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The African Peer Review Mechanism (APRM): An Assessment of Concept and Design

By Ravi Kanbur*

January, 2004

Posted with permission of the author
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The African Peer Review Mechanism (APRM) has been proposed as a key element of the New Partnership for Africa's Development (NEPAD). It is important that the APRM be thoroughly debated in terms of concept and design. This paper is a contribution to the debate. The paper derives design criteria for peer review mechanisms after looking at some functioning examples. These criteria are-Competence, Independence, and Competition. It is argued that while the APRM is a welcome addition to pan-African institutional structure, its design will have to be improved for it to be truly successful. First, APRM should greatly narrow the scope of its reviews if it is to deliver competent assessments. Second NEPAD should devote significant resources to allow civil society in the reviewed country to do assessments of their own, and to critique the APRM assessment.


The New Partnership for Africa's Development (NEPAD) was launched in 2001. There has been a flood of commentary on it, even as NEPAD has been developing its mandate. I have commented elsewhere on the dangers of NEPAD taking on too much, and on the need for it to focus on its comparative advantage.1 I have argued that this comparative advantage flows from the fact NEPAD is an Africa-wide initiative that is self-consciously democratic in its roots and aspirations. This gives it, or should give it, an African voice rooted in principles of democracy and human rights. This voice can speak externally, to the court of world opinion, and internally, to African nations themselves. NEPAD's comparative advantage is simply this, and all proposed activities for NEPAD should be judged against the standard of whether they specifically and peculiarly require these strengths-so much so that no other current institution could do that job.

My focus in this paper is on NEPAD as an African voice speaking to African nations.2 Specifically, it is about the proposed African Peer Review Mechanism (APRM). In my view, the APRM is potentially an excellent use of NEPAD's comparative advantage. But we still need to analyze the concept and the design and its implementation in detail. This paper is a contribution to the debate. I first describe the APRM as currently conceived, based on publicly available documents. I then develop three criteria for assessing a peer review mechanism (PRM) inductively, by considering three actual functioning mechanisms-academic peer review, OECD country review, and IMF Article IV consultations. This analysis leads to three criteria for successful peer review mechanisms-Competence, Independence, and Competition. The paper then assesses the APRM against these criteria. It concludes that although the APRM is a welcome addition to the African institutional landscape, considerable improvements will be needed along these three dimensions for it to be truly successful.


* Cornell University: T.H. Lee Professor of World Affairs in the University; International Professor of Applied Economics and Management in the College of Agriculture and Life Sciences; and Professor of Economics in the College of Arts and Sciences.
  1. See Ravi Kanbur, "The New Partnership for Africa's Development (NEPAD): An Initial Commentary,"; Ravi Kanbur, "NEPAD Commentary: The First Wave," Accessed 2 January, 2004.
  2. I discuss its role in addressing the court of world opinion, and its role in African peer review, in the broader context of NEPAD as an international public good, in Ravi Kanbur, "Conceptualizing RFI's versus GFI's," Accessed 2 January, 2004.

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