Africa Two parliaments without legislations

The African Union (AU) was officially launched in July 2002 in Durban, South Africa. It replaces the former Organization of African Unity (OAU) which was established in 1963 in Addis Ababa. Based on the Constitutive Act, the African Union has nine organs. These are the Assembly of the Union; the Executive Council; the Pan-African Parliament; the Court of Justice; the Commission; the Permanent Representatives Committee; the Specialized Technical Committees; the Economic, Social and Cultural Council; and the Financial Institutions.

The focus of this piece is on the parliaments of Africa. Africa has two continental parliaments. These are the African Parliamentary Union (APU) and the Pan-African Parliament (PAP). APU is a continental interparliamentary organization established in Abidjan on 13 February 1976 as a “forum of National Parliaments of the African continent and as instrument of dialogue and parliamentary cooperation in the service of peace, democracy, good governance, and sustainable development”.

PAP was established in March 2004, by Article 17 of the Constitutive Act of the African Union. PAP members are designated by the legislatures of their Member States and members of their domestic legislatures. The ultimate aim of PAP is “to be an institution with full legislative powers, whose members are elected by universal suffrage. Until such time, the PAP has consultative, advisory and budgetary oversight powers within the AU”. At the time of the Pan African Parliament establishment, Addis Ababa was selected to be its seat. Later seat was moved to Midrand, South Africa.

APU and PAP have similarities and differences between them. One of the similarities is that both are working for the African continent in the name of parliament. They have also similarities in working on peace, development, good governance, and the like. They have also differences. APU was established at the time of OAU and continues to function up to now, whereas PAP was established by the AU as one of its organs. Unlike the APU, PAP is working for the integration of the continent. All 55 states of Africa are members of PAP, but only 41 National parliaments are members of the APU. Currently, both do not have legislative powers.

The objectives, functions, and rules of procedure of PAP are stated in the protocol of the Abuja Treaty. Based on this treaty PAP is expected to work on overseeing the implementation of AU policies and programs; promoting human rights and good governance; consolidating democratic institutions; creating awareness of the AU’s objectives; strengthening continental cooperation and development; promoting peace, security and stability; harmonization and coordination of Member States’ legislation; promoting the coordination of the Regional Economic Communities’ policies, preparing and adopting its budget and providing recommendations on the AU budget.

The Abuja Treaty has set 34 years for the “final stage for the setting up of the structure of the Pan-African Parliament and election of its members by continental universal suffrage”. Since the Abuja Treaty was entered into force in 1994, the thirty-four-year target will be in the year 2028 i.e. after five years. Because of limited time, there is a need to take major stapes quickly to make the PAP fully functional. Otherwise, Africa will repeat the failure of “Silencing the Gun”.

Considering the absence of legislation function by PAP, it is hard to say that the continental organization is working on the above objectives properly. The African Union has no problem crafting objectives and mandates and passing decisions, but it lacks implementation. Thus there is a need to see leapfrog in the PAP to work on the above functions and fulfill the interests of the people of Africa. PAP and its Permanent Committees meet twice a year in their respective sessions. Taking this limited discussion time, it is also difficult to accomplish its very wide objectives. Biologically speaking the Pan African Parliament is at the “tissue” level rather than the “organ” level. After five years PAP is expected to be fully functional.

To substantiate the issue of this piece it is good to see the European Parliament which is made up of 705 members who are directly elected by the people. The Parliament acts as a co-legislator and also decides on the EU budget. The European Parliament “supervises the work of the Commission and other EU bodies and cooperates with national parliaments of EU countries to get their input”.

Of course, the European Parliament and the parliaments of Africa have different contexts but have similar objectives-to make people of the continent participatory in continental agendas. Even if both the Pan-African Parliament and the European Parliament are supranational bodies, the European Parliament has transformed itself from limited power to a key player in the EU decision-making process. The European Parliament is also promoting “democracy and human rights – not only in Europe but also throughout the world”.

The European Union has more than 2000 legislations on various issues including agriculture, customs, external relations, foreign and security policy, education, energy, monitory, environment, and the like. Such legislation has played a great role in unifying the interests of member states and working together for common objectives. These decisions can be regarded as common positions of the member states in the European Union. The African Union should get the best examples of the European Union in crafting common positions of member states and speaking in one voice.

The Pan-African Parliament has 235 representatives who are elected by the domestic 47 parliaments of the 54 AU states. Each member state sends a delegation of five parliamentarians to the Parliament. The Pan African Parliament is still in its limited power of consultative and advisory role. Similar to the European Parliament, the Pan-African Parliament should be transformed into a key player in the African Union to make the voice of the people of the continent heard.

The European Parliament has legislative power and uses it properly. The law of the continental organization is binding to all members. For the sake of continental interests, national governments have given some of their sovereign rights to the continental parliament. In the case of Africa, governments should be willing to give some of their sovereignty rights for the sake of the continental organization’s interests. Otherwise, the Pan-African Parliament will be a paralyzed continental body of the African Union.

The role of the Parliament of the European Union is very vast. It is a glue to make common positions of the member states. On agreed positions, the member states will not kill time by debating with other nonmember states. For instance, the European Parliament has promulgated laws on climate issues. If there is any discussion of member states with other nonmember states, the member states will reflect the previous agreements and decisions of the European Parliament as their standards and guidelines. When we come to the African countries, we do not find many common positions like that of the European Union.

The members of the European Parliament are elected directly by the people of their respective countries, however, members of the Pan-African Parliament are designated by the legislatures of their respective governments. Since member states of the European Union have given some of their sovereign rights to the continental organization, they are consolidating their interests and moving forward. Because of this, the law of the European Parliament is binding to all member states.

Recently, the African Union has become a permanent member of the G20. In the future, the AU can also get a permanent seat in the United Nations Security Council. The robust Pan Africa Parliament will make the interest of the member states to be consolidated. The PAP should take quick stapes that will transform itself into a legislative power. Governments of Africa should be willing to give some of their sovereign rights to the continental organization so that the continent can speak in one voice. This is determinant to the PAP to meet its objectives.

In conclusion, Africa has two parliaments, but without legislative powers. This is cumbersome and a waste of the limited resources of Africa. In my opinion, it is good to make the mandate of APU as mandate of a Directorate in a PAP and dissolve the former. If both parliaments discuss similar agendas including peace, democracy, development, and good governance, it is duplication of efforts and burning up of time and money. It is time to strengthen the Pan-African Parliament. Otherwise, the Pan-African Parliament will remain as a “talking shop” rather than becoming a functional organ of the African Union.

Melaku Mulualem K Researcher in International Relations and Diplomacy, Institute of Foreign Affairs of Ethiopia



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