26th AU Summit: Time to take the APRM off life support?

Only political will at the apex of the AU could resuscitate the moribund APRM from its current half-life.

The African Peer Review Mechanism (APRM) – launched in 2002 with so much fanfare and hope by continental leaders such as South Africa’s Thabo Mbeki and Nigeria’s Olusegun Obasanjo – is faltering. The last reports of the African Union’s governance programme into member countries’ performances in political, economic, corporate and social governance were conducted back in 2011 and issued in 2013, on Zambia and Tanzania.

It produced 17 country reports, which are widely esteemed as the benchmarks for assessing the governance of those countries. But after peaking about six years ago, the APRM went steadily into decline – more or less from the time when Mbeki and Obasanjo left the political stage. New volunteers have been scarce.

Only 17 of the 35 member countries that joined the APRM have actually submitted themselves to peer review. Some undemocratic or not terribly well-governed countries – Equatorial Guinea and Angola come to mind – seem to have joined merely for the good publicity, or even to undermine the process.

The membership of such countries – especially when they don’t even have to pay the price of a country review – also devalues the currency of the APRM. And even among countries that have been reviewed, few have implemented the recommendations for improvement that flowed from the reviews.

The APRM stagnated, until quite recently it had begun to show signs of life

Many member states have not paid their dues, even though, for all but the five biggest states – which pay US$1 million a year – these annual dues have remained at only US$100 000 from the start. The APRM secretariat has not had a permanent secretary since 2008. And the large international support that the APRM had once enjoyed has markedly declined, with only Switzerland still providing it with funds.

As Grant Masterson, who heads the APRM programme at the Electoral Institute for Sustainable Democracy in Africa (EISA) said this week in Addis Ababa, the APRM has stagnated. But he added, at a briefing on research EISA has done on the value-addition of the APRM reports, that quite recently the APRM had begun to show some signs of life.

At their June 2014 summit in Malabo, the AU leaders decided that the CEO position should be filled. But they only appointed a temporary one. Further hopes were raised at last year’s AU summit in Sandton, when Kenyan President Uhuru Kenyatta was elected to head the African Peer Review Forum, the committee of leaders representing countries that have joined the APRM.

He made a strong plea for revival of the mechanism and announced an extraordinary summit of the APRM to be held in Nairobi in September. But that was cancelled at the last moment without notice, though Kenyatta said it had actually been postponed to this Friday, 29 January, on the eve of the full AU summit this weekend.

The other hopeful sign was that the APRM secretariat eventually managed to raise the money, from the United Nations (UN), to conduct a long-delayed peer review of Djibouti’s governance. There are also some indications that the next country reviews could happen in Chad, Senegal, Sudan and Côte d’Ivoire this year.

Only political will at the apex of the AU will ultimately sustain the APRM

Dr Mustapha Mekideche, the energetic new chair of the African Peer Review Panel of Eminent Persons, has been given much of the credit for nurturing and supporting these ‘green shoots’, as Masterson calls them, in the near dead wood of the APRM.

Nevertheless, Steve Gruzd, who heads the governance and APRM programme at the SA Institute of International Affairs (SAIIA) said at the same briefing in Addis Ababa this week, he would ‘believe it when I see it.’ Having just been in Côte d’Ivoire for the launch of its peer-review process, he said he did not think its country review would be done this year.

On the other hand, he also noted, Djibouti’s report had been completed in record time and was apparently due to be scrutinised by the APR Forum heads of state on Friday. That though, in turn, has raised some questions about how thorough the Djibouti report will prove to be. When done properly, APRM country reviews are extremely comprehensive and time-consuming.

Gruzd said he had also been told by APRM officials that the APR Forum would at last appoint a fulltime CEO for the APRM, though – ever sceptical since he has been tracking this beast for a long time – he will also believe that when he sees it.

Gruzd, Masterson and the other more dogged members of the diminishing band of APRM loyalists are pinning their hopes on the APR Forum to resuscitate the institution, which is pretty much on life support. For, as they made clear at the briefing, the tentative signs of new life may be encouraging, but it is only political will at the apex of the AU that will ultimately sustain the APRM. And it is by no means certain that such political will exists.

Kenyatta’s motives for so enthusiastically taking up the APRM baton last year have also been questioned. Some of his compatriots suspect he may just be looking to burnish his credentials as a pan-Africanist, or perhaps as a genuine democrat.

Civil society activists are looking to the leaders at Friday’s APR Forum summit for more than just pledges. Apart from filling the vacancies in the APRM structures, including the CEO, they want the leaders to review APRM funding to sustain the institution.

AU institutions seldom die, because too many personal interests are at stake

They also want an induction programme for new heads of state and government to ensure they are fully aware of the APRM, its operations and aims. Perhaps most controversially, they want the forum to review the membership – and possibly suspend – those volunteers for peer review who seem to be avoiding actual reviews.

And they want the forum to make public all APRM national programme of action implementation reports, so that citizens can see if their governments are implementing the APRM’s recommendations.

The civil society organisations (CSOs) also want the heads to create more space for them to engage with the APRM, including allowing them in all APRM meetings. Finally, they want the leaders to demonstrate the value of APRM country reports by ensuring they are debated at the highest level of government, nationally and continentally, about findings and lessons learnt.

This is a tall order and the CSOs meant this full agenda to be discussed by the APR Forum leaders at a dedicated and extraordinary summit, like the one that was supposed to happen in Nairobi in September, when they would have had more time.

Gruzd and Masterson fear that trying to slot all of this into the usual APR Forum, tucked tightly into the heavy programme of leaders on the eve of the full AU Summit, will lead to superficial, pro-forma treatment.

The forum needs instead to inject dramatic new life into the APRM – or kill it off, the CSOs say. Gruzd and Masterson note that AU institutions seldom die, because too many personal interests are at stake. Their greatest fear, then, is that the APRM will be allowed to continue its ‘half-life’ as Masterson puts it, breathing on life-support in a coma, while effectively brain-dead.

Peter Fabricius, ISS Consultant

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