Finding Zambia’s APRM COPPER

Image: Flickr, Office Holidays
Image: Flickr, Office Holidays

The African Peer Review Process (APRM) is getting underway in Zambia. Although in its preparatory stages – with the political responsibility having recently shifted from the ministry of foreign affairs to the ministry of justice – there is a palpable sense of excitement amongst Zambian civil society.

It comes as democracy is maturing, amidst calls for a new constitution, and, if planned and executed transparently, APRM presents a real opportunity to build a better country. APRM aims to evaluate the governance of African countries, first through an internal “self-assessment”, then a review by an elite continental panel, and finally by heads of state. The goal is to identify strengths and weaknesses in systems like election management, the business climate and service delivery and to address these challenges. A good process follows the principles in the acronym COPPER: candour, openness, planning, participation, is exemplary and robust.

In aiming for candour, we must realise that the process revolves around self-assessment involving a wide spectrum of stakeholders engaging in vigorous debate about issues. They may have diverse interests, around contentious, sensitive subjects – like the extent of corruption – with no easy solutions. Suspicion that something is being concealed or downplayed will break down the trust essential for managing a process that brings together opposing views. In South Africa, the self-assessment process generated substantial public dissatisfaction after hotly debated issues like the nature of the electoral and parliamentary systems and the functioning of local governments were clipped in editing to a few short phrases, eradicating much content and context. But a less than candid self-assessment process will probably be self-defeating. Indeed, press reports about a leaked copy of the panel’s report on South Africa indicated that it dealt very critically with the country’s controversial issues. In Zambia, a candid APR process could be vital for examining the elements for a new constitution – where opinions are bound to differ.

Closely aligned is openness. The process must ensure that all potential stakeholders have the opportunity to be involved, and that decisions are reached and reported in a clear and ordered way. Of the groups the APRM process will engage (broadly, government, civil society and business), government is easily best positioned to dominate. Government accedes to the APRM process and usually controls timing, funding and information. Its role will be extensive. Trust can be broken down when government is seen to exert excessive influence, or seeks to manipulate the process.

Constituting the governing council – the body giving strategic direction to the process – with a majority from civil society and the private sector, not chaired by a government official helps assuage fears of government control. Zambia would do well to follow the advice of Ambassador Bethuel Kiplagat of the continental APRM panel who has endorsed this course of action, saying “government cannot be driving a process for which itself is being evaluated.”

A good process will begin with good planning. This will set timeframes, budgets, and an idea of how the research project will be undertaken. Broad consultation over the planning – before the process gets underway – can help maintain trust. Government can use this process to reach out to potential opponents and build bridges so as not to turn APRM into a weapon against itself. Furthermore planning will promote certainty for participants, as they will be able to prepare for their own participation.

APRM is designed explicitly to be participatory and consultative, and every effort must be made to ensure this. Extensive sensitisation (through the media and social institutions like churches) helps to draw people in, and avoid the charge of wilful exclusion.

Zambia should, however, remember that the quality of participation and consultation is as important as the extent. Large meetings can be politically important, but they are not the best means of gathering useable and quantifiable information. The process is well served by adopting a mix of strategies (desk research, surveys and soliciting submissions), to produce a comprehensive picture of the country, and a firm basis for action.

Finally the process should be exemplary and robust. Enough has been learned from processes conducted elsewhere for Zambia to have an idea of how best to approach APRM. In emulating the successes, avoiding the mistakes and introducing innovations, Zambia can truly produce a process that is exemplary. In encouraging the expression of diverse concerns, hopes and aspirations that fairly and accurately reflect governance in the country, Zambia’s APRM process will be robust and can generate the momentum for suitable policy reform.

Together, these factors can also open up a national conversation, and nurture a democratic culture. Then Zambia’s APRM COPPER will truly shine!

29 Apr 2008