Fola is a Lawyer based in South Africa. His interests are primarily corporate transparency initiatives, freedom of information and African regional integration.

Selected articles by Fola

The Role of NEPAD in advancing integration in Africa

By Fola. Posted in Politics & Governing Trade on 17 Dec 2012.

The considerable growth that previously typified the world economy before the recent global economic crisis for the better part passed Africa by.  This lack of economic growth along with Africa’s increasing reliance on aid has plunged many of its states deeper into excessive levels of foreign debt (Kotze & Steyn 2003). The need arose for Africa to develop strategies and capabilities for overcoming these challenges. With the changing nature of global economic trends, Africa found itself in a place where it had to integrate or face the real possibility of being left behind.

It was in response to these circumstances that the New Partnership for Africa’s Development (NEPAD) was initiated by the African Union (AU).  NEPAD was developed based on a number of earlier economic plans on the continent. During the late 1990s, South Africa’s former President Thabo Mbeki embarked on an African Renaissance and gained the support of two prominent African leaders, the Presidents of Algeria and Nigeria for the Millennium Africa Recovery Plan (MAP) (Udombana 2002). The plan required the commitment of African leaders to eradicate poverty and to place their countries on a path of sustainable growth and development. The plan was endorsed by the then Organization for Africa Unity (OAU) and investigated the ways in which Africa could overcome its debt crisis. In 2001, the President of Senegal initiated the creation of the OMEGA Plan, an economic and social development programme for Africa which focused on regional infrastructural development and the promotion of educational projects (Udombana 2002). Both the MAP and OMEGA plans were merged to form the New Africa Initiative and was approved by the OAU. The initiative was eventually renamed NEPAD and launched later in 2001.

As with previous economic development plans NEPAD’s objective is to promote accelerated growth and sustainable development in Africa, eradicate poverty and halt Africa’s marginalisation in the globalization process. Designed by Africans for Africans, the NEPAD initiative seeks a coordinated effort among African leaders and civil society to implement the NEPAD policies within a climate of joint responsibility and accountability (Kotze & Steyn 2003).

Nations approach international economic relations in different ways.  While affirming their desire to confront economic challenges collectively, they also limit their obligations to take remedial action by retaining their discretion over the scope of such duties and seek to avoid legally binding norms (Gruchalla-Wesierski 1984). The NEPAD strategy moves away from the traditional hard law binds of treaties encapsulated in the Regional Economic Communities (RECs) and other economic initiatives, towards a soft law mechanism (Ngamau 2004).  In contrast to the hard law development plans that have enforceable penalties for non-compliance, NEPAD requires a commitment to the AU without legally binding penalties for non-compliance.  This brings into question the realistic likelihood of implementation of NEPAD polices.

Proponents of economic soft law instruments argue that soft law instruments create a regulatory framework while retaining the necessary flexibility to allow countries to manoeuvre or manipulate their local circumstances to achieve these goals (Chinkin 1989).

Arguments against the use of hard law development plans such as treaties to define State obligations rest on the premise that States themselves will shy away from being bound to specific, enforceable legal development plans (Ngamau 2004).  It is perceived that the preferred instrument for the articulation of international economic norms is soft law agreements (Chinkin 1989). The creation of NEPAD as soft law appears to be in line with this justification. Experience with hard law instruments indicates that such instruments do not result in compliance by African States. For instance, the Treaty for African Economic Community (AEC Treaty) that existed before NEPAD provided very specific and ambitious plans which were not fulfilled within the given period (Ngamau 2004).

The lack of success in implementing hard law initiatives, such as the ACE treaty, brings into question the potential to implement softer approaches such as NEPAD where lack of compliance has no legally enforceable penalty.  In addition it appears that the development of NEPAD has not adequately investigated and addressed the reasons for the lack successful implementation of the hard polices; without this insight NEPAD is at risk of suffering similar outcomes with respect to implementation.

The success of NEPAD rests strongly on its avoidance of the problems that faced earlier strategies in addition to the incorporation of its objectives into the regional communities and other existing efforts at integration. However, it appears that NEPAD is plagued with numerous initiatives similar to previous unsuccessful development strategies and  the reasons for past failures has not been adequately investigated and the lessons learnt have not been  incorporated into the development of NEPAD.  This puts NEPAD at risk of following initiatives that have failed in the past without a new approach to manage the risk.

NEPAD provides centralisation of African economic development and is accurate in identifying the challenges in Africa; however, the strategy for implementation remains unclear.  According to Amartya Sen, development requires the removal of the sources of “unfreedom” (Sen 1999: 3) whereas some analysts claim that NEPAD is overly reliant on neo-classical imperatives that are dominated by a search for foreign direct investment (FDI) for development (Landberg 2008). This is evident in the commitment of NEPAD to establish conditions that would enable the international community to take rational business decisions that foster long term investments in Africa (Sen 1999). This appears in clear contrast to previously introduced, inwardly-focused, African development strategies including industrialisation, intra-African economic cooperation in trade and investment, import substitution and a creation of markets and free movement of labour and people among others (Landberg 2008).

Bunwaree (2008) argues that NEPAD is based on a neo-liberal framework that pushes for further privatisation, liberalisation and deregulation (Bunwaree 2008). She believes that NEPAD should first and foremost address the power relations and skewed global financial economic system instead of advocating for a further integration of Africa into the inequitable global economic system (Bunwaree 2008). Rather than consult playmakers in the continent like civil societies and other relevant institutions in drafting the NEPAD document, the architects rather focused on institutions such as the IMF and World Bank, thereby making NEPAD lacking in social governance and negating the idea that NEPAD is a document designed by Africans for Africans.

Celebrating more than 10 years of existence, NEPAD remains the longest running African development programme, providing a centralised framework for economic and social development of the continent. However, it appears that lessons learnt in relation to failed initiatives and lack of successful implementation of previous hard law approaches have not been adequately considered in the development of NEPAD.  Without incorporation of this insight NEPAD is at risk of meeting with similar issues as previous economic development strategies which were to a large extent ineffectual.  Therefore if NEPAD is not radically revised it would be subject to a perceived lack of credibility and lack of sustainability as a result of unsuccessful implementation.  In addition successful and efficient implementation will require clear definition of NEPAD’s relationship to the AU and to other regional and sub-regional initiatives in order to harmonize existing overlaps and open a communication channel with other institutions and initiatives.


Kotze, H. & Steyn, C., 2003, ‘African Elite Perspectives: AU and NEPAD: A comparative study across seven African countries’, Occasional Papers, Konrad-Adenaur-Stiftung, Johannesburg, pp. 9-11.

Udombana, N.J., 2002, ‘The Institutional Structure of the African Union: A Legal Analysis’, California Western International Law Journal, 33(1), pp. 1-71.

Gruchalla-Wesierski, T., 1984, ‘A Framework for Understanding Soft Law’, McGill Law Journal, 30(37), pp. 40-42.

Ngamau, R., 2004, ‘The Role of NEPAD in African Economic Regulation and Integration’, Law and Business Review Americas 10, pp. 515-544.

Chinkin, C.M., 1989, ‘The Challenge of Soft Law: Development and Change in International Law’, International and Comparative Law Quarterly 38(4), October, pp. 850-866.

Sen, A., 1999, Development as Freedom, Random House, New York.

Landberg, C., 2008, ‘The Birth and Evolution of NEPAD’ in J. Akokpari, A. Ndinga-Muvumba and T. Murithi (eds.), The African Union and its Institutions, pp. 207-226, Jacana Media, South Africa.

Bunwaree, S., 2008, ‘NEPAD and its Discontents’ in J. Akokpari, A. Ndinga-Muvumba and T. Murithi (eds.), The African Union and its Institutions, pp. 227-240, Jacana Media, South Africa.

Leave a comment

Leave a Reply

You must be logged in to post a comment.

Print Friendly, PDF & Email
Join us on Facebook Join us on Twitter Join us on Google+