NEPAD – Africa’s Only Hope?

KC JOURNAL NO 4 June 2003

Dalitso Kubalasa* reflects on the Malawi civil society’s attitude to NEPAD, and argues that NEPAD’s vision can be restored if Africa’s leaders enter into a new partnership with their people.

The world continues to treat Africa just as harshly as it has in the past. In today’s global human community, Africa is like Lazarus surviving on the crumbs of the rich man’s table (South African Council of Churches). Hampered by global economic forces beyond their control and a colonial legacy of weak states and unresponsive systems of governance, most African nations are ill equipped to overcome these problems. Africa exports 30% more today than it did in 1980, but it receives 40% less income from these goods. After more than 20 years of Structural Adjustment Programmes (SAPs), sub-Saharan Africa still has a total foreign debt of more than $170 billion and pays creditors $40 million a week to service debts accumulated as a result of the cold war, apartheid, and failed projects. Unemployment rates across the continent are estimated to be well above 40%. Despite some remarkable African efforts at reconciliation, endless wars and genocide have ravaged the continent without the world being too concerned. Unscrupulous companies have plundered natural resources, destroying whole ecological and social systems. Despite this, Africa’s people have hope that a better life is possible in the 21st Century.

The above situation shows that Africa’s social, economic and political relations urgently need to be transformed through a focused and determined international effort if Africa is to be lifted out of the poverty trap. NEPAD is thus being presented as a dynamic and visionary initiative designed by a nucleus of new-generation African leaders, and capable of transforming Africa into a continent of peace and prosperity. It proposes to make this ‘African century’ a success by forging a new relationship between Africa and the rest of the world.

Conceived and developed by a core group of African leaders, NEPAD describes itself as a ‘comprehensive integrated development plan’ that addresses key social, economic and political priorities for the continent’. It includes a commitment by African leaders to African people and the international community to place Africa on a path of sustainable growth, accelerating the integration of the continent into the global economy. It calls on the rest of the world to partner Africa in its development based on Africa’s own agenda and programme of action. These highlights just give a bit of the historical background of NEPAD, which I feel is important if all of us have to clearly see the implications of such a historical perspective.

A critique of NEPAD

According to scores of assessments of NEPAD by Churches, NGOs, academicians, development workers and civil society, among others, NEPAD is not the first development plan put forward by African leaders. There have been other plans, such as the Lagos Plan of Action (1980), that have not mustered the international political will necessary for implementation. Leaders of industrialised countries have been more willing to accept NEPAD because:

NEPAD’s language and assumptions are more consistent with those of donor governments; NEPAD prioritises foreign direct investment (FDI), which is seen as a more lasting solution to Africa’s problems than Official Development Aid (ODA).

Current socio-economic trends in Africa are likely to thwart the achievement of the Millennium Development Goal of halving world poverty by the year 2015; and NEPAD enjoys broad ‘ownership’ across the

African continent; Nor are the issues addressed by NEPAD entirely new. Over the past eight years, international institutions and national governments have debated many of the issues that NEPAD identifies as key areas for Africa’s recovery. Much of the discussions have focused on the economic and political relations between countries. NEPAD proposes a “partnership” model for North-South relations which amount to a pragmatic “middle way” that blurs clear choices between, for example, immediate poverty eradication programmes and the long-term economic growth strategies or debt cancellation and sustained debt servicing.

Civil society NEPAD concerns in Malawi

Representatives of the civil society organisations (CSOs) in Malawi, with a leading role by Malawi Economic Justice Network (MEJN) – a coalition of over 71 member organizations – have closely followed the unfolding developments on NEPAD and they have had meetings to discuss the role of CSOs with respect to the New Partnership for Africa’s Development (NEPAD). This was despite the initial reservations over its lack of transparency, and its lack of a consultative and participatory approach in its formulation.

The Civil Society has welcomed the development as a landmark in the process of shared aspirations for African unity, on the continent and in the diaspora. It has raised many critical concerns about the NEPAD initiative around its proposed principles and strategies, legitimacy, process and outcomes. But it still remains hopeful that the genuine NEPAD, as an initiative, will be a manifestation of the African renaissance, with common strategies for overcoming impoverishment, and achieving gender equity on the continent, as well as playing a major role in facilitating economic viability for Africa in the global economy.

The growing engagement between the OAU/AU and CSOs, as manifested in the two OAU-CSO meetings held in Addis Ababa in June 2001 and June 2002, as well as the Symposium on the AU convened on 3 March 2002 in Addis Ababa has also been welcomed. Applauding the democratic principles underpinning the Constitutive Act of the AU, members agree with the symposium’s call upon the NEPAD Implementation Committee to engage with African CSOs on a similar basis of full consultation and participation.

Discussions have been wide-ranging and passionate, prominent among which is the recognition that democratisation and civil society are a reality that cannot and/or need not be ignored. The demands for greater participation of all are deemed as being of paramount importance throughout.

However, CSOs in Malawi acknowledge that much more needs to be done to realise the objectives of the AU and the NEPAD programme. This has culminated in the advocacy for the ‘full throttle’ wider and thorough public endorsement. This is a necessary pre-requisite for the success being sought for in NEPAD.

Initial CSO Reservations in Malawi

In an extensive CSO communiqué that was submitted to both the Government of Malawi and the NEPAD Secretariat we noted a number of key concerns about NEPAD. While civil society welcomed the idea of an African Regional Initiative, we noted, among other issues, that:

NEPAD continues to use the old neoliberal models that have failed the continent and Malawi in particular, and it seeks to get approval from the western world

NEPAD makes no serious assessment of existing regional blocs in Africa

NEPAD has no deep-rooted vision on gender, and mentions women in passing

NEPAD fails to deal with important issues like

HIV/AIDS, transparency and anti-corruption

The membership of the implementation committee is not representative of poor African countries

We also noted that the process of formulating

NEPAD was not participatory like, for instance, the national process such as the Poverty Reduction Strategy Papers (PRSPs) formulation.

The ideal NEPAD process

In our view as Malawi Economic Justice Network (MEJN) and on behalf of the Malawi Civil Society Networks, the ideal NEPAD process needs to note several issues as priorities. Top of the list is the full involvement and empowerment of the Civil Society (a feat that seems to bearing fruits in Malawi) everywhere as an independent arm to positively contribute to the eradication of the glaring inequalities.

Malawi for instance, is a poor country, landlocked, not in possession of any known strategic mineral and not of much strategic importance. It is also a country that for many years to come will be in need of external support for its developmental efforts in the form of aid, investment and trade. With respect to two of these, image is important and we could be a little, poor, nasty, fascist regime, with a generally high income inequality (currently being rated as third worst) stuck somewhere between Tanzania, Mozambique and Zambia; or we could be a stable, peaceful democracy that is seriously tackling its problems. Should we choose the latter; there is no doubt in my mind that we will win friends who will join us in the old struggle against repression and poverty. We, at MEJN, also hold the view that only a developmental, democratic and socially inclusive social order can empower all the citizens of Malawi.

In other words, rather than our having to start thinking of giving up on NEPAD because the process hasn’t been ‘ideal’ and because thus far it hasn’t brought significant economic benefits, this analysis tries to highlight suggestions on what way forward can or needs to be supported by all to make it really work:

  1. A people centered approach by the NEPAD secretariat to regional integration, based on sub-regional schemes, would be the best framework to address the continent’s development and it should be regarded as the building blocks towards greater unity and integration within the AU.
  1. The economic policy framework should be facilitated by a strong and inclusive developmental state, which engages various levels of society in producing a developmental plan and guides markets to focus on internal investment and resource mobilisation.


  1. African leadership needs to recommit to and implement the Lusaka Agreement as well as encourage the formation of partnerships with civil society. The inclusion of civil society in government processes is important and should be strengthened and highlighted to society at large. In promoting peace and security, the building of partnerships between civil society and governments should be based on genuine respect for and recognition of local knowledge.


  1. CSOs should energetically monitor the commitments made by African Heads of State including the target of 15% of national budget to be spent on health, and the annual report on progress in combating HIV/AIDS and other infectious diseases.


  1. On the role of civil society on governance and democracy as well as in relation to NEPAD, the AU/NEPAD secretariat needs to open up to engage with Civil Society in a variety of ways deemed feasible in this continuous quest for a transparent and flexible participatory and consultative process of shaping up the successful NEPAD. CSOs must take every opportunity to engage with NEPAD, both through AU institutions such as the ECOSOCC and through NEPAD mechanisms such as the APRM. Civil society should continue demanding representation in NEPAD decision- making processes and structures.


  1. In parallel, CSOs must set up their own monitoring system to monitor NEPAD, based on nerve centres in the five key countries that form the NEPAD Steering Committee plus Addis Ababa. These should be for advocacy, communication and dissemination of information. It should be demanded that the AU’s institutions for accountability and oversight be set up immediately and democratised as quickly and as thoroughly as possible.


  1. CSOs on the continent are encouraged to interact with similar organisations throughout the world, in particular with African organisations in the diaspora and CSOs in the global South, especially in developing monitoring mechanism to evaluate the performance of NEPAD member countries. CSOs need to beef up civil society organs in order to effectively develop their own codes of conduct and monitoring mechanisms for their own performance.
  2. Africans at all levels need to know more about NEPAD, its constituent parts and other regional and sub-regional initiatives and institutions. This is the challenge that can easily be taken up by Civil Society in their programmes specifically tailor-made for their respective wide involvement of the communities, for instance. All this should be beefed up with the NEPAD Secretariat undertaking publicity campaigns, consulting as widely as possible with all stakeholders, especially the Civil Society.



In conclusion, true to various assessments by different stakeholders in Malawi and elsewhere, NEPAD’s vision and drive are blurred by the hope that greater global integration will save Africa without popular participation in determining its focus. But arguably and most importantly, NEPAD’s vision can be restored if Africa’s leaders enter into a new partnership with their people.

The vision of a new Africa dawning in the 21st Century is too precious to be lost. Africa’s children, men, and women are its greatest treasures who need to be fully involved in owning the whole process from the beginning to the end. The remarkable political will generated by NEPAD must be focused into a participatory transformation of Africa through direct, immediate, and decisive action to overcome the causes of Africa’s impoverishment.

The Civil Society in Malawi continues to strongly believe that continuing engagement with AU and NEPAD must be an on going priority. CSOs in all their varying manifestations and operations should engage with states and continental initiatives and institutions, taking up the great challenges in the wake of successfully bolstering the necessary intended benefits out of NEPAD. African unity and development have long been a vision of African people. African civil society, therefore, needs to resolve to be vigilant in ensuring that African leaders remain true to their commitments as enunciated in both the Constitutive Act of the AU and the principles of the NEPAD process.


* Dalitso Kubalasa works for the Malawi Economic Justice Network and is active in the civil society movement in Malawi.

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