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Prospects of Making Poverty History though NEPAD: Glimpse from a Regional Consultative Workshop

(Dr. David Kaulemu, AFCAST Regional Coordinator for Eastern and Southern Africa)


I was recently privileged to attend a multi-stakeholder consultative workshop to review the New Economic Partnership for Africa’s Development (NEPAD). The workshop was ably organized by the African Forum and Network on Debt and Development (AFRODAD) to provide stakeholders, including parliamentarians, members of civil society organizations (CSOs), and government officials from different parts of the African continent the opportunity to assess the progress of NEPAD since its inception and to find ways of engaging NEPAD more effectively for a genuine African human, economic, social and technological development. AFRODAD is a research, lobby and advocacy regional organization seeking positive policy changes to redress Africa’s debts and development crisis in order to promote equitable and sustainable development that will lead to an African and global prosperity. The workshop was also meant to strengthen African expertise on NEPAD and other key issues on the continent and to afford the opportunity for stakeholders to influence policy and the NEPAD process. The NEPAD secretariat was meant to be there to report on the progress of the program, answer questions and more importantly to work out ways in which the secretariat could, more effectively, coordinate and collaborate with the efforts of CSOs, parliamentarians and various African governments to achieve the goal of NEPAD to make poverty history. I attended the workshop on behalf of AFCAST with the aim of finding opportunities and strategies for AFCAST associates - church individuals, institutions, and organizations to plug into the NEPAD process. While participants identified many weaknesses of NEPAD, they were all agreed that if clarified, supported and capacitated, the programme has huge potential to contribute to making poverty history. Yet a significant number still remain skeptical if not cynical.

What is AFCAST?

“AFCAST” is acronym for the African Forum for Catholic Social Teachings. The forum brings together Catholic individuals in the regions of Eastern and Southern Africa who have are working in the area of the social teachings. It is a think-tank that creates opportunities for sharing experiences and works to stimulate the church and society in the region to contribute to the knowledge, growth and actualization of the values and principles of the social teachings. These values and principles include the following;

• Respect for life generally and especially human life
• Building social, political and economic institutions and processes that respect the dignity of the human person as a physical, intellectual, spiritual, social, political and emotional being
• Promotion of equality especially gender equality
• Recognition of the social nature of human beings and encouragement of the social solidarity during happy times as well as in times of war, hunger, diseases and other troubles.
• The need for everyone to participate in social, economic and political institutions and processes that affect their lives.
• Promotion of the common good and discouraging processes of oppression, exploitation and selfishness.
• Promotion of justice and fairness in the distribution of social goods giving special attention to those who are marginalized and made poor by established social, economic and political systems.

AFCAST hopes to stimulate church institutions and society generally not only to recover and remember these values and principles, but also to give them priority in policy development and implementation.

Relevance of NEPAD to AFCAST Values and Principles

I attended the NEPAD workshop because influencing policy is one of the major strategies of AFCAST for implementing the social teachings of the Catholic Church. AFCAST is committed to full integral human development as the creation of “the sum total of social conditions which allow people, either as groups or as individuals, to reach their fulfillment more fully and more easily.” (Gaudium et Spes, Vatican II, December 1965 : 903) Pope Paul VI, begins the Encyclical, On the Development of Peoples, with the following words:

The development of peoples has the Church’s close attention, particularly the development of those who are striving to escape from hunger, misery, endemic diseases and ignorance; of those who looking for a wider share in the benefits of civilization and a more active improvement of their human qualities; of those who are aiming purposefully at their complete fulfillment. Following on the Second Vatican Ecumenical Council a renewed consciousness of the demands of the Gospel makes it her duty to put herself at the service of all, to help them grasp their problem in all its dimensions, and to convince them that solidarity in action at this turning point in human history is a matter of urgency. (Pope Paul VI, 1967:5)

Thus AFCAST is committed to the proposition that we all have a moral duty to contribute to the creation of social, economic, political and cultural institutions, systems, structures, processes and personalities that facilitate the integral growth and fulfillment of every human person. As Pope Paul VI points out, “The reality of human solidarity, which is a benefit for us, also imposes a duty.” (Pope Paul VI, 1967:11) Thus the church has a duty to encourage processes, participate in strategies and collaborate with institutions and people working towards human development. Hence the history of the church is full of examples of its intervention and collaboration with temporal forces and processes in the name of liberation, peace-building, conflict management/resolution, respect for human rights, respect for the environment and development. The intervention work of church leaders is now well known. We can talk about Pope John Paul’s work towards peace in the wake of the war in Iraq, and Bishop Desmond Tutu’s contribution to the death of Apartheid and to reconciliation in the post-apartheid era. Various church leaders and structures have contributed to the liberation of African countries and to encouragement of democracy in the post-independence period. The work of various church bodies is recorded in history. These include the Second Vatican Council, World Council of Churches, Africa Synod, Catholic Commissions for Justice and Peace, Bishops’ Conferences, and international church agencies like Misereor, Catholic Relief Services (CRS), Catholic Agency for Overseas Development (CAFOD), Christian Aid, Christian Care, World Vision, and many others.

The Age of Global Action

Since the beginning of the modern era, we have seen the globalization of the world and the growth of global action on many issues. World bodies and campaigns have taken on enhanced significance in world affairs. While global action has not always been truly global, nonetheless, the existence of such action has been growing. Demands to make global action more and truly global have intensified as in the case of demands to democratize the United Nations Security Council, the World Trade Organization, and the International Monetary Fund. Global action more and more universalizes the challenges that human beings face in the world. We live in an era where we now realize that the world is one and that all our lives are interconnected. Hence to live in the world is to enjoy the common good and to meet the challenges of the common bad. While tribalism, racism, sexism, nationalism, regionalism and provincialism may have made sense at some points in our various histories, global action demands that we now go beyond them and embrace truly global social solidarity with special attention to those marginalized and impoverished by world institutions and processes. Local problems and challenges become more and more global challenges as in the case of HIV, AIDS and poverty in Africa, bird flu and the tsunami in Asia, pollution, corruption and consumerism in USA and Europe. Thus we see more and more global responses to these global challenges. There was Band AID, Live AID, then Global Call to Action Against Poverty (GCAP) and the Millennium Development Goals. ‘Make Poverty History’ is a demand for global action against poverty. NEPAD is the African local policy document in the spirit of that demand.

Truly global action is scary for many leaders of modernity who were used to the modern ideologies of nationalism and national sovereignty. Global action means that Southern Africans are directly concerned about the development of unsustainable trends of consumption in the USA and want to have a right to voice this out and be able to influence the political processes in USA to avoid disaster in Southern Africa and the world at large. It also means that the European Union is concerned of the negative impact of continued existence of AIDS and poverty in Southern Africa. Racism in France and the United Kingdom is as much a concern of Asians, South Americans and Africans as oppression and corruption in Africa is of the European Union. The South has a right to fair trade, quality development aid and, given the nature of world history, to universal mandatory debt cancellation. Americans have a right to demand elimination of tropical diseases, high child mortality rates, violence against women in Southern Africa. In the age of global action, ‘Blair’s Britain’ is no longer simply ‘his’. Neither is ‘Mugabe’s Zimbabwe’. The EU’s Common Agricultural Policy, subsidies and trade protectionism cannot be left as matters for the EU or USA alone since it directly prevents poor countries from realizing their agricultural potential and to improve the lives of the majority of their citizens. Mugabe is right to demand the reform of the United Nations especially the Security Council in the name of democracy, transparency and accountability - the very values and principles that must be used to inform governance in Zimbabwe. But the demand for democracy must be made in the spirit of global action captured in the values of the social teachings listed above. CSOs, faith-based organizations and ordinary citizens have the right to demand better lives and more freedom for everyone and anywhere in the world.

However, while the church and various church organizations have this wealth of the social teachings, they could be more focused, more systematic and institutionalized in terms of how they participate and contribute to the national, regional and international processes that have been established to realize justice, peace, development and poverty eradication. The time for unilateral church action is over. Church action needs to move more and more towards global action. Not just global church action, but global action. Church institutions and structures need to be transformed in order for them to more directly input into global action. Thus the church should make specific decisions on how it participates in specific global actions like the national development programmes, regional initiatives like NEPAD, United Nations processes like the focus on MDGs, and in debates on global issues.

Making Poverty History:

A number of African and international efforts have recently culminated in the global campaign dubbed “Making Poverty History”. Heated debates have characterized these efforts. Some people have been sceptical about the campaign pointing out that the goal is impossible to realize. They ask didn’t Jesus himself say that “The poor you have always with you”? (John 12;8) So how can we make poverty history if it is a reality of life? Peter Henriot S.J. (2004:) has pointed out that in this quoted passage, Jesus was not prescribing poverty but merely describing it. To make poverty history is to refuse to accept it as a necessary part of social reality. It is to declare that since poverty is created by our social practices, our economic systems, the rules of trade, it means poverty can be dismantled and destroyed. While total abolition of poverty may be difficult to visualize in our situation today, making poverty history means making the moral commitment to abolish it. It means refusing to accept that poverty is a legitimate part of life or that it is impossible to eradicate. To make poverty history is to acquire a new global consciousness that actively looks and works for a future without poverty. This consciousness finds situations of poverty as archaic i.e. belonging to the past – history! To say this is not to say poverty no longer exists. But it is to say that a consciousness that accepts poverty as rational, or as part of reality is a mentality of the past. And that poverty itself should be made to exist only in the memory.

This commitment can be expressed concretely by the establishment of programmes, policies, organizations, institutions and processes aimed at dismantling structures creating and supporting poverty. To consciously participate in these processes is to joint the new historical dispensation of global action, which Hegel would call the ‘self realization of reason’ as it discovers the limitations or of irrationality of the world which accepts racism, tribalism, narrow forms of nationalism, sexism, inequalities, exploitation and poverty.

NEPAD Framework

Several social, political and economic movements and processes have anticipated NEPAD. These included all the liberation movements and various philosophical orientations including Black Consciousness, Pan Africanism, Ubuntuism, Negritude, Bantu Philosophy, African Socialism, Philosophical Sagacity and modernist Professional Philosophy. There were other international trends like Marxism, Liberalism, Liberation Theology, Black Theology and many more. Because of this, NEPAD cannot escape debate and controversy. In this sense, “NEPAD is basically a dynamic concept constantly being developed.” (CRD & PAC 2004:6) Indeed there are alternative African programmes that could be used to champion Africa’s development. However, presently NEPAD has become a framework for economic and social development, good governance and eradication of poverty which has been adopted as a programmatic policy document of the Africa Union. This fact is essential in giving NEPAD priority. However, as pointed out by many participants of the consultative meeting in Harare, NEPAD’s historical origins are not characterized by universal participation of essential stakeholders. Many stakeholders who were initially left out of the NEPAD process felt it depended too much on foreign aid and ignored many other efforts by Africans at social, economic and political development. Hence they declared in Port Shepstone, South Africa on 28 July 2002, at the launch of the Africa Union and NEPAD, “We do not accept NEPAD!! Africa is not for sale!!” Ironically, AFRODAD and other “members of social movements, trade unions, youth and women’s organizations, faith-based organization, academics, NGOs and other popular civil society organizations from the whole of Africa” made that negative declaration in 2002. In 2005 in Harare, the mood was changed. The reality of NEPAD was accepted. Yet the negative assessment has helped to influence the development of NEPAD as an African owned project. To say this is not to deny the need to continue working on this point. NEPAD skeptics are needed even in the stakeholders workshops like the one held in Harare. Indeed they played their role and they will continue to play it in future.

Because NEPAD is a developing concept, there is still a lot of room for debate and improvement. As the booklet brought to the AFRODAD organized consultative workshop by Ms. Engudai Bekele, the Coordinator of the Africa Office of Partnership Africa Canada (PAC) points out, “NEPAD could be perceived as a guiding star, to be closely followed and whose movements can help us to navigate towards a brighter and better Africa. Yet this star is not only to be followed, but also influenced and guided as well by the peoples of Africa.” (CRDA & PAC 2004:6) It was in this spirit that AFRODAD organized the consultative workshop, inviting various sectors of the African social, economic and political spectrum. As Charles Mutasa, the Executive Director of AFRODAD said in his opening remarks to the workshop, “Our focus at this consultative meeting is to review progress made so far and to explore ways and means of improving the speed at which things are going was well as build on the good will and momentum that it generated. In line with this, it is also crucial that each of the stakeholder representatives come out with some clear road map in regard to their envisaged/practical roles and obligations. (Mutasa, 20/11/05)

While debate on NEPAD continues, and many weaknesses of the NEPAD project were pointed out, participants of the workshop were agreed that NEPAD is now a reality. As such, it needed to be encouraged and supported. This point was made strongly by Professor Asante the APRM Researcher in Ghana and Mr. Kwasi Abeasi CEO of the NEPAD Business Group and Ms. Mandisa Mbekeni of the NEPAD Business Group South Africa. However, some participants, while accepting NEPAD as a reality, wanted to raise more caution. These included Hon. Givens Lubinda, Member of Parliament in Zambia, Dr. Chikowore of the Institute of Development Studies at the University of Zimbabwe and Mr. Michael Mataure of Public Affairs and Parliamentary Support Trust in Zimbabwe.

Mr. Mutasa identified four factors that could help the success of NEPAD. These included ‘the political will of our African leaders to the principles of political and economic governance’, ‘support … from civil society and the business sector’, ‘the ability to translate rhetoric into action’, and ‘international support’. Group discussions on the second day of the workshop brought our more of these things that need to be done for NEPAD to succeed.

Multi-Stakeholders’ Workshop Process

The first day of the workshop was characterized by several significant disappointments which reflected the challenges of Africa and NEPAD in particular. First, the NEPAD Secretariat which had confirmed attendance was reported to have changed its mind. It was difficult to understand how a serious NEPAD secretariat could miss such an opportunity to sell itself to the stakeholders, many of whom had initially expressed hostility to the programme but were now prepared, not only to give it the benefit of doubt but to offer support and to indicate how they wanted to fully participate. Indeed I left the workshop with the hope that the NEPAD Secretariat will not, in future, make similar blunders. Secondly, several deligates to the workshop were reported to have been let down by our local airline. And thirdly, Tajudeen Abdul Rahim, of the Pan-African Parliament, was met with the challenges of visa requirements. This was indeed cruel irony. Are we, as Africans really serious about our Pan-Africanism?

After the disappointments, the workshop went through presentations on the following topics;

1. Civil Society Remarks on NEPAD and Africa’s Economic Development
2. NEPAD as seen in the eyes of African business community
3. The role of the private sector in promoting NEPAD
4. Ghana’s experience with the African Peer Review Mechanism
5. Kenya’s Experience with the African Peer Review Mechanism
6. Prospects for engaging civil society and Parliaments in NEPAD implementation

Participants went into 4 groups to discuss and make recommendations for NEPAD. These are summarized below.

Group 1: NEPAD and the Business Community

1. Identify and discuss the problems and challenges facing the business community/local private sector in engaging NEPAD projects and the African Peer Review Mechanism.
2. Recommend specific implementable actions that the business community/local private sector should take for their effective engaging with NEPAD Projects and the African Peer Review Mechanism.
3. What should the African Union/NEPAD Secretariat do to fully engage the business community/local private sector in NEPAD the Projects and the frican Peer Review Mechanism?

Group 2: Engaging Parliament and Civil Society in NEPAD

1. Identify and discuss the problems and challenges facing the civil society and parliament in engaging NEPAD Projects and the African Peer Review Mechanism.
2. Recommend specific implementable actions that civil society and parliament should take their effective engaging with NEPAD Projects and the African Peer Review Mechanism.
3. What should the African Union/NEPAD Secretariat do to fully engage civil society and parliament in NEPAD Projects and the African Peer Review Mechanism.

Group 3: Resource Mobilization for NEPAD through Debt, AID and Trade

1. Identify key, concrete and implementable actions that the African Union/NEPAD should take to mobilize domestic resources for the implementation of NEPAD Projects and the African Peer Review Mechanism.
2. What are some of the initiatives/strategies that should be pursued for domestic resources mobilization?
3. What should the African governments and the African Union be requesting their Western/Northern partners to do in regard to the speeding of NEPAD Projects and the African Peer Review Mechanism with specific reference to the issues of ; a) Debt Burden in Africa; b) The need for Aid; c) Trade problems

Group 4: Creating a Conducive Environment for Social Economic Development in Africa

1. What key actions should the African heads of state tae in order to ensure that their peers adhere to the principles of good governance, human rights observation, transparency and accountability? Is there a better way of speeding the African Peer Review Mechanism apart from what has been done in Ghana, Rwanda and Kenya?
2. What specific economic development policies should African countries pursue to ensure regional integration and unity among themselves at i) National level ii) Sub-regional Level iii) Continental level
3. Are there specific actions that the Northern/Western governments (in the name of partnership) can assist with to speed up economic development in Africa.
4. What are some of the specific ways that NEPAD Projects and activities be easily integrated into national development plans

The questions were really useful in provoking penetrating discussions and recommendations. It was clear from the discussions that participants were recommending for further clarification of the idea of NEPAD. The debate on what it means still rages on even as some very useful NEPAD Projects have already started to be implemented. Once the idea is clarified further, there is also the need to establish and strengthen institutional structures to carry the idea through. There was debate on why NEPAD seems to be institutionally separated from the African Union. Institutionally, NEPAD must be seen to be a project of the AU and one with highest priority. The need for the strengthening and quickening of the African Peer Review Mechanism process was strongly suggested. Structures of various African Parliaments need to be strengthened and linked strongly to the NEPAD programme. African Parliaments, African businesses and CSOs clamour for greater freedom to operate and more rights to participate in the NEPAD processes. This must be taken seriously. The NEPAD Secretariat was heavily criticized for being weak and for displaying negative attitudes towards the very people and institutions which could make NEPAD work. Hence the need to capacitate the secretariat was seen as a priority. Structures to localize the NEPAD projects into the various African national programmes, was seen as of fundamental importance. Suggestions were also made about the best ways of fundraising for NEPAD in ways which kept the project African yet enjoying international solidarity.

Participants pointed out the need to clarify, strengthen and develop appropriate processes for the running of the NEPAD Projects and the APRM. Thus when the idea of NEPAD was clearer, and appropriate structures and processes were put in place, the African Union could more purposefully find ways of facilitating the participation of all Africans and rallying appropriate support from outside Africa. A summary of these points were succinctly given by Eda Jowa of the African Institute for Agrarian Studies before Mr. Mutasa chartered the way forward which was essentially focused on strengthening NEPAD

After-Workshop Reflections

I am grateful for participating in the consultative workshop, It gave me some perspective on NEPAD. I cannot underestimate the opportunities for networking and identifying opportunities for future collaboration. However, I found the following interesting;

1. Group work combined the interests of civil society with that of African parliaments, yet the business community was considered important enough to have one group discussion to itself. This gave bias in favour of business interests in NEPAD. I concluded that there is a general attitude which identifies the interests of business as the most important for the success of NEPAD and Africa’s development. The interests of business are not necessarily the interests of the poor.
2. As someone coming from a faith-based organization, I found the omission of faith-based organization glaring. But I take it to be our fault. For me, it was a sign that faith-based organizations have not engaged enough the processes of NEPAD. The need to engage is obvious. But I realize I have no information about what faith organizations have been doing in relation to NEPAD.
3. The group work assumed that the poor and marginalized would be represented by parliamentarians and civil society. The poor and marginalized are not themselves invited to important consultative meetings like the one under discussion. Sometimes it was even assumed they would be represented by business! Faith based organizations tend to think they represent the poor! And I am sure that the heads of state claim their mandate is to represent the poor. So who represents the poor in NEPAD?
4. Gender was a non-discussion and a participant pointed out how the gender imbalance in the workshop was clear. Hopefully serious effort will made to work for the third Millennium Development Goal through NEPAD.

There is now a lot of good will for the NEPAD project on the African continent. Real possibilities are there for NEPAD to be the main vehicle for the making of poverty history. However, if the issues identified at the consultative workshop are not addressed, NEPAD runs the danger of itself being made history. But this can be prevented by taking NEPAD as an opportunity that must be used without being hostile to critiques of the programme.


1. NEPAD in Perspective: A New Development Agenda for the Peoples of Africa, 2nd Edition, CRDA & PAC, 2004.
2. Opting for the poor: The Challenge for the Twenty-First Century, Peter J. Henriot, SJ, Center of Concern, Washington DC, 2004.
3. The Church Works to Overcome Poverty in Southern Africa, VI Plenary Assembly Document of IMBISA, 2001
4. Gaudium et Spes, in Vatican II, The Conciliar and Post Conciliar Documents, Vol.2, New Revised Edition, 1992.
5. Pope Paul VI, On the Development of Peoples, Paulines Publications Africa, 1990.