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Universal suffrage would give PAP the legitimacy it so desperately needs

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Picture: Pan African Parliament/Facebook One hopes the new leadership will transform PAP into a real parliament and tap into its potential as one of the leading actors in the pursuit of continental integration, says the writer.

By David Monyae

THE 5th session of the 5th Pan-African Parliament (PAP) is under way in Midrand, South Africa.

This is its first working session since 2019, having been unable to convene due to Covid-19 restrictions in 2020 and the abrupt suspension of its session by the African Union Commission (AUC) in 2021. The 2021 session was consumed by squabbles between the parliamentarians over the election of the PAP president.

A stalemate ensued when the Southern African caucus, which favoured a rotational presidency, found itself at loggerheads with the East, Central and West African caucuses, who preferred a direct election of the president. The latter caucuses had used their numerical majority to ensure that the first four presidents of the PAP came from their regions.

Having come to terms with the futility of a direct election where their candidates for PAP president stood no chance, the Southern and Northern African regions insisted on doing away with the direct election procedure, opting for rotating the president’s post among the continent’s five regions. The idea of a rotational presidency got the support of the AU Executive Council.

When the PAP reconvened this year, the Southern African caucus candidate, Chief Fortune Charumbira, a Zimbabwean senator was elected unopposed as the president of the PAP, succeeding Cameroonian, Roger Nkodo Dang, who had held the post since 2015.

Chief Charumbira takes over the leadership of an institution suffering from a legitimacy crisis and lack of a real voice in continental governance. Its dignity has been compromised by sexual harassment allegations against Dang that were pushed under the carpet and the extravagant luxurious lifestyle he led during his reign.

It is reported that he spent most of his time in one of Johannesburg’s most expensive hotels, the Michelangelo. It was a lifestyle far removed from the abject poverty of the African masses, the representation of whom is the PAP’s raison d’etre.

One wonders whether the fight for the presidency of the PAP was based on principle or was motivated by the prospect of enjoying the comforts and power that Dang was reportedly enjoying. If the PAP leadership prioritises personal aggrandisement, more than strengthening the continental parliament, then institutional decay will kick in.

Along with a questionable leadership record, the PAP also suffers from a power deficit. The PAP was established following the adoption of the 2001 Protocol to the Treaty Establishing the African Economic Community Relating to the Pan-African Parliament.

While the 2001 Protocol gave the PAP a serious mandate, including facilitating the policies of the AU, supporting human rights and democracy, promoting peace and stability, and strengthened continental integration, it did not grant it the serious powers to match its mandate.

Article 2(3i) states that “The Pan-African Parliament shall have consultative and advisory powers.” This means that it does not have any legislative power and its recommendations are not binding on the AU and its Assembly, the supreme decision-making organ of the AU. The Protocol also stated that the PAP was to evolve full legislative powers and universal suffrage in due course.

Universal suffrage would give the institution the legitimacy it so desperately needs. However, 18 years after the PAP’s first sitting, legislative powers are far off the horizon. It is still a semi-permanent institution that meets twice a year.

Without any of the core parliamentary functions such as representation, legislation, and budgetary oversight the PAP’s claim to be a legislative organ of the AU rings hollow.

Even worse, the AU Assembly determines PAP’s budget, which seriously undermines its ability to hold the executive to account.

The yet-to-be-ratified 2014 Protocol of the PAP, which introduces a raft of reforms in the institution, still leaves it with no legislative or budgetary powers. The lack of real power has been the longstanding Achilles’ heel of continental institutions. African leaders still have serious reservations about ceding some of their sovereign powers to supranational institutions.

Further, the PAP is also afflicted by a detachment from the African masses it was created to represent.

The PAP is made up of 255 members from the 51 states that have ratified the 2001 Protocol with each state contributing five members from its national parliament. The Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC), Eritrea, Guinea, and Somalia are yet to ratify the Protocol.

As such, PAP members are not directly accountable to the citizens but to the parliaments who send them there. The equal contribution of PAP members by all member states regardless of their population size shows that the institution prioritises symbolic equality between states rather than the representation of citizens.

Since 2004, PAP has sent fact-finding missions to numerous countries in Africa that have been plagued by violence and political instability, and has issued several reports.

Perhaps it’s a good idea for PAP to focus on non-legislative activities and build a visible presence by being vocal on issues affecting the continent.

The PAP personnel make up 40 percent of the AU election observation missions (EOMs) that have observed elections in countries such as Burkina Faso, Comoros, Ivory Coast, Congo, Djibouti, Chad, Senegal, Ghana, Kenya, Libya, Sierra Leone, and Zimbabwe among others.

The validity of the EOMs’ reports has come into question as they endorse flawed elections. The EOM endorsed the election outcomes in Kenya (2017) and Malawi (2019) that were later nullified by the respective countries’ apex courts. Moreover, the first 22 years of the 21st century in Africa have seen 22 military takeovers and 26 failed attempts.

While this represents a significant improvement from 38 successful coups and 40 failed attempts in the 1980s and 1990s, Africa still has a long way to go in universalising democratic norms and standards. As one of the institutions whose primary task is to lead the democratisation of the continent, the PAP has made little headway in its almost two decades of existence.

One of the key functions of the PAP is to accelerate the process of the domestication of AU protocols, policies, and treaties. However, the track record of the ratification of the AU treaties and other legal instruments has been mixed since the inauguration of PAP in 2004.

Out of the 40 treaties, conventions and protocols adopted by the AU since 2004, only 12 have come into force while 28 are still going through ratification. Some of the documents have been going through the ratification process for more than 10 years.

While the PAP cannot be held entirely responsible for the slow rate of domestication of continental agreements, such a dismal record reflects negatively on its effectiveness as the AU organ with the explicit mandate to speed up the ratification of AU instruments.

Therefore, it remains to be seen what impact Chief Charumbira’s leadership will have on PAP. One hopes the new leadership will transform PAP into a real parliament and tap into its potential as one of the leading actors in the pursuit of continental integration.

David Monyae is an Associate Professor of International Relations and Political Science and Director of the Centre for Africa-China Studies at the University of Johannesburg.

This article is original to the The African. To republish, see terms and conditions.