Africa

APRM Ethiopia review: A call too close to disregard

With all its evasions during the preparations, Ethiopia’s review by the APRM has so much to be taken to heart 

Tsedale Lemma

 

The establishment in 2003 by the African Union (AU) of the African Peer Review Mechanism (APRM) has received a mixed reaction by critics and supporters alike of the continent Africa in general and the AU in particular. Pretty much styled after the Organization for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD’s) peer review methodology, APRM’s proponents, including the AU, insist it is “a bold, unique and innovative approach designed and implemented by Africans for Africa.”

But those who knew the continent’s culture of political disingenuousness and the lack of courage and honesty by African heads of state and governments to criticize their peers have their own reservations over the very concept of the APRM, which is basically based on a mutually agreed mechanisms acceded to by the Member States of the AU.

Be that as it may, APRM took off with 16 out of the then 53 countries in the continent voluntarily acceding to the mechanism. With that came the responsibility of each of the member states including Ethiopia, one of the pioneer 16, to adopt “policies, standards and practices that lead to political stability, high economic growth, sustainable development and accelerated sub-regional and continental economic integration,” as would be recommended by the Country Review Mission (CRM), which, upon publishing a report for a country reviewed, would recommend deficiencies in the four thematic areas it is tasked to review a country: democracy and political governance, economic governance and management, corporate governance and socio-economic development.

Today APRM has 31 member states out of 54 in the continent and four more on the way to join soon.

 Ethiopia’s turn, finally

Of the 31, Ethiopia has become the 14th country to be reviewed joining the likes of South Africa, Algeria, Tanzania, Uganda and Mali.

The review so far of the 14 countries, however, has not been without fierce controversy, as was Ethiopia’s, whose report started in June 2008 and was first released in January 2011 and published and made available (if not to the general public, yet) in January 2013.

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To ensure that the Country Self Assessment Process (CSAP), which, along with the report from the Country Review Mission (CRM) would make a country’s final report, Ethiopia has chosen the late Prime Minister Meles Zenawi’s office as the focal point for APRM activities and appointed Neway Gebreab, special advisor to the PM, as the APRM National Focal Point for Ethiopia.  Subsequently Ethiopia has also formed a 23-memebr National Governing Council (NGC) led by Teffera Waluwa, the then Minister of Capacity Building, and allocated a budget of US$ 1.65 million.

However, from the onset, and by any standard, Ethiopia’s NGC falls short of sincerity as it was dominated by top officials of the ruling party including the late PM Meles Zenawi, who was the Chairperson of the APRM Forum, and who authoritatively assigned his office as the focal point for APRM, Neway Gebreab, whose frequent visit to Midrand/ Johannesburg, South Africa, the headquarter of APR Secretariat, was considered by many as too manipulative, and Teffera Waluwa, who was appointed to lead the NGC.

The fact that democracy and political governance (one of the areas the continent is known to display delicate report cards – and Ethiopia’s is no different), was included as one of the four themtical areas to be reviewed was, from the start, not taken by member states lightheartedly and has created the excuse for countries to tightly control the whole reviewing process.

Ethiopia’s NGC, which was responsible to prepare the CSAP, claims to have included representatives from government, opposition, the private sector, regional states, civil society and academia. However, “the whole process seemed like a government project carried out by the Ministry of Capacity Building – whose minister was chair of the NGC, and in whose buildings the office of the NGC and its secretariat were located,” wrote Prof. Medhane Taddesse, an Ethiopian political analyst and specialist on peace and security issues in the horn of Africa.

The meager participation by the civil society, the private sector and even regional states and the academia is also largely questionable. “Civil society participation in the APRM process in Ethiopia was, overall, both belated and insufficient,” wrote Prof. Medhane.

Although Ethiopia’s review report was peer reviewed at the APRM Heads of State and Government’s summit in Jan. 2011 and accordingly, based on APRM’s procedures, the country has embarked on preparing the National Program of Action (NPoA), a program “divided into short-term, medium-term and long-term goals that can be monitored on a continuous basis”, it was exclusively prepared by the Ministry of Finance and Economic Development (MoFED) and has, for some inexplicable reasons, excluded the NGC.

A call too close, regardless 

With all its evasions, however, plenty of recommendations and brotherly advises are included in Ethiopia’s review report that the government and its stakeholders should take to heart.

Its assessment of democracy and good political governance praises the country’s progress over the last 21 years in improving both, but unambiguously points out that “there is a tremendous deficit in political engagement by key actors”; and it praises the country’s system of federalism, but highlights the “need for a constructive approach to political asymmetries between the regional states and the ensuing regional inequalities.” The economic governance and management assessment has a lot of satisfying reports on the country’s sound macro-economic policies and the government’s commitment to private sector-led growth. It also praises the country’s Plan for Accelerated and Sustained Development to End Poverty (PASDEP), but warns “the economy continues to face serious challenges that could potentially dampen growth in the medium-term.” It out rightly reveals the conspicuous absence of corporate governance (other than the Ethiopian Commodity Exchange – ECX) and says in clear that “Ethiopia doesn’t have any specific structure focusing on promoting basic corporate governance principles…”. And its evaluation of the country’s socio-economic development praises Ethiopia’s ownership of its development programs and its pro-poor spending, but says “its socio-economic track record is not commensurate with its status as the oldest country in Africa.’

Speaking at the launching of the country review in mid Jan this year, Prime Minister Hailemariam Desalegn said, “The report on Ethiopia that we are receiving today is part and parcel of the overall APRM process that has been undergoing in the continent, and we welcome it heartily.”

Dr. Moise Nembot, Deputy Chief Executive Office of APRM Secretariat has a clear message for the government in Ethiopia. In an interview with this magazine he laid out three things that must happen following a release of a country report not just for Ethiopia but for all countries that have their reports out: “First, the country review report comes along with the NPoA; each country reviewed will have to report every year on the progress.” Ethiopia’s NPoA may have been prepared by MoFED, but it is a national program that should be followed strictly at the national level.

“Second, this report is a public domain, so every stakeholder, from the civil society to the media, should take the report and use it to hold the government accountable on the recommendations made by the review,” says Dr. Nembot. “And third, this is not a peer review of a government; this is a peer review of the country. So each sector of the society has the responsibility to improve on the recommendations made about it.”

Clearly, Ethiopia should not only “welcome” the report ‘heartily’ but take it as a brotherly call that is too close to disregard. Counterattacking and invalidating any report critical of anything regardless of who prepared it is, so far, a tradition deeply entrenched in the socio-political structure of the country. This time around, it should be different. After all, when other African countries have refused to submit to APR mechanisms, Ethiopia, via its late PM Meles Zenawi, stood bold in becoming a pioneer.

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