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AU Panel to Evaluate Governance in Some African Countries - 2003-10-06

This past weekend marked the second meeting of the African peer review panel, a group Africans who will be evaluating certain countries on their political, economic and corporate governance. The peer review process is to encourage political stability, economic growth, and sustainable development on the continent, and to encourage foreign investment. Africa has never seen anything like it before. On a continent where most nations have been famously reluctant to criticize each other for anything, a growing number of countries are now inviting criticism. They hope it will be the constructive kind.

Nigerian Professor Adebayo Adedeji is one of seven Africans leading the African Peer Review panel, which met in Johannesburg on Friday and Saturday for the second time since it was created in May.

"We Africans are very queer people," said Professor Adedeji. "We do not mind opening our doors and our gates to outsiders, but we lock our doors and our windows to our friends and neighbors. In this world, progress is based on regular review, to see how well you have done, what mistakes you have made, how you can improve on those mistakes, so that all African countries can move together in unison."

The African Peer Review Mechanism is a project of the African Union the New Program for African Development. Mr. Adedeji is part of a group known as the Panel of Eminent Persons, leading the review process. The seven panelists from around the continent were chosen for their integrity and expertise.

Another of them is veteran Kenyan diplomat Bethwel Kiplagat. At a dinner marking the second meeting of the peer review panel, he told VOA that in order to move forward, Africa must look at the things that have been holding it back, including war, mismanagement of resources and bad governance. That is why he decided to take part in the peer review panel.

"I want to get into it because this gives us an opportunity of looking at those weeds, I call them, in the African garden," he said. "And for ourselves to remove those weeds, to enable, to create an environment that is really conducive to development. Because ultimately it is development that we want. But you cannot develop if people are constrained and they have no freedom."

One idea behind the peer review process is to attract foreign investment to countries that can prove they are meeting standards of good political, economic, and corporate governance. But for Mr. Kiplagat, the more important idea is that of Africans examining, criticizing, and uplifting themselves.

"The basic principle, which I believe in and I accept fully, is that Africans and Africa take responsibility for its problems," he explained. "And that we have the capacity, we have the resources, and we want to look at these problems. Of course, we need partners who are willing, but we are not giving the first priority to the partners. We are saying the responsibility is ours, and we are going to reshape the continent of ours."

Mr. Kiplagat says he is optimistic about the panel's ability to operate freely and independently because the peer review process is entirely voluntary. Nobody, he says, will be forced to take part. But he says the extreme poverty of many African nations could hinder their participation.

"I think what is going to bog us down is capacity," he commented. "Countries may be totally committed to it, but then you arrive there and they do not have the capacity to gather the necessary information.

"They may not have even a proper auditing system in the private sector," continued Mr. Kiplagat. "You know all of these things are the things that are going to hamper. So capacity building is also essential in the process."

Sixteen countries have signed up for the peer review program. Not all of them are entirely peaceful or perfectly democratic, and a few have severe problems.

But NEPAD officials, the panelists and the participating countries themselves emphasize that peer review is not designed to punish countries that fail to reach the stated goals. Rather, it hopes to serve as an incentive to meet them, by uplifting the countries that succeed and setting an example for the ones that do not.

South African Foreign Minister Nkosazana Dlamini-Zuma says her country is ready to be reviewed, and she encourages other countries to sign on, as well.

"We all have a responsibility, individually, and collectively, to be part of this titanic struggle for the renewal and rebirth of our continent, the struggle that should see a democratic, secure and prosperous Africa, at peace with itself and with the rest of the world," said Ms. Dlamini-Zuma.

The review process has five stages, and could take about a year and a half from start to finish.

The panelists have not announced which country they will visit first, but there is widespread speculation that it will be Ghana, possibly even before the end of the year.

Mr. Kiplagat and the other reviewers say they are anxious to get the work started as soon as possible.