What Happened to Nepad? [opinion]

WAS THE New Economic Partnership for Africa’s Development (Nepad) a panacea for Africa’s development problems or was it just another fad destined for the continent’s development cemetery?

This question has been posed before since the inception of Nepad in 2001. The popular andor political critique is that Nepad was the creation of some few African leaders, notably Thabo Mbeki, Olusegun Obasanjo, Abdoulaye Wade, and Abdelaziz Bouteflika.

That critique was justified but there is the risk of throwing out the baby with the bath water. Ideas must be looked at from their own internal strengths and coherence and not necessarily where they originated. This, however, is not to disregard issues of democratic participation and the question of power in the generation of ideas.

There is (or should be) a difference between setting an agenda for popular discussion and debate and pushing that agenda onto a passive populace. Agendas must, ideally, become blueprints and visions only after an exhaustive public debate and some degree of consensus.

We need to ask: what happened to the long and worthy list of similar grand plans, ideas and initiatives meant to accelerate the development of Africa over the past three or four decades since independence? The architects and proponents of Nepad have to answer that question much more comprehensively before they can convincingly present their case.

Secondly, we need to adopt a critical and deconstructionist attitude, i.e. lay bare the plan to see what its strengths and weaknesses are and how it can situate itself within the broader trajectory of contemporary global forces – the content and context interlink.

A quick visit to the African development cemetery would reveal the following deceased uncles, cousins, brothers and sisters of Nepad:

1. Brandt Report in the 1970s,

2. The Revised Framework of Principles for the Implementation of the New International Order in Africa (1976),

3. The Monrovia Strategy (1979),

4. The Lagos Plan of Action (1980) – the continent’s flagship initiative,

5. The Final Act of Lagos (1980),

6. The World Bank Accelerated Development in Sub-Saharan Africa also in the 1980s,

7. Sub Saharan Africa: From Crisis to Sustainable Development,

8. Africa’s Priority Programme for Economic Recovery (1986-1990),

9. UN Programme for Africa’s Economic Recovery and Development (1986),

10. The African Alternative Framework to Structural Adjustment Programme for Socio-Economic Recovery and Transformation (1989),

11. The African Charter for Popular Participation for Development (1990),

12. The UN New Agenda for the Development of Africa in the 1990s (1991),

13. The Berg Report,

14. World Bank’s report (2000): Can Africa Claim the 21st Century?

The list is frighteningly long but also sobering and shows how terribly short the life expectancy of an African development child is. This points to the overlapping nature of the plans and their non-implementation because of lack of political will or resources.

There is yet another subtle aspect about plans, visions and initiatives that is less recognised because plans are used as a way of framing the way problems and issues are thought about. It is a process of excluding alternatives which are sometimes not acceptable to those drawing up the plans.

Those plans that are couched in futuristic terms serve to postpone problems and thus ease demands on the political system at least for a while – Namibia’s Vision 2030 is a case in point.

So, the fundamental question is whether Nepad will succeed where others wavered. On what grounds does it stake its claims as the panacea for the continent’s declining fortunes or more broadly as the harbinger of the much-talked-about African Renaissance.

Nepad was, or still is, “a pledge by African leaders based on a common vision and a firm and shared conviction that they have a pressing duty to eradicate poverty and to place their countries, both individually and collectively, on a path of sustainable growth and sustainable development and at the same time to participate actively in the world economy and body politic.”

Some aspects are discernible from this statement. These are:

1. The emphasis on African ownership of Nepad and the role and responsibilities of leaders to see it through.

2. Second is the commitment to forging a new partnership with the West and international financial institutions.

3. Thirdly, there is talk of creating an enabling environment by minimising conflict through the promotion of good governance, macroeconomic stability, maintaining transparency and accountability in both the public and private realms.

One does not want to pour cold water onto the continent’s new child. But looking back, Nepad is likely to flounder like many of the previous plans. First of all, there is basically nothing new in the Nepad which has not been encapsulated in the previous plans before it. In fact, some like the Lagos Plan of Action or the Revised Framework were more “African” and more “radical” as they put more emphasis on self-reliance, self-sustainability and democratisation of the development process.

As it stands now, Nepad’s agenda reflects many of the assumptions that characterised the neo-liberal socio-economic and political programmes that were designed for Africa in the late 1980s and 90s. Quo Vadis, Nepad?

Source : The Namibian