Nepad a flop

Many African governments that met in Lusaka in 2001, when Nepad was adopted as a viable blueprint for achieving the economic and political renewal of Africa, seem to have disowned the initiative, with only a few countries continuing to show confidence in its success.

Since its inception in July 2001, NEPAD has been mentioned at high level international conventions, with high sounding expressions of optimism in the achievement of a new African age where countries would bridge the gap left by fast-paced development in the rest of the world.

However, for millions of poor people in the greater part of Africa, this vision shared by leaders, UN officials and other policy makers seems to have remained glued made by parties to the initiative five years ago are conspicuously absent on the ground, where levels of poverty and economic hardship have soared, climaxing in what was the most glaring neglect of the Africa’s poor during the famine in Niger last year.

The exclusion of the civil society and African citizens in the creation of NEPAD and design of its policies seems to have heavily impeded on the initiative’s success in achieving its mandate, as most of its ambitious plans for the continent’s economic recovery and growth have emphasised on ‘sustainable development’ even in countries where the poor have absolutely no means of production to start with.

“What is meant by sustainable development? More than 300 million people on the African continent live in conditions of sustained poverty. Why does the word sustainable have to be used at all? The target is simple – these people have to be lifted out of poverty, and there are many practical ways of achieving this,” said Will Alexander, Professor Emeritus in the Department of Civil and Biosystems Engineering at the University of Pretoria.

“NEPAD has not succeeded and will not succeed until there is a change in the mindsets,” Prof Alexander told The Southern Times last week, adding that initiatives to alleviate poverty in Africa ought to focus more on practically transforming the livelihoods of the millions of poor people on the continent.

He described the imposition of northern hemisphere solutions to African problems as a damaging obstacle to the alleviation of poverty on the continent, citing examples of overseas institutions that have financed development projects in Africa, only to learn many years later that the funds had ended up in the pockets of appointed planners and contractors from the donor countries.

Meanwhile, in Nigeria, where the initiative was embraced as an effective tool in the countries’ efforts to alleviate poverty, the NEPAD Business Group Nigeria (NBGN) was formed, bringing together business executives, policy makers and academics to engage in dialogue on the policy orientation and implementation of the initiative.

However, from the composition of NBGN, it seems that NEPAD has been an initiative benefiting the elite, with the business group focusing on identifying the capacity needs of its members and identifying ways in which members benefit from the implementation of NEPAD projects and programmes at the national and regional levels.

The effect, in many countries has been to widen the gap between the rich and the poor, as opposed to reducing the number of people below the Poverty Datum Line. In South Africa, where NEPAD was also embraced as a practical solution to eradicate poverty, the gulf between the rich and the poor has been widening.

Although the South African government is on record for emphasizing the link between HIV and poverty, lack of coordination between the country’s efforts to eradicate poverty and control the spread of HIV and AIDS has seen AIDS taking a toll on the population at the same time as more than 20 million people live below the poverty datum line.

NEPAD, which set up an Africa Peer Review Mechanism (APRM) has been seen in other sectors as a western hand for policing African governments and conditioning western aid and debt cancellation.

The APRM has so far reviewed South Africa, Kenya, Rwanda and Ghana, and targets to review all African countries before making recommendations on how governments can modify their approaches to development and refer them for debt cancellation and other benefits from the IMF and World Bank.

On the infrastructure front, NEPAD has been productively used for the development of communications and other infrastructure between Africa and other parts of the world, with the NEPAD ICT Protocol making frantic efforts to bring Africa’s communications system to the same level as other global communications networks.

The construction of the East African Sub-marine Cable System (EASSy) as part of the NEPAD ICT Broadband Infrastructure Network has been seen as an attempt to use Information and Communications Technologies to support Africa’s socio-economic development.

Rwandan President Paul Kagame, commenting on launch of the ICT Broadband Infrastructure said it is imperative for East and Southern African countries to own policy conception, processes and systems as the only basis for providing viable developmental solutions to the region. He said partnerships from the international development community would only come as complementary to the initiatives of African governments, rather than as the forerunners.

So far, only seven out of 23 countries in the region have signed the 28-page ICT Protocol, and these are Tanzania, Uganda, Rwanda, Lesotho, Malawi, Madagascar and South Africa. Kenya refused to sign the protocol citing delays and interests, and the deadline for the signing of the protocol for the remaining 15 countries in November 20, 2006.

The NEPAD ICT Broadband Infrastructure Network will see the construction of a 9900km long EASSy cable from Mtunzini in South Africa to Port Sudan in Sudan, expected to be operational by end of 2008.

The key objectives of NEPAD are promotion of sustainable growth and development, eradication of poverty and ending the marginalisation of Africa in an era of globalisation. The initiative, aimed at the political, economic and renewal of Africa, was adopted by African leaders at the summit of the now defunct Organisation of African Unity (OAU) in Lusaka in July 2001.

September 2006
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