APRM whitewashing Zambian problems

By Prof. Michelo Hansungule

Many people in Zambia are obviously not aware that Zambia will be ‘peer reviewed’ under the African Peer Review Mechanism (APRM) at this weekend’s post-African Union Summit of Heads of State and Government and rightly so. In fact, most citizens are not aware or to put it simply do not know what this animal the APRM is all about? This is not only Zambia’s dilemma but of Africa as a whole. Here in Pretoria, I often ask my South African and African students the most basic of the basic questions ‘where is the headquarters of the continental APRM? Of course none would dare put up their hand. My next familiar question is to South Africans only asking them to tell me and their colleagues in class of the focal point of the South African APRM? No one has previously got the correct answer.
Established by the African Union (AU) way back in 2003, the APRM was part of an ambitious and comprehensive package of political reforms first initiated by then president Thabo Mbeki of South Africa in his rennaissance vision he proposed for Africa in the new millennium. As Mbeki was unveiling his plans to fight African poverty and maginalisatin in world affairs, his counterpart and public critic then president of Senegal Abdulouy Wade was busy unveiling his plan the OMEGA,. Like Mbeki’s New African Initiative (NAI), OMEGA promised to fight poverty and Africa’s maginalisation in the new millennium.

At the AU at the time OAU Lusaka Summit in July 2001, the two plans were merged into one which saw the birth of the New Partnership for Africa’s Development (NEPAD). Central to the four objectives of NEPAD is poverty eradication and also the fight against the marginaliation of Africa in world affairs especially in trade.

One of the main pillars of NEPAD was the APRM which in a sense was an announcement that there are new kids next block on African leadership in the names of Mbeki, never mind sanitized Obasanjo of Nigeria, Wade, late Melesi Zenawe of Ethiopia, etc.

Though others have criticised the entire concept as new wine in old bottles, these ‘new kids’ publicly promised African people to do things in Africa differently this time round in terms of the challenges of democracy, rule of law, human rights, economic and social development. It is common knowledge that Africans have never really been free in the truest sense of the word from since political independence. As Ugandan Professor Mohamood Mamdani argued in his revealing book ‘When Victims Become Killers’, correctly noted, post-independence African regimes so easily turn out to be oppressive or even worse oppressors once given a chance once given a chance in government.

This is Africa’s experience unfortunately. APRM which became independent of the NEPAD once it was on its feet, was initiated by the new kids next door as means to reverse Africa’s governance barbarism. Besides a modest Secretariat at Midrand in South Africa, APRM is led by a group of seven individuals from across Africa technically known as ‘Eminent Persons’. The first batch of the seven Eminent Persons included personalities like Graca Marcel, former South African Reserve Bank Governor Dr. Chris Stalls, former Vice Chancellor of Yaounde 1 University in Cameroon Dr. Dorothy Njuema, etc. Late Zambia’s former Foreign Minister Dr. Siteke Mwale served briefly in the second batch.

But like most African programmes, APRM is probably not something seriously sick people should put their confidence in. In its structure, APRM is defined as a voluntary mechanism which aims to provide a dialogue in the country about that country’s governance challenges and direction. On the basis of the four thematic areas, namely, democracy and good political governance, economic governance and management, corporate governance as well as social development, states that join the APRM undertake their ‘self-assessment’ of their records based on the above themes in the hope to engage citizens and stakeholders about their challenges and how to respond to those challenges.

At a practical level, APRM seeks to address such perennial problems in Africa as why courts are congested so that it takes ages for accused persons to have a bite at justice much against their guaranteed right to a fair trial? A country will review its record delays for the registration of companies and businesses including societies and how these impact on the country’s overall development goals? It is aimed to act as a unique platform for groups like women, children and persons with disability have a disproportionate share of the country’s opportunities yet the constitution will often be singing equality of all.

The climax of the APRM is the Summit of Heads of State and Government such as the one slated for this weekend in the Ethiopian capital city Addis Ababa where following presentations of Country Reports from a country that has successfully undergone a review, the other Heads of States (Peers) are given opportunity to share experiences (experience sharing) on how to address some of the challenges the review may have unearthed.

In terms of the original intent, the architects had hoped the Heads of State would use the opportunity to freely critic fellow Heads of State including throwing missiles at each other if that is what it takes to ensure the aims and objectives of APRM. Unfortunately, this has not yet happened and it bis unlikely it would happen. African Heads of State are still very much shy on taking head on fellow Heads of State.

Rather, most of them stand up only to congratulate the one who has just gone through the review often completely ignoring the challenges identified in the Report either because they are shy or out of fear that they coud be opening themselves to similar attacks or worse when it is their turn. There is only one exception, however, and this is when former president Thabo Mbeki and late Ethiopian Prime Minister Meles Zenawi would take the floor. Perhaps because both were trained economists, they would always be the only ones who would disagree with each other’s positions.

Given above, it is quite clear that Zambia will come out shining from the peer review process just like others before because APRM is not like Amnesty International or Human Rights Watch. Its main weakness is that it is primarily ‘Head of State driven’ which makes it almost like another club of Heads of States which have failed us in the past. Secondly, the final product of APRM the Programme of Action till now has not had its status clarified in the national domain of participating countries. Most participating countries simply are not sure what to do let alone how to integrate the PoA into the national fabric.

Third, the anchoring of the APRM on the personalities of the Heads of State of Participating countries ignores existing convention in international law where states and not the persons of Heads of States are the ones that commit to the obligations a treaty would provide. Fourth, the AU is, of course, a bad ‘marketeer’ of its programmes. Little has been done since the inception of APRM to popularise the idea among ordinary Africans as strategy to internalise the concept and promote its ownership among them.

Public perception of these grand programmes such as the APRM they are nothing but efforts by leaders to white-wash the endemic problems African people face and this is not far from the truth. If ten years later, a concept like the APRM remains largely unknown to the poor for whom it is intended, what would be a better explanation than white-wash? Like most state and particularly Head of state-driven elitist concepts, APRM isn’t the solution the poor Africans need to address their plight.

To become one, it urgently needs to undergo serious localisation so that, for instance, the Head of State’s presentation does not go on record unchallenged by citizens as is the case now. Africans must take control of their destinies. Time to leave one’s destiny with leaders or government is long gone. For example, what does ‘good governance’ means at this juncture in the Zambian context? One, it means Zambians must ‘take over’ the constitution making process completely.

No one, not even government, can write your constitution for you and this is what APRM should entail. You do not only have a right but a duty to take over every inch of Zambia from police or government for your meetings, assemblies and gatherings. Anything short of this is simply slavery under the guise of law and order!

The Author is a University of Pretoria Law Professor in South Africa

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