The African Peer Review Mechanism (APRM) recently held its 20th Summit in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia. The APRM was founded in 2003 by the African Union in an effort to encourage good governance and economic development through the creation and adoption of standards and integrated policies among its members. The APRM aims to serve as a self-monitoring tool, responsible for the review of various government institutions from the executive branch to the legislature. The primary sectors covered in the review include: democracy and political governance, economic governance, corporate governance, and socio-economic development. Membership to the APRM is voluntary and available to all AU members. The monitoring organization currently has 34 members.
The 2014 Summit began with remarks by the forum’s Chairperson, President Ellen Johnson Sirleaf. Sirleaf complemented the APRM’s commitment to democracy, and praised its ability to build, “national consensus and political trust.” Other features of the Summit included the admission of its 34th member state, Equatorial Guinea. Progress reports were also submitted and presented by South Africa and Mozambique. In addition to country specific features, other highlights of the Summit included a variation of new appointments to the APR Panel of Eminent Persons.
The APRM and its subsequent summits, represent an exemplary, internal effort by the AU to initiate transparency and economic growth among its member states. The creation of standards and the ability of various countries to support one another is also a noteworthy characteristic of the APRM and its mission. However, among the positive framework, there still exist some evident and potentially damaging weaknesses within the structure of the APRM. One leading criticism is an overall lack of participation by heads of states in the review process. Although President’s commit themselves and their countries to the process, many never attend the necessary consultation sessions. This general lack of engagement prevents APRM from creating legitimate approaches to change. Although APRM is fairly consistent with its publication of review reports, they seldom initiate further engagement from outside parties.
Equatorial Guinea’s recent commitment to the APRM is particularly interesting in regards to the organization’s ability to initiate real reform. Currently, Equatorial Guinea serves as an example of one of sub-Saharan Africa’s most predatory dictatorships. Although the country maintains the highest GDP per capita on the continent, it is consistently accused of human rights abuses and remains 136th on the Human Development Index. Although President Obiang’s admission into the APRM may be reflective of a legitimate effort to initiate change, history and the President’s recent attempt to encourage foreign investment continues to fuel my skepticism. The fact that his call for international support to diversify the economy was accompanied by voluntary membership into a review committee is all too strategic. Perhaps President Obiang’s decision to join the APRM is a reflection of his doubt in the organization’s ability to demand authentic change. The annual membership fee of USD 100,000 may be a small price to pay for attaching his name to a “good governance” organization.