JERRY OKUNGU An east african perspective The African Peer Review Mechanism (APRM) is facing a litmus test. The grapevine among the donor community across the continent is something to worry about. Apparently, they are voicing worries that the once lauded African success story may be gradually facing its demise. Talking to one donor and an APRM expert within the United Nations circles, he had this to say: There are currently no champions and as long as there are no sincere champions; some smart and unethical heads of state will use it to their own advantage. Although grassroots are excited, the top political leadership in Africa does not seem to care about it. Meanwhile, as the African Union (AU) fails to give direction to the secretariat as is apparent now, corrupt bureaucrats there will always grow fat on docile leaders and donor largesse. This is exactly what is happening. A South African researcher has always posed this question: Who is policing who in this process? Yes, the panel of eminent persons assesses the performance of our nation states, but who assesses the panel? How competent and above reproach are some of them? Some of the panel members who are supposed to be the moral arbiters have not lived to the expectations and the leaders, who do not care anyway, are looking the other way, except what APRM can do for their insecure regimes. And donors, wanting quick returns for their money, are looking for something else, as the New Partnership for Africas Development (NEPAD and APRM appear to be folding up. It is the same old story all over again. Academics and Africans, are as usual, standing by on the sidelines doing nothing as things continue to go wrong. These sentiments got a boost from another academic based in South Africa who has done extensive work on NEPAD and APRM over the last five years. He too had this to say: There does not seem to be a great deal of interest in the subject continentally. Donors, who might ask pointed questions, seem concerned not to look pushy, although in my conversations with them, they show that they have drawn fairly negative conclusions about what the fates of NEPAD and APRM say about commitment to reform. With Mbeki and Obasanjo gone, there are no powerful patrons to ask questions about APRM. In South Africa, there is a unit in the department of foreign affairs that would like to see APRM strengthened, but it strictly avoids the implications of how the country conducted its APRM and does not engage with how or if it is following through on its APRM commitments. In South Africa, the APRM review touched on all the key issues but no one wants to take forward reforms under an APRM umbrella. Each issue, whether company law, human rights, AIDs or crime, has its own players and dynamics. It is not that APRM was ineffective; just that it is a relatively small thing in the national consciousness and has no real power to accelerate reforms in any of those areas. As for the secretariat and the panel, there is an effort to hire consultants to propose better ways of managing the process, but this move does not include governing the panel or the secretariat. It seems there are no real interested parties putting pressure on, now that Mbeki and Obasanjo are gone. Several worrying developments point to this direction. First, since one Dr. Bernard Kouassi left the secretariat almost two years ago, no substantive replacement has been recruited despite the fact that the post was advertised long before his departure. Second, the number of eminent persons has been dwindling with time with no immediate replacement such that today, the only active and available persons are Prof. Adebayo Adedeji, who also doubles as the chairman. He got his term renewed under questionable circumstances. Some pundits allude his unprecedented second term to his closeness with Melles Zenawi during his years at the Economic Commission for Africa in Addis Ababa. The other members are Dr. Graca Machel of Mozambique and a new comer, Mrs. Domitila Mutantaganzwa from Rwanda, who is believed to be Bethuel Kiplagats replacement. There is also Prof. Mohammad Barbes, from Algeria, who owes his re-nomination to the panel from his countrys president, Abdoulaziz Boutefleka, one of the founding fathers of NEPAD. As it is now, the panel is three members short of the initial seven members appointed by HSIC in 2003. To complicate matters, there is no word on when and how the vacancies on the panel will be filled. Adedeji is said to have circulated a document during the last NEPAD steering committee meeting in Sirte, Libya, which proposes a full panel of nine members with only five of them nominated by each of the sub-regional groupings of the AU, while the other four are head-hunted, presumably by Adedeji himself. As an inter-governmental body, headhunting close to 50% of panel members will not only be unethical and contrary to all principles of the APRM process. In this era of transparency and accountability, the panel selection process must be seen to be transparent, publicly advertised and a credible international firm allowed to vet the applicants before finally presenting a list of possible candidates to the AU appointing authority. That is the way it is. It is the only way it should be.