Select Committee on Foreign Affairs Minutes of Evidence

Written evidence submitted by Dr Ian Taylor, Department of Political and Administrative Studies, University of Botswana

  One of the main promoters of the NEPAD has been South Africa's President Thabo Mbeki, who has taken on an almost personalised stake in the NEPAD's advocacy. As a result, the NEPAD has been criticised as being overly dominated by South Africa. The implementation process for achieving the NEPAD's goals might be said to reflect South African dominance of the programme, as well as the tensions that this has engendered, particularly as the Secretariat is based in Pretoria under the head of Wiseman Nkuhlu (a South African). Such a set-up has produced a degree of anxiety already within Africa, with the interim president of the African Union, along with foreign ministers and members of the newly launched African Union's secretariat "lambast[ing] South Africa and Nigeria for dominating the NEPAD process", questioning why the African Union (AU) had been launched in South Africa instead of Addis Ababa and claiming that the AU was "not being kept up to speed with developments on NEPAD".[19]

  This being so, most focus on the NEPAD has been aimed at the section on Political Governance and Peer Review, which sprang from the March 2002 Draft Report on Good Governance and Democracy and the African Peer Review Mechanism. Unlike the now-defunct Organisation of African Unity (OAU), it appeared to some observers that the NEPAD was a qualitatively different document from previous African "declarations", perhaps for the first time advancing a promise to self-police African leaders and rein in corrupt autocrats. However, it now appears highly improbable that there will be any sanctions or counter-measures against those countries that fail to pass the governance muster. Yet without such measures any review mechanism is largely pointless as it will have no teeth.

  Problematically, it was President Mbeki who unilaterally claimed that the African Review Mechanism (APRM) would not review the political governance of African countries. This marked a retreat from earlier pronouncements and came after an extended period of time when the NEPAD's promoters (primarily Mbeki and Obasanjo) not only consistently refused to criticise Robert Mugabe of Zimbabwe and his party's behaviour but also supported him. Whilst Mbeki has sought to deny that there should be any link between inaction over Zimbabwe and the NEPAD's credibility, virtually all observers have stressed the crucial linkage. Mbeki's position was—and is—is that the NEPAD is simply the AU's "socio-economic programme", and that there was never ever any suggestion that the NEPAD peer review process would conduct the work of the AU's Commission on Human Rights. Such a position contradicts both one of the main selling points of the NEPAD and, what Mbeki had postured previously. It is a fact that when it was launched and in the run-up to its launch, NEPAD was sold to its Western partners on the basis that it would advance democracy, respect for human rights, peace and good governance and that such principles would be guided and monitored through the establishment of a "peer review" mechanism.

  Now that this seems to have been abandoned, serious questions as to what exactly is the point of the NEPAD if all it is going to do is review economic progress in Africa are being asked. Innumerable reports on Africa's economic condition are already regularly issued by the International Monetary Fund, the World Bank, the African Development Bank, the United Nations Economic Commission for Africa, development agencies and non-governmental organisations, as well as departments and ministries within most African states (as well as publications such as The Economist Intelligence Unit). What value can the NEPAD bring if it is simply going to duplicate such work? Whilst there is now a six-person supervising panel of the peer review mechanism (appointed in May 2003), the whole process is entirely voluntary and lacks any muscle and there is now a suspicion that this panel will restrict itself to rubber-stamping governance reports of countries that were confident of positive evaluations by the panel in the first place. The point of such an exercise is obscure.

  President Thabo Mbeki has in fact come out badly since the launch of the NEPAD, primarily because many saw him as one of the "new generation" of African leaders. But, his behaviour surrounding the Zimbabwe issue and the NEPAD has served to question his leadership and diplomatic skills. Mbeki's tactic of labelling anyone he is in disagreement with as "racist" has been particularly disturbing. For instance, in engaging with critics over his back-pedalling regarding the APRM, Mbeki labelled them "self-appointed champions of democracy and human rights in Africa" who were apparently infused with "contemptuous prejudice" for Africans and who dared to suggest that "Africa's political leaders cannot be trusted to promote and entrench democracy and human rights".[20]Mbeki has also been involved in an acrimonious dispute within the Commonwealth when he labelled leaders within that organisation who expressed concern over Mugabe's tyranny as racists who were merely "inspired by notions of white supremacy". Such moves were pursued because white leaders in the Commonwealth apparently felt uneasy at their "repugnant position imposed by inferior blacks".[21]This type of rhetoric, aimed at Prime Minister Blair, is not the type of language expected from an ostensible friend of the United Kingdom, nor from a country that demands increased investment from London.

  Whilst it is recognised that the NEPAD is a long-term project of renewal, worthy of support, South Africa's policies with regard to the NEPAD thus far reflect an unmistakable failure to act (or even express overt concern) regarding governance failures on the continent. The debacle in Zimbabwe is perhaps the most high-profile but the situation in Swaziland should also be noted. Both countries are within South Africa's immediate sphere of influence and a more proactive stance by Pretoria should be expected. The inaction to date invites disappointment vis-a"-vis the NEPAD and makes its more difficult for its Western promoters (primarily Canada and the United Kingdom) to sell the document to other G-7 members as a serious initiative. The palpable cooling off of the world community's enthusiasm for the NEPAD can be seen in part as a result of this failure. The NEPAD has value in placing the question of Africa's development firmly on the international agenda, but there is a real need for Mbeki to show some degree of leadership, even if this is uncomfortable. Failure to do so risks allowing the NEPAD project to ultimately fade away like other previous pan-African development initiatives.

Dr Ian Taylor

University of Botswana

19   Sunday Times (Johannesburg), 22 September 2002. Back

20   Quoted in "Critics Ill-Informed About NEPAD Peer Review", ANC Today, Vol. 2, No 45, 8-14 November 2002, Back

21   "Letter from the President: Zimbabwe: `Two Blacks and One White'", ANC Today: Online Voice of the African National Congress, Vol 2, No 10, 8-14 March 2002, Back

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