African countries seem to be forever undergoing assessments and evaluations. Many stem from the governments of international development partners who have poured money into a plethora of projects, programmes and plans, and want to know what has worked and why. Others are commissioned by international organisations such as the World Bank or the International Monetary Fund that have likewise invested in development or infrastructure initiatives. Credit rating agencies also put African state’s political economies under their microscopes to pronounce on the investment climate.
These evaluations all have their genesis outside of Africa; but there is an important home-grown system – the African Peer Review Mechanism (APRM) – that seeks to subject governance in self-selected African states to scrutiny.
What has been learned from this indigenous African evaluation tool?
Launched in March 2003 as a component of the New Partnership for Africa’s Development (NEPAD), the APRM is a voluntary system through which African countries examine and articulate their governance policies and practices, diagnose weaknesses, and pledge to address them through a National Programme of Action.
So far 35 African states have joined the APRM, and 17 have been through their first complete review cycle. Briefly, this entails the country establishing a multi-stakeholder National Governing Council to oversee the process in conjunction with (usually) a minister designated as an APRM National Focal Point. Specialist think tanks and researchers are appointed to help develop a Country Self-Assessment Report, which is based on a 105-page questionnaire and extensive public dialogue and input.
The country is evaluated on four main thematic areas: democracy and political governance, economic governance and management, corporate governance, and socio-economic development. Subjects delved into range from elections to economics, human rights to housing provision, and corruption to conflict management. Once the Country Self-Assessment Report is submitted to the APRM Secretariat, a member of the APR Panel of Eminent Persons leads a team of African experts on a Country Review Mission to that particular state. The Country Review Mission conducts its own research and investigations, holds public and private meetings, and explores cross-cutting, systemic governance issues. The Country Review Mission builds on the Country Self-Assessment Report, and a draft Country Review Report is produced, which goes to the participating government for comment. It may append its views, but not amend the text itself.
A National Programme of Action is also developed. Then the Head of State presents that report to his or her peers in the APR Forum, discusses it, and pledges to implement the NPoA. The country reports periodically on implementation, and is then meant to undergo second and subsequent reviews.
So what have the last 13 years revealed with respect to evaluation and assessment? Here are five key lessons.
First, African ownership matters: The APRM was conceived in Africa and has been embraced by leaders of over 80% of the continent’s population. While it drew on existing peer review systems, such as those in academia and the OECD, the APRM is a unique, unprecedented tool. It relies heavily on data and information generated at national and sub-national level, and this has added to its credibility. National statistical bodies are a fundamentally important source for Country Self-Assessment Reports and Country Review Reports.
APRMAfrican governments also have tried to protect the APRM from external interference, for instance by establishing a trust fund administered by the UNDP into which donors deposited discretionary funding. Efforts are currently underway to reignite interest in the APRM from African heads of state, whose political commitment has visibly flagged over the last five years.
Second, Africa can produce credible research: The 17 Country Review Reports published to date have been praised as comprehensive, fair and frank. Despite the politicised nature of the governance issues it examines – such as corruption, separation of powers and service delivery – the APRR reports have managed to highlight the critical fissures and governance challenges. They predicted electoral violence in Kenya, xenophobic attacks in South Africa and inter-party tensions in Mozambique.
The Technical Research Institutes that help compile the Country Self-Assessment Reports have done an excellent job in producing honest analyses. Attempts by governments to supress or subvert sensitive material have proved ultimately futile.
Third, rated but not ranked: Unlike the Ibrahim Index of African Governance, the World Banks’s Doing Business Report or the United Nations’ Human Development Index, the APRM deliberately does not rank countries against one another in a league table. It seeks to evaluate governance in each country individually, but not compare them to one another, in order to accommodate states with very different histories, systems and levels of development. The APRM is meant to measure countries against their own potential, and to welcome all into the fold, regardless of the current state of their governance.
However this means that many of its indicators are qualitative and imprecise. There is currently discussion of using the APRM to track implementation of the Sustainable Development Goals and the AU’s 50-year development vision document, Agenda 2063. Modalities still need to be fleshed out.
Fourth, good instruments, bad implementation: Across the board, the APRM Country Review Reports confirm that Africa is not short of good policies and tools. The APRM requires states to report on the status of ratification and domestication of over 100 regional, continental and international standards and codes. This information has often been difficult to collect. And while many of these instruments are ratified, implementation of their provisions is poor. This has been a perennial problem in Africa.
Fifth, process too complex and ambitious? Country Review Reports typically run to over 450 pages. In attempting to be comprehensive, the APRM risks being too complex and the reports are rarely read. Important insights are buried under the sheer volume of information generated. There is also tendency for National Programmes of Action to rehash existing programmes rather than innovate. National Programmes of Action tend to be relatively weak, poorly thought through, unwieldy wish lists, expecting donor funding in most cases. They are not well integrated with national development planning or departmental budgets. And there is currently no independent verification of their implementation. The APRM Secretariat is currently exploring ways to make the review results more accessible and digestible, as well as how to better integrate and implement NPoAs and roll out a new monitoring and evaluation system across its member states.
It is hoped that the recent appointment of Professor Eddy Maloka as APRM Secretariat CEO will kick-start the APRM into action again. Time will tell if these efforts will be sustained and bear fruit.
By Steven Gruzd, the programme head for APRM and Governance at SAIIA. This was first published on the Africa Evaluation website.