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If the African Peer Review Mechanism is not to degenerate into meaninglessness, writes L. Muthoni Wanyeki, Africa's governments, regional councils and citizens will need to revitalise its progress.

The coverage of the recent African Union (AU) summit focused, unsurprisingly, on whether Libya’s Muammar al-Gaddafi would retain the chair.

He didn’t and it passed, as expected, to Malawi’s President Bingu wa Muthurika.

What the coverage didn’t focus on was the pre-summit forum addressing the African Peer Review Mechanism.

There appears to be a growing perception that the AU and its specialised mechanisms are retreating from the promise signalled at its inauguration, that of a continental body that would no longer tolerate gross and systemic human rights violations and generally bad governance.

In essence, what amounts to protection of those involved in gross and systemic human rights violations (as in Sudan and Zimbabwe) – regardless of the motivations for such protection (regional stability, for example) – detracts from its moral standing.

And it seems less and less clear on how to handle arguably civilian coups d’état – involving manipulation, in one way or another, of the electoral process – in now politically pluralist states.

Then look at what’s just happened with the APRM.

The forum is now chaired by the Ethiopian president.

An irony, to put it lightly.

The secretariat is headed by a respected Nigerian economist, whose age and tenure somehow never even came up for discussion as all of the other members of the APRM’s Panel of Eminent Persons were replaced (with the exception of the Algerian member).

The criteria for such replacement somehow also wasn’t discussed, and neither was the audit report of the APRM’s secretariat.

On to the forum’s main business, discussing the self-assessments by states. Some 30 of the AU’s member states have now acceded to the APRM, with 12 countries having been peer reviewed to date (including Kenya, Rwanda and Uganda).

Benin and South Africa didn’t report, as expected.

Burkina Faso did, focused on climate change and drought.

And Uganda did as well, with its follow-up report (and thus the debate by peers) being focused on educational quality, the use of oil revenues and fertility rates.

Yes, educational quality, the use of oil revenues and fertility rates!

It is not that these are not interesting topics to debate. But, in the bigger scheme of things, they hardly constitute the key human rights and governance challenges that Uganda is experiencing, or what constructively critical engagement by its peers could presumably be of assistance with.

Which points to yet another problem with the APRM – without clear guidelines for the follow-up reports, it’s possible for states going wrong to get away essentially scot-free, and for the peers to come away feeling they’ve engaged in some sort of generally useful discussion – all without making a shred of difference to the real state of human rights and governance on the ground in the state supposedly under scrutiny.

So much for Uganda. Closer to home here in Kenya, the secretariat’s chair apparently unilaterally cancelled the second mission of the APRM to Kenya to review the political governance pillar just before the re-composition of the panel.

And now that the panel’s recomposed, it’s not clear who’ll be responsible for Kenya.

What is clear, however, is that none of the panel will have the same background – or the gravitas – of the former lead panel member, Graça Machel, making a second mission useless in any case.

Something needs to be done, by our own governments, by governing councils in the region and by citizens trying to use the APRM process to catalyse progress forward.

Or we risk seeing it degenerate into meaninglessness, as the AU stagnates too.


* L. Muthoni Wanyeki is executive director of the Kenya Human Rights Commission.
* Please send comments to [email protected] or comment online at Pambazuka News.