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Can peer review unlock Africa's potential?

Moves are afoot to inject new life into the African Peer Review Mechanism, founded in 2003, under which African states agreed to monitor good governance among themselves. Could this help solve Africa's problems?

The idea was simple but has proved difficult to implement. African states would monitor each other's progress towards good governance and give recommendations where necessary. Were local and national authorities efficient? Was the legal system fair, were elections transparent? How satisfactory was the business climate for investors and how were conflicts resolved?

This was the African Peer Review Mechanism (APRM) formally launched by then chair of the African Union Thabo Mbeki in March 2003 to international acclaim. 35 African states have in the meantime joined the review mechanism, half of whom have subjected themselves to the complicated procedure of letting their economic, political and corporate governance be reviewed by other member states.

Yet recently the initiative appears to have run out of steam. The last country reports were submitted in 2013. Thabo Mbeki, its "founding father," told the periodical Africa Report in 2015 he felt that the "enthusiasm and drive" of earlier years was now lacking.

Professor Eddy Maloka of the Africa Peer Review Mechanism.

Eddy Maloka: important to decide 'who does what'

A number of African countries now want to resurrect the moribund institution. Eddy Maloka is the new head of the APRM secretariat and says that as the organization lives from peer review, it is essential to persuade more countries to join it. Djibouti and Chad took this step a few months ago and Senegal is just about to go through a peer review. Country reports on these three nations are due to be completed by July.

Organizational challenges

"In a multilateral organization, the different bodies that constitute it must be clearly clarified. We have member states, we have the panel, we have the secretariat," Maloka told DW. Heads of state and government meet in the APRM forum, the eight member APRM panel oversees the compiling of the country reports and their impartiality. The APRM secretariat attends to the logistics, in the broadest sense of the term. In the past, the different bodies have tended to get in each other's way. "It needs to be clarified exactly who does what," said Maloka. He is convinced that this will soon be settled and then written down in a statute.

African voters casting their ballots PHIL MOORE/AFP/Getty Images

APRM monitors whether all citizens in a member country can participate in the democratic process

Analyst Robert Kappel, former head of the German Institute for Global and Area Studies (GIGA), describes the existence of properly functioning structures with APRM as an important step forward. 17 country reports have been published so far. But what does this mean for the countries that have subjected themselves to peer review? Not much, Kappel says. "It is one tool among many which could help make economic policy more effective and promote good governance. The countries have generally accepted the recommendations contained in the country reports, but implementation tends to be sluggish," he explained. Kappel is convinced that APRM will fail to make any lasting impact unless member countries are penalized for failing to implement recommendations.

Kenyan involvement

Maloka, however, stresses the importance of retaining the voluntary character of the organization. "The door must always be open for countries that want to join the mechanism," he said, believing that it would be difficult to work together effectively once any sort of pressure is exerted. Kenyan President Uhuru Kenyatta took over the chair of the panel last year and he is one of the key supporters of APRM among African leaders. Peer review is important when fostering economic growth, Kenyatta said in January. His country was monitored under APRM in 2007 and there will be a follow-up review to assess the impact of the first batch of recommendations.

Carlton Center in Johannesburg

Supporters of APRM say it will foster economic development

Kappel welcomes Kenya's commitment to APRM. "Even if just six to eight countries were to get actively involved, that would be a good thing," he said. These countries would then goad one another into action. A "coalition of the willing" would be one way to press ahead with good governance and socio-economic development. It could also stop the APRM from suffering the fate of many other African Union initiatives. "There are too many initiatives at too many different levels that are poorly resourced," he said. Individual countries are often unable to decide which initiatives they should support and which are best left to one side.

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