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From The Star (SA), 19 November
'Technocratic' Mbeki muddies the waters
By Peter Fabricius and John Battersby
A nine-page letter from President Thabo Mbeki trying to reassure Africa's international partners that all is well with the Nepad political peer-review process seems to have backfired. The letter was addressed to Canadian Prime Minister and G8 chairman Jean Chretien. Diplomats interviewed on Monday said the letter had mostly added to the confusion surrounding the role of the New Partnership for Africa's Development in reviewing political governance. Mbeki wrote the letter to Chretien in reply to a letter from the G8 chairman asking for clarification of earlier remarks by Mbeki. Mbeki had suggested that Nepad's peer-review mechanism would review only economic governance and not political governance. The remarks caused a huge outcry. After that statement, Nepad's heads of state implementation committee met in Abuja, Nigeria, on November 3 and announced that the Nepad peer-review mechanism would, after all, include political governance - but only while other African Union political review institutions were being set up.
Now, some diplomats of the G8 and other industrialised nations, which are Africa's main partners in Nepad, have said Mbeki's letter has thrown them back into more confusion. The letter, on the one hand, sought to reassure the G8 and other Nepad partners, whose material support Africa relies on, that nothing had changed in South Africa's and Africa's original commitment to Nepad. On the other hand, the letter goes to great lengths to spell out that the African Union is the "parent" of Nepad and therefore superior to it. This has provoked doubts among diplomats as to whether the peer review will amount to the credible and independent process that had been hoped for. Diplomats are also sceptical because they have been privately told by Nepad officials that they should be patient because South Africa has had to make compromises on Nepad's political peer review in order to maintain its leadership position in Africa. Many Nepad partner countries remain unconvinced. Some see the letter as evidence that Mbeki has lost control of the Nepad peer-review process. One G8 diplomat said: "It is one of the worst letters I have ever seen...very technocratic, and some of the explanations are absurd. We trust Nepad more than the AU because it is a home-grown African plan that is new and in which South Africa is heavily involved."