Pan African Parliament II and the Potential for the Development of a Strong Continental Legislative Organ

29th October 2009 By: ISS, Institute for Security Studies

The opening of the second Pan African Parliament benefited from an opening address by South African President, Jacob Zuma. In his address, President Zuma highlighted the role of the PAP as the voice of the voiceless and the immense impact it could have with full legislative powers. Another critical role he encouraged the PAP to play is in elucidating relevant concepts of democracy, good governance and the rule of law towards the establishment of common standards across the continent. The significance of this address re-enforces two main points.

Firstly, it reflects South Africa's continued engagement and interest in the pan-African dream; despite the change in administration. This in itself remains important as South Africa has positively influenced the growth of the Pan African vision and continues to do so in global arenas where it enjoys significant respect, due to its status as an economic powerhouse.

Secondly, it also re-ignites about the relevance of the PAP as the institution struggling for full legislative powers to be granted to it. A similar attempt failed in 2009, so what can we expect now?

The question is not whether or not the PAP should be granted full legislative powers, but rather the timing for this event and the possible impact it would have on the institution and continentally.

Practical realities to address include the disconnect between the different organs of the AU (the AU Commission, the AU Court, the Peace and Security Council, the Panel of the Wise and the PAP) and the fact that these cannot develop separately but must rather do so together in a cohesive manner. At the moment, a disjuncture exists between the operations of these branches that do not even appear to be cementing a relationship geared at advancing the African vision of integration. There is a need to build and cement a relationship between the various organs of the AU within which lie the main responsibility for peace, security and integration. Aside from the PAP, this includes the other organs cited such as the Commission and the Court. For a parliament to be strong and contribute positively to developments it must be surrounded by equally strong organs with which it has a relationship. At the moment tensions exist between these bodies which operate in competition with each other as opposed to completing each other through the appropriate mechanisms of checks and balances. Continued engagement among these bodies and familiarisation of each organ's role within the bigger picture would go a long way towards cementing the necessary relationship for progress.

Another reality involves the manner in which MPs accede to their seat at the PAP and how this affects their positions on numerous security affairs. National parliaments are appendices of ruling parties while few opposition members have access to the institution. Thus national and party positions tend to taint the independent thinking of the members who are more preoccupied with their national sovereign state affairs than the wider Pan-African agenda they have been called upon to develop.

Other concerns remain around the administrative capacity of the parliament to conduct its affairs; without a strong secretariat, the PAP cannot blossom into the organ it is intended to be.

There is a need to respond to these realties (among many others) in order to consolidate the role of the PAP on the continent, in accordance with its mandate. As a starting point, MPs need to recognise their role which extends beyond occasionally participating in committee and parliamentary sittings. This role must be continued on the ground; as the voice of the voiceless. MPs need to participate in awareness raising activities in their national parliaments and constituencies, to make the PAP known. The people whom they represent need to be aware of their existence and the role they can play in representing them all the way at the top, within the bigger regional and continental assembly. In addition, this would eventually benefit the organ at the time when it would be granted full legislative power as elections via universal suffrage would have meaning and give power to the vision of an integrated continent.

It is undeniable that the PAP is growing in prominence and effectiveness. The first parliament has contributed greatly in its advisory capacity, especially with regard to electoral issues in Zimbabwe for example and around gender issues as regards the unacceptable practice of genital mutilation across Africa; among many other issues. At the moment, all eyes are on the PAP regarding its eventual reaction to the dismal situations in Niger and Guinea. Positive signs are already emerging from this new PAP that indicate they are more willing to address the challenges and limitations they face. The new secretariat portrays a certain level of performance and dynamism that was lacking from the previous sitting of parliament.

Africa is caught amidst a number of unconstitutional regime changes, and the PAP faces the great challenge of making itself relevant as the resounding voice of the people for the entrenchment of good governance and democracy on the continent.

Hopefully the dynamism of the new parliament will carry through into their duties and result in positive developments and impacts within the organ itself as well as the work it does to further peace, security and integration on the continent.

Written by: Nadia Ahmadou, Junior Researcher, ASAP, ISS Pretoria Office