By Dalmar Jama
The African Peer Review Mechanism (APRM) is a mutually agreed instrument of Member States of the African Union (AU), established on 09 March 2003, that is voluntarily acceded to by AU Member States as a self-monitoring instrument for promoting good governance. In line with Assembly Decision 198 (XI), Decision 527 (XXIII) and Decision Ext/Assembly/AU/ Dec.1-4(XI) the APRM is part of the AU as an autonomous entity that exercises functional autonomy. There are currently forty (40) AU Member States that have acceded to the APRM as Participating Member States.
The APRM is part of the African Governance Architecture (AGA), and is one of the premier AU Governance Institutions and Organs, expected to ensure the realization of Agenda 2063’s good governance and human rights components, in particular Aspiration Three on “An Africa of good governance, democracy, and respect for Human Rights, Justice and the Rule of Law”, and Aspiration Four on “A Peaceful and Secure Africa”.
The APRM, as Africa’s premiere governance instrument, was conceived by Africans for Africans. The objective of the Mechanism, as envisaged by NEPAD and the APRM founders in March 2003, is to contribute to Africa’s socio-economic transformation through improved domestic accountability and strengthened collective action among Member States. The Mechanism, through 23 country reviews since 2005, identifies common challenges and promotes the sharing of best practices in four thematic areas – Democracy and Political Governance, Economic Governance and Management, Corporate Governance and Socio-Economic Development. Through National programmes of actions aligned with national medium-term plans, the identified challenges are addressed over a 3 to 5-year time horizon.
The APRM’s core review process can be summarised as follows:
- Member countries within the APRM undertake self-monitoring in all aspects of their governance and socio-economic development and include the views of the executive, the legislature, the judiciary, the private sector, civil society, and the media in a country self-assessment report (CSAR).
- The CSAR forms the basis for a Country Review Report completed under the direction of the APR Panel of Eminent Persons, who field a mission of African governance experts to the country to verify, ascertain, complement and augment the findings of the CSAR, and deliberate on the findings of the mission in order to finalise the country review report (CRR).
The CRR is then submitted to the government of the reviewed member state for comments and these views are summarised in an annex in the country review report. The review report, which is accompanied by a National Programme of Action that addresses the main challenges, is then tabled before heads of state and government at a yearly APR Forum for peer review and approval.
It is after the peer review that the CRR and NPoA are launched, and the Member State then reports on a regular basis on implementation of the NPOA.
The APRM was founded with the understanding that the fundamental lesson learned from decades of plans for industrialization and development was that peace and security, sustainable development and good governance are interlinked. Indeed, governance is at the heart of many of our security and developmental challenges. The absence of good governance and the conflict this engenders is a root cause of many of Africa’s challenges including youth unemployment, gender inequality and violence, insecurity, land management, electoral disputes, and inadequate structural transformation. Indeed, one can state categorically that the quality of governance has a triple significance to the African predicament: as a root cause to our challenges, as a bottle-neck impeding the continent’s potential, and as a precondition that is necessary to Silencing the Guns.
The APRM was therefore, born into the African political landscape because of the creativity, commitment and farsighted vision of African leaders who realized that good governance is a prerequisite to the sustainable and inclusive development of the continent.
In 2017, the 28th AU Assembly of Heads of States and Government expanded the mandate of the APRM to include tracking of the implementation and overseeing the Continent’s key governance initiatives. In addition, the AU Assembly requested the APRM to monitor the implementation of the African Union (AU) Agenda 2063 and United Nations Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs), Agenda 2030.
In January 2018, the AU Assembly welcomed the proposal to position the APRM as an early warning tool for conflict prevention in Africa, harmonising and enhancing the synergy between the APRM, African Peace and Security Architecture, and the African Governance Architecture (Assembly/AU/Dec.686(XXX)).
Mission and Vision of the APRM
The mission of the APRM is: “To promote AU shared values of democratic governance and inclusive development among African Union Member States through voluntary participation in the self-driven peer review processes and related governance improvement interventions.”
The vision of the APRM is ‘A well governed Africa for the Africa we want.’ The vision acknowledges the challenges and portrays the future impact the APRM would like to create. The responsibility for transformation of leadership rests with the entire society. The phrase ‘responsible citizenry’ should underline all governance reforms championed by the APRM. The duties of a citizen must be understood beyond voting and demanding accountability of govern- ment. They must also include productivity and self-reliance by the citizens.
The APRM is part of the Africa Governance Platform and is one of the premier AU Governance Institutions and Organs, and is expected to ensure the realization of Agenda 2063’s governance components, and in particular Aspiration Three on “An Africa of good governance, democracy, and respect for Human Rights, Justice and the Rule of Law”, and Aspiration Four on “A Peaceful and Secure Africa”.
In order to contribute to the realization of Agenda 2063, the APRM’s 2020-2024 Strategic Plan recognizes good governance as one of the pivotal dimensions of socio-economic, political, and cultural transformation in Africa, and sets the goal of advancing governance as a tool for Africa’s integration.
In taking stock of the track record of the Mechanism over the last seventeen years, one can state that through its work, the APRM has supported national initiatives on good governance in order to make perceptible improvements to the well-being of citizens, as corroborated by governance, developmental and economic indices. More and more African countries have improved adherence to Constitutionalism, the Separation of Powers, and the Rule of Law, and have enhanced access by their citizens to justice.
Some Member States have put in place mechanisms that ensure promotion and protection of human rights. The AU has, in turn, created institutions and developed mechanisms that prescribe minimum acceptable governance standards that its members need to conform to, and these are reviewed by the APRM.
The APRM has also demonstrated its impact and value in enhancing public participation and discussion of governance as well as the identification of challenges and commendable practices. It has enhanced the structure and level of engagement between state actors and non-state actors, and in some cases, the APRM has served as an early-warning mechanism to avert national crises and their ripple effects in neighbouring countries. For example, the APRM predicted the 2007 general elec- tions crisis in Kenya and the outbursts of xenophobic attacks on nonnational Africans in South Africa in 2008.
These diagnostic strengths of the Mechanism make it a useful instrument for identifying areas that require intervention and setting reform priorities at the African Union. In this respect, the APRM has highlighted common governance challenges across the continent, including managing diversity, curbing corruption, and strengthening accountability institutions.
In countries where reviews have been conducted, the level of awareness among citizens and non-state actors on issues of governance has improved. This is corroborated by the extent to which the citizens engage their governments at the national and the local levels on issues affecting them.
In Uganda, for example, the country self- assessment, country review reports and NPoA, together with the annual progress reports arising out of the 2008 and 2018 reviews are now important reference works on the history, achievements, prospects, problems and challenges of the institutions and processes of governance. They create a platform for activists and lobbyists to track Uganda’s commitments to improving governance. They have also created a rich resource of information for those interested in Uganda’s future to draw on as they shape the country’s policies.
Other direct outcomes of the APR process include a reduction in the size of cabinet in Ghana as well as the passing of laws to protect whistle-blowers and promote access to information. Also, subsequent to the country review in Rwanda, the country reformed its business environment and various governance indicators indicate significant progress made in terms of con- trol of corruption, government effective- ness and transparency of the regulatory frameworks.
Retrospectively, the APRM process has been an important vehicle for conducting grand, national policy debates on the past, present and future of APRM Member States in an open, frank, and non-intimidating manner and environment. It has created new spaces for citizen participation in public affairs and has provided a niche that citizens can use to create a better understanding of democracy, as well as greater awareness of the political issues at stake. In this process, the Mechanism has also facilitated the promotion of a common African citizenship and has facilitated continental integration.
Since its inception in 2003, the APRM has produced 23 first review reports and three second review reports, with accompanying national programmes of action. These serve as early warning system and candidly elucidate and encapsulate salient features or issues faced by APRM Member States, including challenges such as:
- Management of diversity and protec- tion of rights of vulnerable groups, including gender inequality;
- Youth unemployment;
- Service delivery and anti-corruption activities;
- Inadequate regional integration and movement of persons, goods, and capital; and
- Tackling environmental degradation, desertification, and vulnerability to climate change.
APRM has also highlighted specific thematic challenges in governance. In Public Administration, for example these include:
- Enhancing the capacity of Public Sector institutions to meet their delivery mandates including regulators, key delivery ministries and agencies (power, water, home affairs/interior delivery of birth, marriage, identity documents, land registration, business licensing and sector regulators, environmental and workplace inspectors, consumer safety watchdogs etc.);
- Ensuring the financial and administrative independence and capacity of the national and local judiciary, the legislature, mediation, and other state oversight institutions;
- The necessity for curriculum review and apprenticeship schemes at institutions of higher learning to equip young people with employment-related skills to serve the public sector;
- The need to implement fiscal decentralisation and a funding formula for local government to ensure local government capacity and skills development;
- Parliamentary Public Accounts Committees often not thoroughly scrutinizing annual accounts. The oversight function is often impaired due to inadequacies in institutional capacity both in the Parliamentary and local districts/ regions/ provinces; and last but not least
- Lack of political will to fight corruption and the need:
- To enforce anti-corruption laws more vigorously, consistently, and even-handedly; and
- For sanctions against convicted corrupt public officials regardless of seniority, political affiliation.
The Mechanism itself has been affected by operating challenges including (i) the long completion times in receiving Member State country self-assessment reports, which is affected by national elections and developments and (ii) the COVID-19 pandemic, which has delayed some reviews and required modifications to working tools and processes.
These challenges have been mitigated by the APRM’s program for training national structures to ensure continuity of work, using apolitical national commissions on governance that can operate even during national elections, and increasingly employing virtual tools and processes in ad- ministering the programme.
The APRM is implementing its 2020-2024 Strategic Plan, in close alignment with the AU Commission Medium Term Plan (MTP) for 2018-2023 alongside the AU commission and other organs that comprise the African Governance Architecture. This will ensure that the APRM will achieve its vi- sion for a well governed Africa, anchored to AU Agenda 2063’s vision for “an integrated, prosperous and peaceful Africa, driven by its own citizens and representing a dynamic force in the international arena.”
Dalmar Jama is the APRM’s Head of Strategic Planning