Citizens and leaders across Africa must work to ensure that the continent’s development objectives are achieved in the next 10 years or risk slipping back into underdevelopment, the Chief Executive of the New Partnership for Africa’s Development (NEPAD), Dr Ibrahim Assane Mayaki, has said. NEPAD is a planning and coordinating technical body of the African Union that seeks to eradicate poverty and create sustainable growth on the continent. In an exclusive interview with The New Times’ Eugene Kwibuka and Anitha Kirezi following the recent World Economic Forum on Africa in Kigali, Dr Mayaki made it clear that it’s time for African countries to have clear national and regional development plans and fast-track their implementation. Dr Mayaki spoke about NEPAD’s work for Africa’s development. Excerpts;-
NEPAD was established in 2001 as a new initiative to overcome Africa’s problems such as underdevelopment, poverty, undemocratic regimes and lack of co-operation between African states. Fifteen years later, can you briefly describe what the programme has achieved?
First of all, we have to go back to the reasons NEPAD as a development programme for the continent was established. Africa was coming out of structural adjustment processes because the levels of debt had been very high and that debt was very badly spent. So, we had to go for structural adjustments and make a lot of cuts in our public expenditures.
Our main focus was how to cut costs in the budgets and it was not how to reflect strategically in the mid and long term and our planning capacities were totally erased. So, NEPAD came as a response from a few leaders in order to set a strategy that could be owned by Africans based on leadership, partnership and ownership.
Ownership meaning that design of a strategy should not come from external actors, leadership meaning that governance has to be right and partnership was meaning that in order to implement policies you need a sound partnership at national and regional level including with the private sector and the civil society.
Through these ideas the African Union has implemented and framed continental strategies based on ownership in agriculture, environment and health education among other areas. NEPAD as a secretariat was of tremendous support in helping the African Union to shape these strategies.
Some governments in Africa, including Rwanda, have openly stated that foreign aid has not been efficient to deliver Africa to development. They emphasise that efficient use of Africa’s resources and regional integration is crucial for the continent’s sustainable development. How is NEPAD helping in that area?
There are three issues here. The first issue is the national capacity to plan and prioritise. If a country doesn’t have plans and priorities, which is linked to leadership issue, then NEPAD can’t do anything.
In a country where planning is not considered as a fundamental process, where priorities do not exist and there is no thinking in terms of regional development strategies, nothing can be done. The only thing that can be done is sensitisation.
The second case is where you have countries which have all the planning processes and clear priorities but relying on aid used coherently within the national plans. With these countries it’s much easier to work.
For example, if you want to support agricultural transformation and the conditions are set, you can liaise with those countries and technically support the design of national investment plans for agriculture as well as monitoring and evaluation systems. So, the partnership with the countries works well if the conditions exist.
We also have countries that make specific requests to NEPAD about specific interests. For example, Mauritania can ask NEPAD to help build its solar energy system, Guinea can ask the help in lifting the ban on fish exports to the European Union; these are real cases.
So NEPAD provides technical support helping to design national development programmes?
Yes, you got it right. But we always do it in a regional perspective. Whenever we go into a country, we use a regional door. If we go to Nigeria, we use the ECOWAS door. If we go to Gabon we use the ECCAS door. If we go to Tanzania or Rwanda, we use the EAC door.
The reason we do this is because being part of the African Union one of our main objectives is to support regional integration. In order to support regional integration we need to make sure that there is coherence between national plans and regional strategies.
Could you tell us more about the ‘MoveAfrica’ initiative that NEPAD launched on May 11 on the margins of the World Economic Forum in Kigali.
We have the lowest level of intra-regional trade compared to Latin America, Asia and Europe due to the post-colonial mentality. Today we need to make reforms and arrange our infrastructure projects with a coherent trade policy.
MoveAfrica is making a link between what we do in infrastructure and what we do in trade because logistics or the capacity to connect is a huge loophole on the continent.
What MoveAfrica will do is to set a platform where the private, public and financial sectors will look at the hindrances of trade; issues of non-tariff barriers, the issues of cross border hindrances and well-functioning transport corridors in order to increase intra-regional trade.
It will basically address the soft part of the trade hurdles; the policies?
Absolutely; because everything starts with policies, then you go for implementation.
So, MoveAfrica is going to be the go-to place for policy advice on trade around Africa?
What are the other exciting projects that NEPAD is running which are likely to have a huge impact on the continent in the future?
In infrastructure, for example, we have 16 regional projects but we have extracted from the Programme for Infrastructure Development in Africa (PIDA). And for the 16 projects we worked with private sector operators like the World Economic Forum (WEF) in order to screen them.
They are well represented regionally and are cross border projects. Among others, we have a gas pipeline project between Nigeria to Algeria, the Congo Brazzaville-Kinshasa bridge which will be expanded by a railway and a road, there is the Trans-Saharan highway of 4,500 kilometres between Algiers and Lagos, which is almost completed.
So, there are 16 projects in infrastructure on which we are working closely with the African Union Commission, the African Development Bank, and Regional Economic Communities. Our role is really to facilitate the acceleration of the implementation of these projects.
In climate change we have a climate change fund which helps countries to design projects to tackle the issues of impact of climate change on agriculture and give them the necessary tools and resources on specific projects in order to cope with that issue.
On youth and skills development, we are launching a programme on technical vocational centres so that we increase capacities of our countries to focus on professional training and we will link those centres to the private sector in order to boost youth employment.
There are some plans and mechanisms undertaken by NEPAD such as African Peer Review Mechanism (APRM) launched in 2003 with an aim to realise the democratisation and good governance goals on the continent. Of late, the process seems to have run out of steam, what’s the problem and what’s the way forward?
The APRM as a programme is still within the NEPAD programme but structurally it is another institution that is independent. The APRM is based on the countries volunteering to be part of it and analysed on governance indicators and those who carry the evaluation are totally independent.
It is true that the programme had administrative problems in the last three years but the motivation for countries to adhere to it was still sound because about 30 countries have adhered. I was the interim chief executive in the last year to re-arrange with administrative issues but now it’s running again.
They have a functional secretariat, they have a new chief executive, and they go about their exercises. Some countries have started the second review and we at NEPAD agency need to work very closely with them because when they finish the reviews they will produce national plans of action that should be implemented by NEPAD since APRM doesn’t implement.
What message do you have for readers which you think they would like to know as regards NEPAD and Africa in general?
The message is that the next 10 years are extremely critical for Africa and if we don’t achieve our transformation objectives we will fall back again. I met the former President of Haiti, Jean-Bertrand Aristide, and we had a very long discussion in South Africa.
At the end of the meeting he told me that ‘you know Haiti has been independent for a hundred years and we are still largely underdeveloped. My wish is for Africa not to be in the case of Haiti’. So, nothing is definitely acquired; we need to maintain the transformation momentum in order not to have that fate.