Wither Nepad and SA?

2010-08-03 00:00

FEW people paid attention to the African Union (AU) summit held in Kampala, Uganda, last week.

This is partly because AU summits have lost a lot of the spark they once had in the 2000s. There was a time between 1999 and 2004 when there seemed to be a lot at stake in these annual gatherings of 53 AU member states.

The African governance and development machinery seems to have lost the momentum it once had. Of course, the departure of Thabo Mbeki and Olusegun Obasanjo and the political troubles that followed their departure from their governments meant that these African powerhouses could not give sufficient attention to championing Africa’s cause.

Indeed, the African group has not shown unity of purpose and serious energy in its participation at the G8 and the G20, two of the world’s most powerful decision- making platforms. The outcomes of recently held meetings suggest that Africa’s agenda is slipping in significance in the programmes of the G8 and the G20.

A lot of harm was caused by the debates on union government in 2009 because nothing came out of them. Instead the continent was divided and distracted from major policy questions of the time. Malawi, which now chairs the AU after Libya, is not strong enough to re- energise the AU business.

The Uganda summit was supposed to discuss issues of health in Africa, matters about which there is so much room for decisive action, given the continent’s deplorable health status. This is because not much progress has been made towards health-related Millennium Development Goals or Africa’s many health goals. The continent carries the burden of global health, with its high rates of infectious disease and a resurgence of lifestyle diseases such as diabetes and hypertension in the face of weak health-care systems. There are no new ideas coming from Kampala.

While there was no progress made with regard to the main item on the agenda, there was a united stand against the wave of terror in mainly eastern and western Africa, the last evidence of which was a suicide bomb that killed 75 people in Kampala a fortnight before the summit.

But of even greater significance is what President Jacob Zuma had to say about revitalising the New Partnership for Africa’s Development (Nepad). He proposed a new approach to Nepad implementation. He suggested that the continent should prioritise seven major Nepad projects and pick seven countries or heads of states to champion them. South Africa volunteered to lead one on transport infrastructure linking the north to the south of Africa.

Given poor outcomes from the implementation of over 100 projects, prioritisation of a few practical and high-impact Nepad initiatives is an innovative idea, indeed. It will make it possible to benchmark and measure implementation progress. The champions also become responsible for progress or failures experienced. For civil society, they also become an important pressure point for advocacy around Nepad and socioeconomic development in Africa.

If Zuma’s proposal is passed, it will be easier to demonstrate the value of Nepad to ordinary people. It would not be difficult for people along the route of a rail corridor from Johannesburg to Cairo to see the tangible benefits of Nepad.

Just like communities along the Maputo corridor between South Africa and Mozambique have seen growth in commerce and employment since about 2001, the communities where communications networks, agricultural marketing points or transfrontier parks are created could benefit from direct investment attracted.

With an increase in business activities, African economies could expand employment and entrepreneurial opportunities, if well- managed, stronger economies could help finance social policies meant to eradicate poverty.

On this, the Zuma administration is starting to show the much- needed leadership on the continent. This is about catalysing new efforts and actively mobilising African countries to act decisively on critical long-term issues. It is also about South Africa leading from the front by openly using its comparative advantages to bring about action where there is none.

I am one of those who have decried South Africa’s timidity in Africa, its reluctance to lead from the front, preferring to let others take a lead. We have lamented that South Africa is not replicating in Africa the bold leadership it shows in global forums.

The big test for Zuma is whether he will maintain this boldness and push for implementation of other continental initiatives. If he does not, his ideas on Nepad will pale into significance when the history of Africa’s development is written in future.

• Siphamandla Zondi is the executive director of the Institute for Global Dialogue, but writes in his personal capacity.

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