Today we celebrate the foundation of the Organisation of African Unity (OAU) fifty years ago. This year also marks the 10th Anniversary of the African Union (AU) and the New Partnership for African Development (NEPAD).
I believe the best way we can mark this commemoration of the OAU’s 50th Anniversary is to candidly consider the challenges facing us as a continent.
We meet at a time of great optimism, and growing confidence. No one calls Africa the “hopeless” continent anymore. Hope abounds.
Africa’s economy is flourishing. Six of the world’s ten fastest-growing countries are African. In eight of the past ten years, sub-Saharan Africa has grown faster than East Asia. Africa is also benefiting from the movement of capital, skills, and technology from Brazil, China and India.
Democracy is spreading like a wave across our great continent from Cairo’s Tahir Square to Tunis and Tripoli! Democracy and human rights are marching on!
The kaleidoscope of power is still spinning widely in Northern Africa and the Arab world, and we do not know yet how the pieces will settle.
In the midst of this, a new generation of smart, capable leaders is emerging who understand that the challenge of modern democracy is efficacy.
As the Economist recently reported, African voters, more than in the West, are swayed by evidence of individual competence than by ideological preference.
In global affairs, our voice is, however, to put it delicately, mixed.
Last year, Africa failed to show a full measure of leadership when Resolution 1973, to stop the late Colonel Gadhafi’s aggression was being debated at the United Nations Security Council.
One of the biggest dangers in global affairs is when organisations, be it member legislatures or the Pan African Parliament, has not considered the ethical dimensions of military intervention before the first occasion when they are faced with such a crisis. This is of relevance in a continent that has been ripped, and is still torn, by internecine violence.
As a Parliament, we need to consider how we are going to uphold the doctrine of the ‘responsibility to protect’ (“R2P”).
This principle extends to civilian protection. As one expert, Sarah Sewall, at the Harvard Kennedy School of Government put it: “It’s only prudent to study mass-atrocity response operations, plan for them and, perhaps most important, conduct exercises with the civilian leaders who would make decisions about potential interventions”.
At the turn of the century, six years after the horrors of Rwanda, President Thabo Mbeki of South Africa eloquently set forth his vision for an ‘African Renaissance’.
Yet, the African Union, for the time being, lacks the military capability to intervene in Africa’s trouble spots like Darfur and the Central Lakes region. This House needs to consider how we are going to make the Constitutive Act of the African Union operational.
What about the role of our Parliament’s? Let me reflect for a moment on some observations of South Africa’s parliament that may resonate with parliamentarians from other countries.
All of us can agree that South Africa’s parliament needs to play a greater role in advocating substantive engagement with the rest of Africa.
South Africa’s parliament needs to play a greater role in advocating Human Rights and good governance across the African continent.
South Africa’s parliament needs to speak out on violations against Human Rights across the African continent.
To do this parliament needs to move away from only conducting debates as a House on thematic issues affecting Africa as a whole.
We have countless annual debates on African issues and celebrations, while debates on substantive matters affecting the quality of life for individuals across the entire continent are few and far between.
We need to put forward draft resolutions on issues affecting Africa. And we need to debate those resolutions as a House and take decisions on them, as a House.
It needs to find a way to be responsive to the critical issues affecting other African states within its formal mechanisms and procedures.
For example, the National Assembly should encourage the establishment of ad-hoc committees to discuss and report to the House on any key issue that affect Africa.
Such committees can report back to the House allowing parties to make public declarations on matters discussed.
But possibly the best way for South Africa’s parliament to strengthen its relationship with the African Union is by first strengthening the relationship it has with its own people.
The South African parliament needs to work hard at living out the standard set for it by the constitution, and the standard it has set for itself by way of its rule-governed framework and procedures.
It needs to work hard to develop and invigorate its relationship with the people of South Africa, as well as the terms of that relationship.
It first needs to strengthen the role it plays within South Africa’s democracy.
We cannot be the promoter of a system of best practice without first establishing that ourselves; without first giving life as well as meaning to our own democratic framework as a national parliament.
Our support for good parliamentary practice is rendered meaningless unless we as an institution begin debating issues of key importance to South Africans; unless we as members begin taking resolutions on such issues; establishing ad hoc committees to report on events that take place.
Only by standing firm on violations against Human rights in our own country as a parliament can we stand firm on such issues abroad.
Only by doing this will our relationship with the AU flourish further in its meaning and its credibility.
Today, I could have given a speech couched in platitudes and warms words. I believe, however, the prize is too great for us not to rise to the great challenges that lay before us.