. There are five such regional groups in Africa.
Asked by a reporter this week about the "confusing signals coming out of Africa" on what the peer-review mechanism is supposed to review, Walter Kansteiner, the State Department's top official on Africa, called the mechanism "very important."
Briefing reporters on conflict resolution Monday at the Foreign Press Center, Mr. Kansteiner said of the peer review: "It is in essence what separates this initiative from past economic-development strategies for sub-Saharan Africa or for the African continent.
"And so I was very, very glad to hear when Wiseman Nkuhlu came on Friday and explained that the NEPAD secretariat has been instructed by the NEPAD heads of state to, in fact, pursue a peer-review mechanism, both on the economic side as well as on the democracy, rule of law, governance side."


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