ISSN 2330-717X

The Pan-African Parliament: Whom Does It Represent? – OpEd


By Yves Niyiragira*

Members of the Pan-African Parliament are handpicked by the executive of their country – by the same heads of state who retain the ultimate power at the African Union. And as if that is not bad enough, PAP is only a consultative organ. Efforts to change this, so that the people of Africa can have meaningful representation, continue to be resisted. African people must work hard for the transformation of this important AU organ.

A call for articles from Pambazuka News for a special issue raised many important questions about the status of Pan-Africanism in the 21st century and the role of the African Union (AU) in promoting or hindering its success. Some of those questions included, “Is the AU the right institution to promote and protect Africa’s unity?”; “Should the AU be fundamentally restructured to be a truly people-centred institution?”; “What needs to be done so that the AU and its member states go beyond charters, conventions and protocols?” and “Is the unity of African people still possible in this globalised world?”. This article will attempt to contribute to the debate on “going beyond charters, conventions and protocols”.

It is evident that a short article like this one cannot claim to describe the status of Pan-Africanism in the 21st century let alone discussing its origin and historical achievements. However, it is important to mention that “Pan-Africanism is an ideology and movement that encourages the solidarity of Africans worldwide. It is based on the belief that unity is vital to economic, social and political progress and aims to ‘unify and uplift’ people of African descent” [1].

The AU—and its predecessor, the Organisation of African Unity (OAU)—was founded in 2000 as a continuation of the work of the Pan-African movement in the 21st century and in particular to contribute to regional integration and the socio-economic development of Africa that the OAU was unable to achieve. [2]

Since the AU was going to be different from the OAU in terms of its decision-making processes, African Heads of State and Government gathered in Lomé, Togo, adopted the Constitutive Act of the AU on 11 July 2000 and in its Article 17, they provided for the creation of a Pan-African Parliament (PAP) in order to allow  “full participation of African people in the development and regional integration of Africa”. [3]  The inaugural session of the PAP was held on 18 March 2004 in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia, and its headquarters was established in Midrand, Republic of South Africa. [4]

More than ten years since its establishment, the PAP is still a consultative body that can only give recommendations or opinions to the Assembly of Heads of State and Government of the AU. However, a desire to change that status of the PAP was demonstrated on 27 June 2014 in Malabo, Equatorial Guinea, during the 23rd ordinary summit of the AU. At that summit, AU Heads of State and Government adopted the Protocol to the Constitutive Act of the African Union relating to the Pan-African Parliament. [5]

The adoption of the Protocol to the Constitutive Act of the African Union relating to the Pan-African Parliament (PAP Protocol) was quite a fundamental change aimed at increasing the participation of African people in the affairs of their continent. For instance, the PAP Protocol gives power to the PAP to develop and present uniform laws (also known as model laws) to the Assembly of Heads of State and Government of the AU. [6]

Other fundamental changes proposed by the PAP Protocol include selecting members of the PAP outside of national parliaments or senates; a provision that did not go well with current PAP members who are directly selected from their national parliaments and senates. The PAP protocol also wants AU member states to demonstrate their full commitment to the continental legislative body by asking each AU member state to fully finance the participation at the PAP level of their five members. [7] This provision did not also go well with current PAP members who fear that it could create inequalities in terms of their remunerations and allowances.

Despite the desire to give more powers to the PAP through the adoption of the PAP Protocol in June 2014, AU member states do not seem to be willing to give more powers to African people—through PAP members—so that they can take part in decision-making processes of the continental body. As of 1 April 2016, almost two years after the adoption of the PAP Protocol, it is only the Republic of Mali that has ratified it. The Republic of Mali committed itself to the provision of the PAP protocol on 14 January 2015. [8]

Going back to the idea that the establishment of the AU was part of the work of the Pan-African movement of the 21st century and the fact that AU Heads of State and Government, by creating the AU, wanted African people to play a bigger role in the process of regional integration and socio-economic development of Africa, one can wonder why African leaders are resisting to allow African people to directly elect PAP members. Is it not a contradiction when African leaders say that they believe in Pan-Africanism and its aspirations of unifying and developing African people without the participation of the same African people whose unity and development they (African leaders) claim to be committed to?

The fact that current PAP members are nominated by the executive of their respective countries – and in some cases without taking into consideration whether those nominees are the right people to represent their people at the PAP – contradicts the desire of African Heads of State and Government to involve African people in the affairs of the AU and by extension achieving the aspirations of Pan-Africanism.

Another important question is why African leaders would adopt a document knowing that they would not commit or do little to implement its provisions. In fact, it is not only the PAP Protocol that has been adopted and not implemented by AU member states. There are 50 treaties, charters, protocols and conventions that the OAU and AU have adopted since 1963. The status of the implementation of those 50 various legal instruments at country level is really unacceptable.

In addition, based on the fact that over the last two years it is only the Republic of Mali that has ratified the PAP Protocol, one could wonder when, at the rate of one country in two years, the 28 ratifications that are required for the PAP protocol to enter into force would be secured. One would only hope that the adoption of the PAP Protocol was not the repetition of just another formality of African leaders without really thinking about the implication of their action.

At a regional parliamentarians meeting for Eastern Africa that was organised in November 2014 by the PAP leadership to promote the ratification and implementation at national level of the African Charter on Elections, Democracy and Governance it was evident that there was (perhaps still is) no support for the PAP Protocol among many national parliamentarians and some current PAP members. Unfortunately, these two categories of people are very important to push for its ratification at national level.

From the experience of the above-mentioned regional parliamentary meeting, there are a number of Africans who could ask themselves why we elect leaders in our national parliaments and senates who do not represent us at all. It can be argued that there is a strong correlation between choices that citizens make on Election Day and the type of leadership that we see in our respective countries either in the parliament or executive. That also applies to the current behaviour of some African Heads of State and Government at the AU level and some PAP members because they are the result—whether based on the will of the people or not—of national level elections.

Even if the PAP Protocol were not to be ratified and implemented for the next ten years, there is still a way of reforming the current PAP through right choices during national elections. PAP members who represent a given AU member state are a representation of the political maturity of that country; which also defines whether they are really the representatives of the people of that country or not.

So, to go back to the question of this article, “Whom does the Pan-African Parliament represent”?, the answer depends on the “political maturity” of each national delegation. The role, strength, independence and level of representing African people of the PAP heavily depend on the choice of each AU member state. If country A conducts credible elections that lead to choosing members of parliament who are truly the representatives of its people, that choice will be visible at the level of PAP. Indeed, that country is much more likely to select its PAP members based on the roles and responsibilities of PAP members rather than on regional, partisan, ethnic and any other unprofessional reasons.

If all AU member states were at that advanced level of democratisation, the current PAP would be a true representation of African people. Unfortunately, it is not the case at all. As it is the case in many state appointments, at many occasions PAP members are selected based on political calculations in their countries rather than on merit. That method of selecting current PAP members coupled with the fact that the entire organ is just a consultative body shows the urgency to ratify the PAP Protocol so that the PAP can be a true representation of African people.

This article recognises the fact that there are some Africans who do not believe at all in the AU and its many organs. They are free to have that perception, but it might not be a constructive belief because the AU can only succeed if all Africans –or at least the majority of Africans—give it the support it urgently needs. The AU’s aspiration of working towards regional integration and socio-economic development of African people is achievable. But, it needs the support of African people and their leaders.

As such, the PAP can be a true representation of African people if we want it to be so. The PAP can contribute to regional integration of African countries; it can contribute to the achievement of the socio-economic development that Africans aspire to have if Africans are politically mature enough to elect the right people [under the current PAP status] to their national parliaments and senates. Or push for the ratification and implementation of the PAP Protocol so that they have the right to directly elect PAP members.

In conclusion, for aspirations of the Pan-African movement to become a reality, Pan-Africanism needs to become an individual conviction and commitment. Pan-Africanism in not an abstract idea; it can be achieved if African people believe and actually want to work towards the unity of Africa in order to achieve socio-economic progress. The PAP is a key organ of the AU, but it cannot only succeed if African people want it to succeed.

In the end, we should not blame the AU and its organs, but each one of us should be asking themselves how they can elect the right national leaders because they are the ones who will make the AU and its organs such as the PAP succeed.  Pan-Africanism in the 21st century is still a possible aspiration, but that aspiration needs concerted efforts from African people and their leaders to become a reality. One of the ways to do that is to make sure that African people have their say in key organs of the AU such as the PAP.

* Yves Niyiragira writes and comments on African affairs. He is currently Executive Director of Fahamu, the publisher of Pambazuka News. The opinions in this article are entirely his and do not necessarily represents those of Fahamu.

End notes:
[1] See African Union. (2013). AU ECHO, Special Edition for the 20th AU Summit, Issue 05, 27 January. Addis Ababa: African Union. p. 1.

[2] Murithi, T. (2007). ‘Reflections on Leadership: From the OAU to the AU’. Conflict Trends. Vol. 2. pp.8-14.

[3] Constitutive Act of the African Union, Article 17… accessed on 7 May 2016

[4] The Pan-African Parliament: accessed on 5 May 2016

[5] See… accessed on 7 May 2016

[6] Idem

[7] Idem

[8] Ratification status of the Protocol to the Constitutive Act of the African Union relating to the Pan-African Parliament: see… accessed on 6 May 2016

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