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Is Nepad nothing but a talk shop? What has Nepad achieved in the three years of its existence? The founding fathers of the movement say there has been little else but talk; others disagree.

When Senegal's President Abdoulaye Wade is asked what the Nepad recovery plan has achieved in its three years of existence, he says: "Nothing. Whenever I am asked what we have done, it is meetings, meetings, meetings. We need action."

Venting his frustration at Nepad's wheel spinning, Wade told a three-year development review in Johannesburg: "We have not had one project that has been realised. It's time to reflect and go back and to the authentic Nepad approach.

"Let's speed up delivery of projects so I can see them while I'm still alive," the 76-year-old president said. "We are spending lots of resources on conferences and we still don't know our objectives."

Nepad--a brainchild of Wade, South African President Thabo Mbeki, Algeria's President Abdelaziz Bouteflika and Nigerian leader Olusegun Obasanjo--has been struggling to make any measurable headway on efforts to lift the continent out of poverty.

President Obasanjo, current chairman of the 53-nation African Union, joined Wade in decrying the pace of implementing Nepad's initiatives, saying Nepad's goals would never be achieved unless corruption, waste and mismanagement were tackled.

"Corruption has been the bane of development and stability in Africa and, unless we adopt all possible strategies to enhance transparency and accountability, our effort in other sectors of our political economies will be subverted by festering corruption," he said. "There is a realisation that in contemporary Africa, Nepad is the real and only game in town and we are resolutely committed to it."

President Thabo Mbeki said a real danger in Nepad's foot dragging was disillusionment and impatience by Africans that could take years to regenerate. "We have to succeed," he said. "It is not possible not to succeed."



The man charged with ramrodding the body's initiatives through to fruition, steering committee chairman Professor Wiseman Nkhulu, intimated Wade, Mbeki and Obesanjo could have the wrong end of the stick in panning Nepad's delivery.

Trying to clear up "once and for all" the confusion over Nepad's raison d'etre, he said people should stop talking about and demanding Nepad projects.

"There is no such thing as a Nepad project," he said. "Our role is to energise and inspire. We will get a dialogue going about what a country or the continent needs. That's how you will see Nepad working."

The secretariat produced an overview report Nepad: Three Years On that points out that the African Development Bank and World Bank had approved and financed $580m and $570m in projects respectively--involving such infrastructure upgrades as electricity interconnection and roads.

Wade, Mbeki and Obesanjo all agree, however, that a Nepad success has been achieved in its African Peer Review Mechanism (APRM). This process, according to the Nepad overview, "ensures that progress on democracy, human rights, good governance and sound development become irreversible. It expresses Africa's seriousness and determination towards change."

To date, 24 nations have put themselves forward for the peer review, all of which, critics of the process say, need least to be reviewed while those countries with the worst records have remained silent.

The APRM says it cannot force countries to undergo peer scrutiny and insists that the desired effect will come about through increased international recognition, foreign investment and trade, and donor assistance flowing to reviewed nations, while those that demur will remain in the cold.

"Once kick-started, the APRM will have a huge impact on consolidating democracy and good governance among participating countries," the overview report says. "Consequently, trust among leaders will be boosted, leading to increased trade and economic cooperation."

Rwanda, Ghana, Kenya and Mauritius are the first volunteers to go under the peer review microscope. Their report cards will be published in March 2005.

Having conceded its own failings in Nepad's performance, the conference did not spare the feelings of developed nations, and fingered the Group of Eight (G8) as parsimonious and uncaring of Africa's plight and its need for development assistance.

They urged the G8 industrialised countries to deliver the billions of dollars they had pledged in return for improved governance.

"Our concern is that we have been feeding on promises from foreign partners such as G8 but there have been no disbursements--and that's a big issue," declared Nigerian foreign minister Olu Adeniji, chairman of a Nepad ministerial panel.

Adeniji said Africa now needed the financial means to implement identified projects and this was a major test on a sceptical continent. "Africa cannot afford to end up in failure again," Adeniji insisted. "Nepad is about implementing projects and we need to vigorously pursue that. The past three years have been spent on talk and awareness and no more time is left for that."


Nepad is now finding, however, that there are investments and there are investments. Surprisingly, South Africa has emerged as the biggest global investor in Africa, bringing a further conundrum in the affairs of Nepad and an awkward skewing to the flow of investment capital in the way it is utilised, mostly to the exclusion of Nepad initiatives.

Less surprising are the reasons for corporate South Africa's investment rush. A study conducted by the South African Institute of International Affairs and the SA Foundation has found that listed companies doing business in Africa have profit margins two or three times as high as the profit margins in their South African operations.

Over the past 10 years, the number of JSE listed companies with operations in Africa has more than doubled. These firms have a presence in 27 African countries and between them employ around 70,000 people. They see themselves as long-term players in Africa.

As a natural consequence of being African, it seems, corporate South Africa is leading the development charge into Africa, but is doing it with or without Nepad.


Peter Bruce, editor of South Africa's Business Day newspaper notes: "The kind of private sector investment that is going on in Africa is not paralleled by equivalent public sector initiatives. That is despite the fact that Nepad has set itself ambitious targets for infrastructure investment across the continent of more than $8bn."

But, as African leaders are pointing out, none of the infrastructure investment is happening, because the complexity of the initiatives demands close cooperation between countries and is premised on the adherence to good governance. Political will is required to build, or even cross, such bridges and that will is still sorely lacking. Corporate South Africa is demonstrating that there is private sector appetite for risk-controlled infrastructure projects in Africa. They're also offering substance to the adage of "a problem shared is a problem halved", and suggesting that if African governments were to bring the private sector in as partners in infrastructure development, that could help to leverage financial resources from industrialised countries and international aid agencies, and also engage private sector skills and enthusiasm in such Africa-building projects.

Until that happens, South African companies will prefer to make their own way in their African investments, take their own chances and set their own levels of risk; in fact, doing a mini-Nepad without the political angst, and making handsome profits in the process.

The Nepad three-year overview report concludes with these hopeful words: "It is important that we evaluate Nepad not in terms of the amount of funds mobilised and similar benchmarks, but in terms of its ability to galvanise political will and the courage of African countries to develop their own programmes and implement them. Much work remains. However, the first three years have seen a solid basis and framework laid for development. The first stepping stones to regeneration have been placed, but a long road of joint endeavour still lies ahead."
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Title Annotation:DEVELOPMENT; New Partnership for Africa's Development; Abdoulaye Wade
Publication:African Business
Geographic Code:60AFR
Date:Jan 1, 2005
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