Donors wait for Nepad to prove it can deliver It's been just over three years since the launch of Africa's huge development programme, Nepad - the New Partnership for Africa's Development.
Yet there still isn't really anything concrete to show for it - not a Nepad highway nor a Nepad power station to be seen. Not even a wayward government given a stern public Nepad dressing-down for failing to observe high standards of good governance.
At a conference in Sandton during October to review Nepad's progress, this apparent lack of concrete results provoked CheikhTidiane Gadio, Foreign Minister of Senegal, to remark; "For three years people have been hearing about this vision ... but you can't eat a vision...
"Now we want to see three priorities for Nepad: one, implementation, two, implementation, three, implementation. We have reached a critical point where we need to get away from the rhetoric and translate it into the implementation of projects."
And although he is one of Nepad's founding fathers, Gadio's boss, crusty Senegalese President Abdoulaye Wade, went further, saying; "People in Senegal ask me what is happening with Nepad and I have a great deal of difficulty explaining what we have achieved.
"We are spending an enormous amount of time and money on conferences, but ... we have not had one single (project) that has been realised."
The response of Nepad secretariat chairman Wiseman Nkuhlu was basically to suggest that Wade and Gadio had misunderstood the nature and purpose of Nepad.
"Our role is to energise, inspire, be a catalyst and get things moving. The real implementation and ownership must be by the countries and the sub-regions," he said.
"You are not going to see any Nepad projects. There is no such thing."
At the review conference, one SA official told Ross Herbert and Ayesha Kajee of the Nepad project at the SA Institute of International Affairs: "What matters is not whether the (Nepad) secretariat made progress but that Africa is making progress. Aid levels are up. Conflicts are being dealt with. Africa is on the global agenda."
There is no doubt some validity to this argument that Nepad has had a general beneficial effect on the continent. The problem is - as Wade noted - "We must not confuse what is being done by the states or the AU [African Union] and say it is Nepad."
And, in spite of Nkuhlu's protestations that there are no Nepad projects, his annual report does say that " progress was made and a number of high-priority projects identified in the Nepad short-term action plan (Stap) were implemented."
The report shows that the African Development Bank has financed eight projects and four studies from this plan, to the tune of $373 million, and the World Bank has put another $570m into the projects. For the next financial year, the ADB has approved a further $580m for nine projects.
Most of the projects are in energy and transport. The most important project financed by the World Bank was the interconnection of power pools in west and southern Africa.
The trouble is that none of these seems to be anywhere close to fruition. Nkuhlu allocates most of the blame to the sub-regional organisations like SADC for this failure.
The ADB found that only 23 of the 52 facilitation projects, six of 18 capacity-building projects and just eight of 36 investment projects had begun to be implemented.
Neither Nepad nor the ADB was able this week to give an updated assessment of the status of these projects, although it has apparently not changed much.
Apart from infrastructure, Nkuhlu's annual report identified agriculture, environment and the Africa peer review mechanism as priority areas for implementation from among Nepad's vast agenda.
Nepad's most significant achievement in agriculture is the 102-page comprehensive Africa agriculture development programme, designed to revolutionise African agriculture as the foundation for recovery.
It focuses on three goals to address the food crisis on the continent; extending the area of farmland which is being sustainably managed and adequately irrigated; improving African infrastructure and opening overseas markets to boost exports, and improving food security.
The entire 13-year project comes with a hefty $251bn price tag - nearly $18bn a year - of which foreign governments or private investors are expected to cough up $126bn.
The donor countries are evidently balking at this bill, showing how the programme epitomises a key problem of Nepad. The African side complains that the donor countries are not keeping their promises to fund Nepad; the donors respond by saying that Nepad has not done its homework by converting massive projects like the agriculture development programme into realistic, feasible smaller projects which they can feasibly fund.
As one British development official told Herbert and Kajee: "We would like to see some sense of priorities. I think it is an unrealistic amount of money being asked for here."
On Nkuhlu's other priority, peer review, the Panel of Eminent Persons that runs the review process has earmarked four guinea-pigs: Ghana, Mauritius, Kenya and Rwanda.
Much of the preliminary work has been done - such as sending the countries long questionnaires to answer about the state of governance.
But it is understood that the first country visits - the on-site investigations by the panel members, assisted by technical experts to see for themselves - have not yet begun. Ghana is expected to be the first stop, at least partly because it is the responsibility of the efficient former SA Reserve Bank governor, Dr Chris Stals, a panel member.
South Africa is in a second group of countries expected to be reviewed next year. The donors on whom Nepad is relying for the money to finance its ambitious plans will be looking closely at the peer review reports to see if they contain honest criticism of governments.
Already they are wary, because the peer review is voluntary - and the worst governments, such as Zimbabwe, need not submit and, indeed, have not submitted, to review.
From the start Nepad sold itself as unique among African developments plans, with so many others now gathering dust, because this time governments promised to take responsibility for their own and each other's behaviour.
It is this behaviour which determines whether foreign financing is properly used and not poured down the drain of corruption, incompetence, wars and other malaises.
If the peer reviews do not allocate responsibility and blame where it is due, but instead become more exercises for milking more money from the well-squeezed donors, then the credibility of Nepad, already diminishing, may evaporate completely.
For example, there is a concern that the peer review mechanism panel will typically say: "Yes, Country X is corrupt. What it needs is a more effective auditor-general. Would you mind funding that?" It is true that donor countries have been reasonably impressed by Africa's extra efforts to resolve the continent's debilitating conflicts, for example. As a result they have increased financial and logistical support specifically for such efforts.
But they are unlikely to pour billions or even millions of dollars into huge agricultural and infrastructural projects unless they are given hard and detailed evidence that these are worthwhile investments - and that includes confidence that the projects will be properly managed by governments.
The key to the success of Nepad is good governance and next year will demonstrate whether the peer review mechanism can deliver that.