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NEPAD and AU Last update: 2020-11-27  

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NEPAD and the Challenge of Africa’s Development: towards the political economy of a discourse

3. NEPAD: origin and evolution
The emergence of NEPAD has become the subject of considerable “urban legend”. Much of this has been in the context of response to the blistering attacks on it by civil society organisations (cf. Bond 2002 for a compilation). At other times, it is driven by the considerable acrimony going on within the African diplomatic circles itself that prompts its sponsors to find legitimacy for it. For instance, the statement by Aziz Pahad (2002), South Africa’s Deputy Foreign Minister, that the troika, of Presidents Abdelaziz Bouteflika, Thabo Mbeki, and Olusegun Obasanjo, was authorized by the OAU Heads of State in 1999 to develop the plan is such an urban legend.iii The outcome of the OAU Heads of State’s 35th Ordinary Session and 3rd Ordinary Session on the African Economic Community in Algiers made no reference to such mandate. While President Thabo Mbeki, attending his first OAU meeting as Head of State of South Africa, delivered a statement on the challenge of globalisation, his concerns about the need to “put in place the mechanisms and procedures which would enable us to determine whether what we are doing at the national, bilateral and regional levels is consistent with the objectives in the Abuja Treaty”iv , did not translate into the idea of such mechanism being taken up or outside normal OAU structures. If anything, the speech which took a very magisterial tone, rubbed the other Heads of State on the wrong side.v

The outcome of the OAU session focused more on (a) commitment to exclude those who come to power by coup d’etat from attending OAU sessions, (b) adoption of a proposal submitted by President Obasanjo on peace and security issues: the Conference on Security, Stability, Development and Co-operation in Africa (CSSDCA) initiative, which was formally adopted at the 36th Session in Lome. Indeed, President Mbeki strongly objected to a proposal by the UN Economic Commission for Africa (UNECA) to put in place a mechanism on the challenge of globalisation and information age for Africa, because it was outside the framework of the OAU Assembly of Heads of State and Government. Further, there was nothing in the two major international speeches that President Mbeki gave three months later to suggest such mandate or plan. vi

Finally, no authorisation or mandate to develop a new development framework is found in the Lome Declarations of the OAU 36th Ordinary Session/4th Ordinary Session of the AEC, in July 2000 (OAU 2000) or that from the March 2001 Extra-ordinary session of OAU Heads of State at Sirte, Libya. Further, it is curious that such major project as the Millennium Plan was never mentioned in the Declaration and Programme of Action adopted at the April 2000 G-77 Summit in Havana, Cuba. President Obasanjo was chair of the G-77, while President Mbeki was the chair of the NAM, and President Bouteflika was still chair of the OAU. Both Presidents Obasanjo and Mbeki played pivotal roles at the Havana Summit. The only reference of a mandate to Presidents Bouteflika and Mbeki is in the Sirte Declaration of the “4th Extraordinary Session of the Assembly of Heads of State and Government” of 9 September 1999 (OAU 1999b)—and it was quite specific:

Mandate our Current Chairman, President Abdelaziz Bouteflika of Algeria and President Thabo Mbeki of South Africa in consultation with the OAU Contact Group on Africa’s External Debt to engage with African creditors on our behalf on the issue of Africa’s external indebtedness, with a view to securing the total cancellation of Africa’s debt, as a matter of urgency. (Para 8 (iv)).

Africa had in twenty years of structural adjustment faced the massive escalation in external debt: from US$60.6 billion in 1980 to US$206.1 billion in 2000 (Adesina 2002b). At both Algiers and Lome, the OAU Heads of State argued that the debt burden has become a primary obstacle to development and poverty reduction. Clearly, there is a world of difference between a mandate to “engage with creditors” and presuming that such mandate allows one to craft a policy framework of immense proportion such as MAP or NEPAD—that in fact blames the African countries for the debt crisis, and takes the side of the creditors in fundamental macroeconomic policy instruments and debt management strategy! Further, the reference to the “mandate” in the declarations from the OAU Assembly in Lome was in the context of the CSSDCA and that the debt burden remains a major impediment to development and poverty reduction in Africa.vii If there was any notion of a document for consolidating the development aspirations of the OAU since the Lagos Plan of Action (1980), it was the CSSDCA. It’s “inter-linkage between peace, stability, development, integration and cooperation” (Para 7) was seen as providing “a policy development forum for the elaboration and advancement of common values within the main policy organs of the OAU” (Para 7)—and “an invaluable tool for the pursuit of the agenda of the OAU in the new millennium” (Para 8). A considerable part of the CSSDCA document is in fact about economic development issues and regional integration—as set out in the Lagos Plan of Action and its Final Act.

I have gone to this extent because understanding the origin of NEPAD lies elsewhere—outside the OAU mechanism and involves the troika taking ‘matters into their own hands.’ The need for a distinct document, outside existing structures of the OAU or the AEC, followed the 2000 meeting of the G8 in Okinawa, Japan in July 2000. Presidents Bouteflika, Obasanjo and Mbeki had met with the G8 leaders on the issue of debt relief for developing countries, generally, but African countries in particular.viii The outcome of the Okinawa meeting was a demand by the G8 for a “workable plan as the basis of the compact” that the troika was demanding.ix The G8 response is emblematic of the increasing demand for ‘reciprocity’ by the European and North American countries—either in the so-called Economic Partnership Agreements like Cotonou Agreement, or in multilateral contexts like the World Trade Organisation. South Africa’s Foreign Minister commented at the end of the meetings that: “We were pleasantly surprised at the convergence of views from both sides… There seems to be emerging a very clear agenda and consensus around issues that we can build a strategic partnership on.”x

Following the Okinawa meeting, President Mbeki was given the responsibility by the “troika” to develop the workable plan that the G8 demanded—there was no report-back to the OAU Heads of State or the OAU Contact Group on Africa’s External Debt! The task fell to a small team working from within the Presidency in Pretoria. This, I will argue, is important for understanding NEPAD as a document driven by a distinctly South African reading of the development challenges facing Africa and the prognosis for Africa “extricating itself” out of its development quagmire. It is distinctly South African, not in the sense of being general or typical but emblematic of a dominant reading. It also explains the multi-dimensionality of the identity concerns and aspirations that underscore the document, both as an Africanist agenda and as a distinctly neoliberal Africanist project. It is neoliberalism of the structuralist variant, a lб Wolfensohn’s CDF. For the drafting team in South Africa, the organising framework was defined by two separate but interlinked projects.

First is the African Renaissance project of President Mbeki, as an intellectual and cultural project. While confusing for many people in the rest of the continent, the project is best understood as effort in an Africanist agenda of self-awareness within South Africa and ‘defeating’ the negative psychological, moral, and intellectual impact of 200 years of institutionalised racism of a settler colony and Apartheid. In Spring of 2000, Rev Frank Chikane, the Director General in the Presidency (Pretoria), had been to the United Nations to promote the idea of African Renaissance.xi On 21 November 2000, President Mbeki signed into law the African Renaissance and International Co-operation Fund Act No.51 (Adesina 2002b).

The second is the economic worldview that defined the work of the drafting team. For Pretoria, the Growth and Employment and Redistribution (GEAR) macroeconomic framework, adopted in 1996, has remained the premise of any discussion or operation. It is fundamental to the notion of redistribution and how Pretoria engages with global capitalism and its governance institutions, such as the WTO. In spite of protestations to the contrary, GEAR is a profoundly neoliberal document—not in a pejorative sense, but in the sense that I discussed earlier.xii It is this conception of contemporary global economy and how to survive in it, that undergirds NEPAD. While there were some contestations of the turf among the team members, it is the more neoliberal group that won the day.xiii

The first public mentioning of the “plan” was six months later, on 28 January 2001, at the World Economic Forum gathering in Davos. As Mbeki (2001) noted:

It is significant that in a sense the first formal briefing on the progress in developing this programme is taking place at the World Economic Forum meeting. The success of its implementation would require the buy-in from members of this exciting and vibrant forum. (p.1).

In WEF papers, the programme was appropriately named the Millennium African Renaissance Program. Mbeki’s briefing clearly indicated that the programme was meant to be a club of “participating African leaders [who] would form a compact committing them to the programme and a Forum of Leaders who would make decisions about sub-programmes and initiatives and review progress on its implementation.” While “participation [was] open to all African countries”, there was an opt-in clause: those intent on participating must be “prepared and ready to commit to the underlying principles guiding the initiatives. We intend to brief all African Heads of State over the next few months” (Mbeki 2001a:2). Those who are not “ready will be welcome to join later.” Clearly, this was not an initiative of the OAU or its Assembly of Heads of State and Government. This is an idea completely alien to the way the OAU operated. Earlier in 1999, at Algiers, President Mbeki had objected strongly to the UNECA project, precisely because it arose outside of the OAU institutional framework. President Mbeki’s own account of the project, two days after he arrived in South Africa from Davos (Mbeki 2001b), suggests an active agenda in 2000 during which he interacted widely with the “political leadership of the developed world—the North” (Mbeki 2001b) discussing and seeking commitments to “the idea of a new and concerted effort to address, among others, the challenge of African poverty and underdevelopment” (Mbeki 2001b). But this was essentially a personal initiative, without and before “coming to any agreement with other African leaders and African civil society” (Nabudere 2002: 52).

In purporting to speak for African leaders, and that “the MAP programme is a declaration of a firm commitment by African leaders” (Mbeki 2001:1), Mbeki caused quite some angst among other African leaders, like Abdoulaye Wade, also present at the WEF gathering. Nothing in the comments of President Wade indicated that he had or was developing an alternative plan. The Omega Plan was developed afterwards as a counter-measure to MAP (cf. Adesina 2002b). Like MAP, the Omega Plan bears extensive evidence of the proponent President being a key author (cf. Wade 2001a, 2001b).xiv The May 2001 version of Omega Plan envisaged its being presented to the OAU Summit scheduled for Lusaka in July 2001. The international conference of experts was convened in Dakar in June 2001. This might explain the fast tracking of MAP document for the same OAU Summit.

The initial preference for MAP as a principle by ‘club of participating countries’ approach may reflect the suspicion within the OAU Assembly of Heads of State itself. Nigeria and South Africa virtually walked out of the Lome Summit over complaints about Libya’s domination of the issue of the African Union, and fast-tracking its establishment. The African Union project had been put on the front burner at the September 1999 extra ordinary session in Sirte, Libya. Muammar Ghaddafi’s capacity to rally the smaller African countries ahead of the 2000 Lome Summit and in securing sufficient signatories to the Constitutive Act to bring the Act into force, created considerable angst in Pretoria and Abuja. The Omega Plan was going to be the second time that the two major African countries (Nigeria and South Africa), which see themselves as natural leaders of the continent and its spokespersons, would find themselves to be generals without troops.

While different in origin, both MAP and Omega Plan share a common approach to overcoming Africa’s development challenge. As “Africa’s strategy for globalisation” (Wade 2001b:6), Omega Plan shares the same understanding of sources for financing and a private-sector led approach. While the Plan is considerably woollier than MAP in the coherence of its arguments, MAP and subsequently NEPAD suffer from related problems. xv

The diplomatic efforts at the Lusaka summit led to the integration of the two plans, which was named the New African Initiative (NAI). In the new structure for implementation, Wade was brought onboard as a vice-chair of the Heads of State Implementation Committee (HSIC). The OAU Summit endorsed the new document. The first meeting of the HSIC meeting was held in Abuja, Nigeria in October 2001. A reworked version of the document was released. The document that emerged from the Abuja meeting involved extensive reworking of the NAI document. The substantial difference is editorial—making the document more coherent and focused than earlier versions. The team that did this redrafting drew on people from the Abuja and Pretoria presidencies and the UN Economic Commission for Africa (UNECA).


  1. Speech given by Deputy Minister Aziz Pahad at the conference on NEPAD sponsored jointly by the South African Institute of International Affairs (SAIIA) and the Finish Institute of International Affairs (FIIA) in Cape Town, on 1 November 2001. This followed the Parliamentary debate on NEPAD at the South African parliament.

  2. Thabo Mbeki, “The Challenge of Globalisation: the establishment of the African Economic Community,” Statement by Thabo Mbeki at the 35th Ordinary Session of the OAU Assembly of Heads of State and Government. Office of the President, Pretoria (13 July 1999),

  3. President Mbeki pointedly objected, in his speech, (vide supra) to a section of the Draft Declaration that he said was “fundamentally flawed and should be changed”. This section, quoted in full in his speech concerns the fear, expressed in the draft declaration, that globalisation “poses serious threats to our sovereignty, cultural and historical identities as well as gravely undermining our development prospects. We believe that globalisation should be placed within the framework of a democratically conceived dynamics, and implemented collectively to make it… capable of fulfilling the hope for a concerted development of mankind and prosperity shared by all people” (cf. OAU 1999). President Mbeki went on to say: I am certain that in our discussions today we will help one another, among other things, to understand better the objective process of globalisation and its positive and negative features. Having gained this understanding I believe we would be better placed to respond to the urgent and important challenges it poses. If that was not off-putting, I am not sure what is! The Assembly went on to reject his objection and retained this segment of the draft Declaration, in toto. The recent argument about the nature of the Peer Review Mechanism, and South Africa’s approach to Zimbabwe would suggest that some lessons are being learnt.

  4. Cf. Thabo Mbeki, Speech of the President of the Republic of South Africa, Thabo Mbeki, at the 54th Session of the United Nations General Assembly. New York, 20 September 1999. .Thabo Mbeki, Address by the Chairperson of the Non-Aligned Movement, President Thabo Mbeki, to the NAM Ministerial Meeting at the United Nations. New York, 23 September 1999.

  5. CSSDCA Solemn Declaration AHG/Decl.4 (XXVI), Para. 12 (g).

  6. Cf. SABC News Mbeki and other African leaders ask G8 countries for debt relief.

  7. Interview, April 2002.

  8. Dr Nkosazana Dlamini-Zuma, SABC News (13 July 2000, 07:45),,1009,1756,00.html

  9. My appreciation to John Ohiorhenuan for this insight—telephonic interview, 28 October 2002.

  10. For very insightful, frog-eye, view of the process, see Bond (2000, 2001).

  11. It is safe to speculate that President Mbeki himself contributed to the drafting of the document. Draft 3A of the Millennium African Recovery Programme, bears the stylistic hallmarks of the President’s speeches, including the (signature) quote at the head of the document. The president has a well-earned reputation for working long hours and hard and writing most of his speeches. Obasanjo shares similar virtues, and only the self-deluded will deny that both are smart.

  12. The folksy tone of the Omega Plan reflects Abdoulaye Wade’s personal style. The “Catch-up Theory” (which President Wade claims as his personal theory) is the ‘conceptual’ basis of the Plan. He was correct, though, in arguing that the idea of a Marshall Plan for Africa, which is the underlines MAP, is wholly inappropriate to the African situation: “it made me smile because this vision resulted from a total lack of understanding of the Marshall Plan and the context of its implementation. Reconstruction in a developed country like France…does not have anything to do with the construction of a factory or the development of an industrial sector in an African country” (Wade 2001a:4).

  13. See Bond (2002) for a detailed textual critique, Adesina (2002b) for a critique of its epistemic basis, and misreading of Africa; Olukoshi (2002) for its understanding of political issues, and Adedeji (2002) for its historical weaknesses.
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