The NEPAD Formula

G8 leaders discussing African development in Kananaskis, Canada, on June 27, 2002, will have the opportunity to view this and 29 other photographs documenting the AIDS crisis in Zambia (Photo: Peter Bregg-Ho/AFP).  

When it comes to economic development in Africa, few people these days expect a magic solution. Nevertheless, the New Partnership for Africa’s Development (NEPAD) conference, which took place in Dakar on April 15-17, opened amid high hopes.

Modeled on the U.S. Marshall Plan for the economic recovery of Europe after World War II, NEPAD is the brainchild of the leaders of South Africa, Nigeria, Algeria, and Senegal. The plan aims to bring in US$64 billion in public and private funding (approximately four times the amount Africa currently receives) and to achieve an annual growth rate of 7 percent of gross domestic product in participating countries. To guard against corruption, those countries will use a system of peer review to monitor deployment of funds and progress toward good governance.

Banjul’s The Independent (April 29) called it “the most ambitious, comprehensive, and authentically African” rescue plan for Africa yet, but added that “despite...the sturdy optimism of the keynote speeches,” the meeting in Dakar was “not quite a landmark event.”

One reason for this was that the keynote address was given by Kenya’s President Daniel Arap Moi, whose time in office, the paper noted, “has been marked by persistent charges of electoral fraud, human-rights abuse, and government corruption, the very viruses that NEPAD has pledged to remove from Africa.”

Elsewhere, there was criticism of the fact that South Africa’s Thabo Mbeki and his NEPAD co-founders had approached European leaders before consulting their own governments or people. “The average African...has grave misgivings about NEPAD, as most do not even have an idea what it is about,” wrote Chama Nsabika in Lusaka’s The Post (May 2). But Isaac Aluko-Olokun, writing in Lagos’ This Day (May 6), disagreed: “NEPAD is Africa focused, managed, and led. Put simply, it offers African methodology and solutions to African problems.”

Most commentators agreed that by far the biggest challenge NEPAD faces is encouraging and managing private investment. “The success of NEPAD and creation of long-term opportunities for the private sector depends on our ability to develop that actively cultivates the partnership between governments and the private sector,” wrote John Fe Ohiorhenuan in Johannesburg’s Business Day (April 30).

But “there are still some market skeptics among us,” wrote Aluko-Olokun. Kampala’s New Vision pointed out in an April 18 editorial that “investment does not have to solely be by the big multinationals,” and that, as in the case of East Asia, small and medium-sized enterprises could be courted in order to maximize growth.

Perhaps the biggest hurdle would confront African business leaders, who, after three decades of public-sector control, were moving to a private-sector-driven economy. For them, Aluko-Olokun concluded, “NEPAD offers a challenge and an opportunity.”