Guest Column

OPINION | Covid-19: Compelling case for the African Peer Review Mechanism

2020-04-24 13:30
A doctor attends to a Covid-19 patient at the intensive care unit of the Ariana Mami hospital in the city of Ariana near the Tunisian capital Tunis on 22 April 2020, during the novel coronavirus pandemic crisis.

A doctor attends to a Covid-19 patient at the intensive care unit of the Ariana Mami hospital in the city of Ariana near the Tunisian capital Tunis on 22 April 2020, during the novel coronavirus pandemic crisis. (Fethi Belaid, AFP)

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African leaders can no longer afford to choose whether to transform their governance systems, as their individual choices have a bearing on the stability of the entire continent, writes Zamokwakhe Somhlaba.


As Covid-19 continues to spread throughout the world, it has become clear that Africa is likely to face a much deeper economic and social crisis than other regions.

The African Union (AU) recently released a report - The Impact of Coronavirus on the African Economy (April 2020) - which paints a bleak picture and calls for the international community to provide assistance to the continent.

The report calls for a waiver on all interest payments on bilateral and multilateral debt in the immediate and medium-term to provide liquidity to African governments.

The projected growth rates for 2020 for nearly all African countries have now become a dream deferred, as Covid-19 has unleashed major disruptions in key economic sectors such as tourism, travel, and commodities.

The drop in the price of oil is devastating for oil producing countries such as Nigeria, Angola, and Sudan in particular.

With Africa’s major trading partners in Europe, Asia and the US facing their own economic slowdown, it is likely going to be very difficult for African economies to attract the resources they require to mitigate the impact of the pandemic, including much needed Foreign Direct Investment.

Covid-19 is likely to compound existing challenges which the continent has been grappling with, the most debilitating of which is the rate of indebtedness of the continent to foreign powers and International Financial Institutions (IFIs).

The conundrum for Africa is that it requires external financing to fight the pandemic and to stay current on its interest payments.

This will have a direct impact on the immediate post Covid-19 crisis financial management and future long-term budgeting, especially where future access to debt finance is concerned.

This calls for prudent borrowing that weighs current threats to human and economic life of Africa and long-term fiscal sustainability.

The bulk of this responsibility lies in the main with African leaders themselves.

While critical theorists of the 1960s placed the blame for Africa’s troubles right on the doorstep of the outsiders, African leaders, for the very first time in the early 2000s, espoused an inward looking posture when they adopted the New Partnership for Africa’s Development’s (NEPAD) and its appendant instruments: the Declaration on Democracy, Political, Economic and Corporate Governance (DDPECG) and the African Peer Review Mechanism (APRM); and transformed the Organisation of African Unity (OAU) into the AU.

In effect, this was an act of self-reflection, with continental leaders taking stock of Africa’s internal factors, with a view to determining the extent to which these factors undermined continental development.

Emerging from this inward-looking posture was emphasis on the centrality of good governance in Africa’s quest to address its multifaceted developmental challenges.

This centrality was recently echoed by the APRM Secretariat in its 2017 report - The Major Bottlenecks Facing Africa - which found that nearly all of Africa’s challenges are underpinned by governance challenges.

The APRM remains the only opportunity for Africa to get its house in order; for this is an instrument for improving governance, peer learning and experience sharing in Africa.

To that extent, it must become more central in Africa’s governance and socio-economic development discourse. In the words of President Cyril Ramaphosa at the APRM Heads of State and Government Forum on 20 February 2020, “the APRM must be seen for what it is: a driver for change”.

With an expanded mandate to also monitor and track the implementation of the AU’s 50-year economic blueprint Agenda 2063, the APRM needs to be properly positioned and aligned within the AU structures and systems.

Firstly, there must be enhanced tracking, reporting and coordination of the sectoral work currently falling within the ambit of AU Specialised Technical Committees (STCs) with the work of the APRM Secretariat.

Secondly, the APRM Secretariat, based in South Africa, needs to be fully capacitated to successfully carry out this additional responsibility.

Thirdly, the APRM should be transformed from being a mere voluntary instrument to become mandatory for all AU member states.

While the accession of 40 AU member states, as of February 2020, is an achievement for the APRM, it should be noted that poor governance in one country can, and does in fact, have destabilising effects on neighbouring countries and respective regions.

African leaders can no longer afford to choose whether to transform their governance systems, as their individual choices have a bearing on the stability of the entire continent.

It is critical that Ramaphosa uses his position as the Chair of both the AU and African Peer Review Forum to set the right tone, emphasising the indispensability of the APRM in the continent’s developmental efforts.

Already, through his New Dawn vision on the home front, he is leading a very public fight against corruption and state capture (which permeates both the public and private sectors) in South Africa.

This may offer instructive lessons that can be shared with the rest of the continent.

Repositioning the APRM is necessary but not easy; for there are leaders in Africa whose continued stay in power is contingent on poor governance and weak institutions.

It is therefore required of those leaders who share the deepest aspirations of the continent and its peoples to be firm and resolute. Their efforts may take time to yield results, especially following years of sustained, nefarious agendas to create a chasm between the governing and the governed.

- Zamokwakhe Somhlaba is the Head of Political Risk and Research at Frontline Africa Advisory. He writes in his personal capacity.

Read more on:    african ­union  |  cyril ramaphosa  |  africa  |  coronavirus  |  pandemic
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