Last June, Uhuru Kenyatta, president of Kenya, was elected chairman of the African Peer Review Mechanism (APRM), the 12-year-old organization promoting good governance and economic development in Africa.
It was a relatively discreet accession, and with good reason: In its decade-long existence, the APRM had been regularly neglected by its members countries – all volunteers, as the APRM is opt-in only – underfunded, ineffective and basically forgotten by most of its members.
The APRM was a great initiative when it was launched. By being opt-in only, it hoped to ensure all its members would be engaged in both funding and participating in its process to assess and increase governance, both in public and corporate affairs. It was an entirely African mechanism, dedicated to the idea that African countries can help and support each other – development partners such as the World Bank only contribute funding, and were supposed to do so only marginally.
However, lack of funding and engagement from member countries has stalled the APRM. Looking at its budget between 2003 and 2009, roughly 40% was funded by development partners instead of member states, far from the marginal contribution originally envisioned. Among the member states, three – Nigeria, Algeria and South Africa – contributed more than half of the total. The other thirty member countries contributed much less, and a large part failed to contribute the minimum amount – a lowly $100,000.
The five-part continuous improvement process of the APRM – First self-assessment, peer review, delivery of an action plan, implementation, and second self-assessment – looks engaging on paper, but only two countries – Ghana and Kenya – have ever got that far in the past twelve years. Fifteen countries have begun the process, whereas the twenty other member countries haven’t started the first phase.
Lack of funding and engagement have been troublesome for the APRM. Recently, Djibouti requested an assessment, but the APRM stated that funding for the mission – between $1 mln and $3 mln – was insufficient, and had to refuse Djibouti’s request.
Uhuru Kenyatta is facing an uphill battle for his chairmanship, doubled with challenges at home. However, his commitment to the APRM is holding up for now. In June, Mr. Kenyatta started organizing a renewed meeting of the APRM’s board and partners for September 2015, with the stated goal of revitalizing the APRM and finding the missing funds for Djibouti’s assessment. Mr. Kenyatta hopes to intertwine the APRM’s actions with the IIAG, the Ibrahim Index for African Governance, an independent measure of good governance tailored for African countries.
All these are statements of intent only. But Mr. Kenyatta’s term as chairman was proposed my Mr. Jacob Zuma of South Africa and seconded by Uganda’s Yoweri Museveni. Along with Mr. Kenyatta’s reputation as an influential Pan-Africanist, this shows a renewed interest in African self-improvement – as the APRM’s core tenet had always been for Africans to find African solutions to African problems. After the troubled term of Liberia’s Ellen Johnson Sirleaf, Mr. Kenyatta now has to face a difficult task, but with the renewed enthusiasm and engagement of his partners. Governance issues in Africa directly influence businesses, and companies investing in Africa – both large and small – would be well advised to follow the APRM’s new development carefully.