The African Peer Review Mechanism (APRM) is Africa’s premier self-assessment, peer learning and experience sharing tool in democracy and good governance.
By Adam Alqali
The African Peer Review Mechanism (APRM) came into being in 2003 as a voluntary tool for self-assessment, peer learning and experience sharing in democracy and good governance for member states of the African Union. Accordingly, APRM is mandated to promote democracy, governance, human rights and rule of law in Africa.
Earlier in October 2001, the maiden meeting of the NEPAD Heads of State and Government Implementation Committee (HSIC) had decided to set up a continental governance peer review mechanism. The APRM was eventually established by the NEPAD HSIC in March 2002 as Africa-owned and Africa-led instrument for self-assessment, peer-learning, and experience-sharing in democracy and good governance.
The Mechanism was meant to ensure the policies and practices of its participating states are in conformity with the mutually agreed political, economic and corporate governance values, codes and standards, as well as socioeconomic development objectives contained in the Declaration on Democracy, Political, Economic and Corporate Governance, which had been adopted by NEPAD HSIC and ultimately the AU Assembly of Heads of State and Government (Assembly). Subsequently, the Assembly decided to integrate APRM’s governing structures into AU’s structures, and later decided the APRM shall be an autonomous entity within the AU system.
The APRM structures are: APR Forum of Heads of State; the Committee of Focal Points, which comprises of personal representatives of APR Heads of State; and the APR Panel of Eminent of Persons – mandated to safeguard the independence and credibility of country reviews. Others are the Continental Secretariat and National Secretariats, which provide technical, coordinating and administrative support at continental and national levels, respectively; as well as the National Governing Councils (NGCs), which implement the APR process at country level.
APRM works across five thematic areas namely, Democratic and Political Governance (DPG); Economic Governance and Management (EGM); Socio-economic Governance (SEG); Corporate Governance (CG) and State Resilience (SR). The fifth thematic area (SR) was added at the last APR Forum Summit in March, 2021. The APRM legal instruments say all reviews and assessments should be “technically competent, credible and free of manipulation.” As at October 2021, 41 out of 55 AU countries have acceded to the APRM.
The APRM participating states are: Algeria, Angola, Benin, Botswana, Burkina Faso, Cameroon, Chad, Congo Republic, Côte d’Ivoire, Democratic Republic of Congo, Djibouti, Gabon, Gambia, Egypt, Equatorial Guinea, Ethiopia, Ghana, Kenya, Lesotho, Liberia, Malawi, Mali, and Mauritania. Others are Mauritius, Mozambique, Namibia, Niger, Nigeria, Rwanda, and São Tomé and Príncipe, Senegal, Seychelles, Sierra Leone, South Africa, Seychelles, Sudan, Tanzania, Tunisia, Togo, Uganda, Zambia and Zimbabwe.
APRM’s review process
The APRM legal instruments (the Base Document and the APRM Statute) provide for four types of country reviews namely; a base review carried out within eighteen months of accession and a periodic review which takes place every four years. These are referred to as mandated reviews. In addition, a member country can request for targeted reviews for specific governance areas; and where a member country shows signs of impending political or economic crisis, the APR Forum can “in a spirit of helpfulness” order for an early warning review.
The reviews entail periodic assessment of the policies and practices of participating states to ascertain their progress towards complying with the mutually agreed political, economic and corporate governance principles and standards, contained in the Declaration. Thus, APRM’s self-assessment seeks to promote mutual accountability by incentivizing countries to solemnly contemplate the fallout of their domestic policies – on their internal stability and the stability of their neighbors.
Consequently, upon the conclusion of a country’s review, the Country Review Report (CRR) along with a clearly-defined and time-bound National Programme of Action (NPoA) are presented before the APR Forum for approval after which the CRR should be publicly tabled before key regional and sub-regional structures such as the Pan African Parliament, (PAP), the African Commission on Human and Peoples’ Rights (ACHPR) and the Peace and Security Council (PSC).
According to APRM Guidelines, NPoAs are meant to guide countries’ efforts in implementing CRR’s recommendations. Subsequently, countries under review are expected to assure a “participatory and transparent” process, guaranteeing the participation of relevant stakeholders in NPoA’s implementation, as well as presenting annual progress reports to the Continental Secretariat through their APR Focal Points. Despite the Mechanism’s exhaustive country review process, implementation of NPoAs has always been bedeviled with serious challenges.
The Base Document says if a reviewed country is keen to rectify its identified governance deficiencies, it is incumbent upon the APR Forum to assist. Otherwise, the Forum should constructively dialogue with the affected country and provide necessary support. If dialogue fails, the Forum may put the country on notice regarding its intention to take “appropriate measures” by a given date – providing further opportunity to address the identified shortcomings.
Despite remarkable achievements at its onset, the Mechanism later found itself battling for survival, due to dwindling financial capacity and waning enthusiasm of participating states. However, by January 2016, the APR Forum had appointed Prof Eddy Maloka as Chief Executive Officer of the APRM Continental Secretariat – with the clear mandate to revitalize the APRM and ensure its full integration into the AU system.
Under the guidance of the APR Committee of Focal Points, Prof Maloka steered the development of the 2016-2020 APRM Strategic Plan – the first of its kind in the Mechanism’s history. The Strategic Plan for the revitalization of the then ailing institution was eventually adopted by the APR Forum and endorsed by the Assembly.
In January 2017, the Assembly extended APRM’s mandate to include monitoring of Agenda 2063 and Agenda 2030. By early 2018, the Assembly had welcomed APRM’s effort to position itself as an early warning tool for conflict prevention, working in synergy and harmony with the African Peace and Security Architecture (APSA) and the African Governance Architecture (AGA).
By the end of 2018, the Assembly had decided to integrate APRM’s budget into the AU’s overall budget. Accordingly, in February 2020, the Assembly adopted the APRM Statute and the Rules of Procedure of the APR Forum. Simultaneously, the AU Executive Council adopted the Rules of Procedure of the APR Committee of Focal Points, the APR Panel of Eminent Persons, and the APRM Continental Secretariat.
While adopting the Strategic Plan in 2016, the APR Forum had introduced six priority areas aimed at improving APRM’s impact, based on which the Maloka-led Secretariat developed the Restoration, Reinvigoration and Renewal (3Rs) revitalization strategy. The 3Rs strategy was aimed at boosting numbers of country reviews including capacity for multiple concurrent reviews and effective implementation of NPoAs; repositioning APRM as a mechanism for monitoring and supporting attainment of Agenda 2063 and Agenda 2030; as well as the refinement of APRM’s research instruments and processes, respectively.
Revitalized APRM’s successes
Thanks to the Strategic Plan which sought to transform the APRM into the preeminent think-tank on African governance, the APRM had realized many successes towards repositioning the hitherto ‘dying’ Mechanism – pushing governance from the periphery to the centre-stage of the AU’s agenda. This explains the Assembly’s subsequent expansion of APRM’s mandate and its recognition as Africa’s premier governance institution.
The Mechanism currently monitors Agenda 2063’s Aspirations 3 and 4 i.e An Africa of good governance, democracy, respect for human rights, justice and the rule of law; as well as a peaceful and secure Africa, respectively. This is in addition to Agenda 2030’s Goal 16: Peace, justice and strong institutions. The APRM is also mandated to support AU countries’ engagement with international credit rating agencies.
Subsequently, the core APRM country review programme had seen both qualitative and quantitative expansion with unprecedented numbers of full and targeted country reviews successfully conducted from 2017 to date. During this period, countries such as Algeria, Egypt, and Ethiopia had conducted their first-generation (base) reviews while others such as Uganda, Kenya and Mozambique underwent their second full reviews. Similarly countries like Zambia, Sierra Leone and Namibia undertook various targeted reviews.
In February, 2019, the Assembly adopted the inaugural Africa Governance Report (AGR), mandating the Mechanism to work with the African Governance Platform (AGA Platform) to produce the AGR biannually, which is now AGA Platform’s guiding document for tracking continental governance. With the Assembly’s mandate, the Continental Secretariat produced a toolkit for National Governance Reports (NGRs), based on which Kenya developed its pilot NGR. Afterwards, AGR 2021 was completed and approved by the Assembly in February 2021.
In executing its mandate of monitoring Agenda 2063 and Agenda 2030, the Continental Secretariat supports African countries and Regional Economic Communities (RECs) towards the attainment of their commitments to the two agendas, including Voluntary National Reviews (VNRs). Subsequently, APRM supports AU member states in completing Voluntary National Reports on SDGs, as well as representing the AU at UN’s High-Level Political Forum (HLPF).
Moreover, APRM has produced a policy framework on African countries’ engagement with credit rating agencies and by 2020 launched the first edition of its bi-annual Africa Sovereign Credit Rating Review Report, encompassing trends, drivers and policy recommendations on sovereign credit ratings. The Mechanism also formulated an APRM Framework on Early Warning for Conflict Prevention and provides statutory briefings to the PSC. The APRM is now completely integrated into the AU system. It is currently institutionally, legally, and structurally part of the AU as an autonomous entity of the Union with all characteristics of an organ.
APRM’s major constraints
Despite varied tools for measuring governance performance around the globe, assessing governance can prove a herculean task. Moreover, the fact that APRM’s reviews and the AGR do not provide ratings or rankings of member states makes it even more difficult to assess how the Mechanism has fared in terms of improving governance indices across its participating countries.
Yet, for almost two decades, the APRM has proved a useful governance assessment tool for African countries in the true pan-African spirit it was set up. On the one hand, it has highlighted many governance best practices worthy of being replicated around the continent; on the other hand, the Mechanism has successfully predicted imminent socioeconomic and political conflicts.
Sadly, the Mechanism’s early warning signals are seldom heeded with disastrous consequences; the 2007-2008 post-election violence in Kenya and the 2019 xenophobic attacks in South Africa represent stark examples of African countries’ failure to heed APRM’s early warning. The unfortunate fallout of these otherwise preemptive violent conflicts that claimed the lives of hundreds of African citizens is a distressing constraint for Africa’s premier governance instrument.
The Ibrahim Index of African Governance (IIAG) believes even as APRM countries have exhibited healthier governance indices, there is not much difference between those AU countries that have only acceded to the Mechanism but not undergone any reviews; those that have acceded and have been reviewed; and those that have not acceded altogether. Hence, governance scholars are pondering whether simply acceding to the APRM or even undergoing its reviews is a true indication of countries’ desire for reforms.
Certainly, AU countries have dissimilar motives for joining the Mechanism; whereas some are genuinely interested in political and governance reforms, others may be motivated by less than altruistic reasons. This means countries merely signifying their intention to improve governance does not necessarily translate to anything unless it is accompanied by a genuine political will for reforms.
Although the quantity and quality of APRM’s reviews have increased significantly since 2017; it now boasts the capacity to simultaneously conduct multiple reviews, not many APRM countries had yet undergone second reviews, with some like Cameroon and Gabon not having been reviewed at all 10 years after acceding to the Mechanism. Indeed, ‘dormant members’ are one of APRM’s biggest dilemmas hence calls for the Mechanism to be ‘stricter’ on them.
Experts reason whereas other governance performance mechanisms such as the Open Government Partnership (OGP) and the Extractive Industries Transparency Initiative (EITI) have preconditions for joining them and also ‘rank’, ‘score’, ‘suspend’ or even ‘delist’ erring members, the APRM does not. Relatedly, the maiden AGR was ‘general’ i.e did not name specific countries and their shortcomings, which has been described as a ‘fundamental weakness’.
The CRRs of Ethiopia, Rwanda and Sudan are, for instance, criticized for ‘neglecting or downplaying’ sensitive issues, against the principle of a thorough review uncovering the respective countries’ political and economic challenges. Moreover, whereas APRM rules say CRRs should be made public within six months of being discussed at the APR Forum, it takes much longer before such reports are made public and published on the APRM website. Even when published, reports are rarely available in the six official AU languages.
Towards universal accession
One of the priorities of the revitalized APRM is achieving universal accession by 2023; accordingly, the Secretariat has embarked upon a continent-wide advocacy campaign targeted at stimulating countries to accede to the Mechanism. The campaign has brought into the APRM fold countries like Botswana, Seychelles and DRC. Yet, experts reason if only being part of the APRM fraternity comes with more tangible benefits, African countries will intentionally accede to the Mechanism.
Therefore, as the Secretariat continues to campaign for universal accession, APRM should also provide more incentives for countries to join while also being more firm with defaulting members who have barely nothing to show for their membership of this crucial African governance instrument. To this end, the APRM could borrow a leaf from other governance performance tools by bringing to book defaulting members and rewarding committed ones.
Even as ranking, suspending or even delisting members is entirely symbolic, doing so affects countries’ international prestige. Subsequently, no country will be pleased with being publicly chastened. However, sanctioning erring members will be more effective if by being sanctioned they stand to lose something hence the necessity of providing more value to APRM members. Otherwise, African countries will continue to simply accede to the Mechanism without taking any action.
Another challenge the APRM has to address ahead of 2023 is ensuring countries that have completed the reviews continuously provide progress reports on the implementation of their NPoAs to the Continental Secretariat and the APR Forum. Yet, without an effective monitoring system that obliges and motivates members to report on progress with NPoAs, countries will continue to be lackadaisical about executing the NPoAs and integrating them into their national development plans.
Although citizens’ participation is one of the cornerstones of APRM reviews, CRRs are prepared largely by governments without effective civil society participation. APRM has to ensure members of civil society actively participate not only in review processes but across the entire activities of the Mechanism. Indeed, only fostering active civil society participation will make reviews representative of the genuine yearnings of African people and subsequently ensure governments are held accountable for their NPoAs.
To this end, APRM has to ensure CRRs and NPoAs are all-inclusive, straddle all the thematic areas of APRM reviews; and afterwards, make sure the reports are condensed into concise and user-friendly summaries and infographs for easier understanding of the general public. This should be accompanied with massive media campaigns to make certain citizens of the affected country are aware of their government’s specific reform commitments.
Hitherto, the Mechanism relied on inconsistent contributions of member states which almost sent it into oblivion. Under the current leadership, remarkable milestones have been achieved through the integration of the APRM budget into the AU’s overall budget which has secured financing that guarantees a sustainable mechanism, one that serves only Africa’s interests. This must not only be sustained but reinforced.
And since lack of incentives is the major explainer of participating countries’ seeming reluctance to implement and integrate NPoAs into their national plans, the APRM should consider evolving a multi-donor governance support fund to help member countries implement their NPoAs. To guarantee ownership, such a fund has to be Africa-led and be largely funded with African resources from governments, philanthropists and corporations, followed by Africa’s foreign partners. The APRM can also explore innovative resource mobilization strategies for resourcing the fund.
Additionally, the APRM can leverage the soft power of its founding fathers in the campaign for universal accession, ahead of 2023. The duo of former presidents Olusegun Obasanjo’s and Thabo Mbeki’s unequaled stature as Pan-Africanist leaders make either of them suitable candidates for a potential role of an APRM special envoy on universal accession. Undeniably, their sought-after influence could help make universal accession by 2023 a reality.
The APRM came into being due to the foresight and vision of these African leaders who had identified enhanced governance as a sine qua non for peace, security as well as sustainable development on the continent. To this end, the Mechanism has recorded significant milestones in improving the state of governance across African countries, through consultative engagement with national governments, in the true spirit of peer review.
As it approaches its twentieth anniversary, we are duty-bound to ensure the APRM remains true to the essence of its founding – becoming Africa’s guiding beacon for all governance issues. The Mechanism must continue to work in harmony and synergy with sister AU structures such as AGA and APSA to bring about the envisioned all-inclusive, politically stable, and economically prosperous Africa, as enshrined in Agenda 2063: The Africa We Want!
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