Launched amid much fanfare by President Thabo Mbeki of South Africa and other continental luminaries in 2001, the New Partnership for Africa's Development (NEPAD) promised a fresh era of progress through a dynamic agency freed from the constraints of Africa's tired leadership structures.
With lofty goals to "eradicate poverty, promote sustainable growth and development, integrate Africa in the world economy, and accelerate the empowerment of women," the agency capitalised on the excitement of an international community transfixed by the UN's Millennium Development Goals.
"We are essentially saying that surely the time has come that as the African continent we should say [there must be] an end to the underdevelopment of the continent, an end to the poverty and there must be an end to conflict," Mbeki boldly proclaimed in 2002.
Today, NEPAD's Planning and Coordination Agency--soon to become the African Union Development Agency --is attempting to carve out a new role for itself in a very different landscape. With Mbeki and other high-profile backers retired from the scene, chief executive Ibrahim Mayaki, a former prime minister of Niger, faces a battle to prove NEPAD's relevance on a continent where multibillion dollar infrastructure schemes and the private sector are seen as the crucial drivers of development.
"The idea is to have an entity which takes care of the implementation processes regarding development," Mayaki tells African Business in New York.
"When we agree on a common strategy in infrastructure, with priority projects, the role of this agency should be to look after how those projects are being implemented. Take the Lagos-Abidjan corridor--our role is to support ECOWAS in building a specialised entity, which will manage the corridor, facilitate the way its going to work by providing expertise, and linking them to potential financiers, particularly in the private sector."
If that role seems diminished compared to the aspirational initial goals of NEPAD, it's because results-based implementation focused on bankable projects has supplanted the utopianism of one-stop schemes to guide Africa's development. Mayaki says the role of NEPAD has been gradually changing over time to accommodate this new reality, and argues that the transition of the agency to the African Union offers an ideal funding structure to pursue its renewed mission.
"Up to now, 80% [of the budget] was funded by donors. That ratio is going to change ... what the AU...