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Africa: Parliamentary Potential

AfricaFocus Bulletin
Mar 28, 2004 (040328)
(Reposted from sources cited below)

Editor's Note

The new Pan-African Parliament officially launched this month will have only advisory and consultative rather than legislative powers in its first five-year term. Its members are appointed by national parliaments rather than directly elected. But its rapid creation is already raising hopes that it may serve as a new public forum for airing critical African issues, including equality for women. Tanzania's Gertrude Mongella was elected by secret ballot as the president of the new body.

This AfricaFocus Bulletin includes a press release and short news report on the inaugural session, and a statement from African NGO networks calling for the parliament to take an "activist" role.

For additional commentary, background information, and links on the African Union and the Pan-African Parliament, see the special issue of Pambazuka News for March 18, 2004 at
http://www.pambazuka.org/index.php?issue=148 The African Union website at http://www.africa-union.org has the text of the protocol defining the parliamentary body, as well as a call for public response to strategic documents outlining the Union's direction over the coming years.

++++++++++++++++++++++end editor's note+++++++++++++++++++++++

African Union

http://www.africa-union.org

Press Release No.019/2004

Inaugural and the First Session of the Panafrican Parliament

Addis Ababa, March 19, 2004

The African Union, on Thursday, March 18, 2004, took another giant stride by inaugurating the Pan-African Parliament, one of its most important organs. The Pan-African Parliament, within the initial period, shall have consultative and advisory powers only, with the aim of ultimately evolving into an institution with full legislative powers.

Two hundred and two (202) legislators from 41 of the 53 Member States of the African Union, were yesterday sworn in at a solemn ceremony presided over by the Chairperson of the African Union, H.E. Mr. Joachim Chissano, President of the Republic of Mozambique and witnessed by the President of the Federal Democratic Republic of Ethiopia, Mr. Girma Wolde Giorgis; the Prime Minister of the Federal Democratic Republic of Ethiopia, Mr. Meles Zenawi and Prof. Alpha Oumar Konar‚, Chairperson of the Commission of the African Union. The Pan-African Parliament elected the Hon. MP Mrs. Getrude Mongela from the United Republic of Tanzania as President who will spearhead the affairs of the Pan-African Parliament for the next five years.

The following were elected Vice-Presidents:

  • Prof F. Jose Dias Van-Dunem, an Angolan, 1st Vice-President (South);
  • Dr. Mohammed Lutfi Farahat, a Libyan, 2nd Vice-President (North);
  • Mrs. Loum N. Ne'loumsei Elise, a Chadian, 3rd Vice-President (Central);
  • Mr. Jerome Sacca Kina Guezere, a Beninois, 4th Vice-President (West).

According to Prof. Konar‚, the Pan-African Parliament has a "vital role to play in the implementation of the objectives and principles enshrined in the Constitutive Act of the Union, particularly, with regard to the protection of human rights consolidation of democratic institutions, popularization and promotion of good governance".


African Union Puts Women First Once Again

http://allAfrica.com [reposted with permission]

March 18, 2004

By AllAfrica Special Correspondent, Addis Ababa

Africa's first pan-continental parliament was inaugurated in Addis Ababa today, and immediately took a bold step, amid stirring and emotional scenes that may give a clue to the future tone and approach of the new body.

The MPs' first act, after being sworn in, was to elect a woman as president of their parliament. Tanzania's Gertrude Mongella is a veteran CCM [Chama cha Mapinduzi - Tanzanian ruling party] politician, ambassador and educationist who in her 34-year career has strongly supported the advancement of women.

The move reinforces the strong image of the African Union as determined to advance gender equality. Half the members of the 10-person African Union Commission are women.

The legal steps towards creating the PanAfrican parliament were taken at the AU summit in Maputo, Mozambique in July 2003.

By late February this year, 38 member states had ratified the protocol and most of those had submitted the list of their five members of parliament. At least one of the five had to be a woman but several delegations chose two or more women, a fact which drew approving comment from Mozambique's president Chissano, chairing the inaugural session.

The nomination of Ms Mongella first came from the Nigerian delegation leader who made a powerful speech in her favour, demanding to know, at one point, whether there was any point in any other candidate being put forward; seconded by Sierra Leone, his address drew loud applause and shouts of support from the surrounding delegations.

The Ghanaian delegation came next, to say that they had intended to put their candidate up for the parliament's presidency but that "imbued with the spirit of unity, solidarity and sharing" they had decided to withdraw in favour of Ms Mongella.

Delegates cheered even more loudly, apparently believing that her election was in the bag.

But then the Sudanese delegation took the floor. They described the history and qualifications of their favoured candidate, Angelo Beda - deputy speaker of Sudan's parliament - at length, stressing his suitability for the task. The disappointment in the hall was almost palpable.

But then, said the speaker, "when we decided to propose him we thought that we were proposing a man of caliber. Now we have noticed that this august hall wants a lady" I would like to tell the august hall that for the last two days we had vigorous negotiation with our colleagues from Tanzania when we never agreed to withdraw; but we are now withdrawing on the will of the house."

The concession brought the house down and there were several minutes of banging, cheering and clapping as - mostly - women streamed out of their seats, weaving among the desks towards Gertrude Mongella and the Tanzanians for victory hugs and impromptu dancing, stopping en route to shake the hands of the Ghanaians and Sudanese who had so handsomely climbed down.

A tiresome hour of technicalities followed as delegates argued about whether they could elect Mongella, now the sole candidate, by acclamation or whether they had to hold a secret ballot. In the end, Chissano and the lawyers won out against those who wanted to buck the rules and display complete unanimity; a lengthy ballot was held in which members scrutinized every vote cast.

The result? Twenty-one against, 13 abstaining but a stunning 166 votes for Mongella, an outcome that somehow managed simultaneously to vindicate both Chissano's view that those voting against must be allowed to be register their view, and those who had argued that her supporters were so numerous that the ballot wasn't needed.

Mongella, dressed in sober blue but clearly delighted, took the oath in a clear, deep voice at the podium and then gracefully received the gavel from a Chissano apparently relieved to be handing over the cares of office to the proper official.

In a graceful speech she stressed her commitment to women's equality but praised the men for having done most of the changing needed to reach today's vote. Then promising to be guided by the principles of partnership between men and women, and peace, she firmly sent everyone off to lunch.


African and International CSOs Call for an "Activist" Pan African Parliament

Press Release On The Inauguration Of The African Parliament, Addis Ababa

Press Release

18th March 2004

Action Not Talk: African and International NGOs and networks challenge the new Pan African Parliament

Eleven international and African organisations and networks called on the new Pan-African Parliament to set an ambitious agenda as it was inaugurated today in Addis Ababa. The organisations including the African Women's Empowerment Network, Eastern African Sub-regional Support Initiative for the Advancement of Women, FEMNET, PADEAP, Pan African Movement, Fahamu learning for Change, Fahamu SA Trust, MWENGO, Justice Africa and Oxfam GB called on the new Parliament to embrace improving governance, giving citizens a voice and improving the human rights environment in Africa as a key priorities.

For most poor people and especially women in Africa, parliaments are far removed from the day-to-day realities and challenges they face. The Pan African parliament is far from being representative (one MP for every 2.6 million people) therefore the 256 parliamentarians must go beyond being a talk shop to advance the issues that face millions of poor Africans.

The organisations called for Parliamentarians to champion in their respective countries, the ratification of the Protocol to the African Charter on Human and People's Rights on the Rights of Women in Africa, before the Heads of States Summit in July 2004.

Elizabeth Kharono of EASSI in Kampala

"We immediately place the challenge of reducing gender inequality in the orientation packs of the 256 Pan African Parliamentarians. We will judge the first year of the parliament not on whether it articulates its standing orders well, but on the number of ratifications it delivers on the AU Protocol for Women's rights"

Lastly, the Parliament must become a key forum for pushing for better global terms for Africa around debt, trade and aid. Parliamentarians must keep Africa's demands at the forefront of global talks within the World Trade Organisation, the World Bank and International Monetary Fund.

Elizabeth Eilor of the pan African AWEPON Network based in Kampala

"Parliamentarians should lead in articulating Africa demands for total and unconditional debt cancellation and making trade fairer - by stopping export dumping and saying no to the WTO new issues. This would help Africa lift itself out of poverty. They can also speak out against multinationals who are using and abusing our continent's rich resources and ensure that investment works for, rather than against the poor".

Recognising that in many countries, the public is shut out of the political debate, the organisations called for the African parliament to open up the space for African citizens and organisations to have a voice within the AU and it's member governments.

Rose Gawaya of Oxfam GB in Pretoria adds, "The credibility of the Pan African Parliament needs to go beyond what they represent but on what they do, the causes they champion and the positive changes they bring to the lives of ordinary people across Africa. By doing this, the Pan African Parliament can deepen its credibility and relevance to African peoples struggling with poverty and injustice across the continent."

For further information or to set up interviews please contact in Addis:

Rose Gawaya Southern Africa Regional Advisor, Oxfam GB Tel: +27-828547764 (roaming) in Addis
Sam Barratt in Addis Ababa on + 251 9 402480
And in Kampala Elizabeth Kharono EASSI Tel: +256-77-651 673


Statement by International and African CSOs on the day of the inauguration of the Pan African Parliament

Africa needs an "Activist" Pan African Parliament

The inauguration of African Parliament occurs exactly ten years after the Rwandese genocide, the first democratic elections in South Africa and the Beijing 4th World Conference on Women. As these events and experiences a decade ago continue to shape the past and future of Africa, they frame the challenge before the African parliament. This has to be an Activist Parliament. The current conditions in Africa demand no less.

Since 1994, we have not seen significant gains for poor and marginalized groups in Africa. Parts of the continent have been characterized by a crisis in governance reflected in conflicts leading to massive displacement and abuse of the rights people, especially women and children, and deepening poverty. Yet, there has been progress. With wars coming to an end in Sierra Leone, Angola, Liberia, Congo and Sudan, the situation in 1994 where a fifth of all Africans lived in situations of conflict is coming to an end.

Champion ratification of the AU Protocol on Women's Rights

In its first term, the parliament must prioritise the realisation of human rights, improved quality of governance and the right of citizens to be heard and participate in affairs that affect their lives. Key to realising higher standards of rights is the Protocol to the African Charter on Human and People's Rights on the Rights of Women in Africa. We urge all Pan African Parliamentarians to champion the immediate ratification of the Protocol to the African Charter on Human and People's Rights on the Rights of Women in Africa, before the Heads of States Summit in July 2004.

We immediately place the challenge of gender inequality, poverty and development in the orientation packs of the 256 Pan African Parliamentarians. We will judge the first year of the parliament not on whether it articulates its standing orders well, but on the number of ratifications it delivers on the AU Protocol for Women's rights

Expand the space for citizens to be heard and participate in AU public affairs

We also call on parliamentarians to support access of African citizens and organisations to the various specialised agencies of the AU and member Governments. Non-state actors, especially civil society organizations, represent the voices of the voiceless sections of society, they are key development agents; they are watchdogs for respect of human rights; they contribute significantly to shaping national and international policies and project implementation.

Articulate and develop Africa's global policy demands and negotiations

Lastly, we urge Africa to celebrate this inauguration but immediately place on the Parliament's agenda, the challenge of negotiating better global terms for Africa around debt, trade and aid. Parliamentarians must keep Africa's demands at the forefront of multi-lateral policy processes within the World Trade Organisation, the World Bank and International Monetary Fund.

Parliamentarians should become active in articulating Africa's existing positions on the need for total and unconditional debt cancellation, rejection of the WTO new issues and the elimination of northern subsidies and export credits that are currently devastating our economic potential. In so doing, they can meaningfully help the continent to reclaim and retain the policy space for regulation and monitoring of movement of capital investments and trans-national corporations on the continent.

The credibility of the Pan African Parliament cannot rest on their representational quality but on the issues they espouse, the causes they champion and the positive changes they bring to the lives of ordinary people across Africa. By doing this, the Pan African Parliament can deepen its credibility and relevance to African peoples struggling with poverty and injustice across the continent.

Signed by Eleven international, regional and continental organisations and networks are headquartered in Uganda, Zimbabwe, South Africa, Kenya and the UK and work on human rights, debt, aid and trade.

African Women's Empowerment Network
Eastern African Sub-regional Support Initiative for the Advancement of Women
African Womens Development and Communication Network- FEMNET
Fahamu learning for Change
Fahamu SA Trust
Pan African Development and Advocacy Programme PADEAP
Pan African Movement
MWENGO
Justice Africa
Oxfam GB


Background Media Advisory on the Pan African Parliament

Summary of the statutes establishing the Pan African parliament

The preamble to the treaty establishing the Pan African Parliament states as a vision "a common platform for African peoples and their grassroots organisations to be more involved in discussions and decision-making on the problems and challenges facing the continent". Article 11 enables the Parliament to provide oversight for the budget of the AU, harmonisation of policies towards regional integration and make recommendations that promote human rights, democratic institutions and good governance among other functions. During the first term of its existence the Parliament shall "exercise advisory and consultative powers only [article 11]". Article 4 provides for five legislators at least one being a woman to be appointed from national parliaments and deliberative organs. If all countries ratify the Parliament, Africa can expect 265 legislators, Speaker and Deputy Speaker to be sworn in on March 18th 2004 in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia.

The African Union has made remarkable progress over 2003

The African Union 2003 Heads of Summit Conference in Maputo was remarkable in three respects. Firstly, it adopted a progressive Protocol to the African Charter of Peoples and Human Rights on the Rights of Women that enshrines a commitment to integrating a gender perspective in the public affairs of states. Secondly, the Union elected its Commissioners on a 50:50 gender parity basis. Lastly, the election of former Malian President Alpha Konare has revitalised the leadership of the Union.

Between 2004 and 2007, the Union shall evolve mechanisms that will regulate public participation (ECOSOC), legislative oversight (the African Parliament), human rights and legal enforcement (African Charter on Human and Peoples Rights, African Court on Human and People's Rights and The African Court of Justice) and regional economic integration (Central Bank, Customs Union). As the institutions increase their capacity to regulate and shape Africa's political and economic development, continental integration - economically, politically, socially, will increasingly becoming a critical factor to overcoming poverty and enhancing governance in Africa.

From a human rights lens, it is possible to begin conceptualising the African Union and its specialised mechanisms along the lines of state obligations namely; to respect, protect and fulfil political, economic and social rights. The Charter and indeed, the Women's rights protocol become not "side" policies but the very framework that the success of the African Union and NEPAD will be judged.

This progress is threatened by a hostile international policy context

Yet the revitalisation of state Pan-Africanism occurs in a rapidly changing international policy context. In 2001, international opinion on Africa appeared to have taken a radical departure from the early nineties where African leaders claimed that Africa had been forgotten after the cold war. This spirit reflected in the centrality of Africa for the 2001 and 2002 G8 summits and the influential but short-lived enthusiasm around the UN Financing for Development consultations.

In 2003, the hope of new approaches to old problems of inequitable trade relations and inadequate aid flows appears to have been severely punctured by a return to aid scepticism, a pervasive anti-terrorist lens and the subsequent undermining of multi-lateralism. In this context, unreconstructed multi-lateral agencies such as the World Trade Organisation, the World Bank and International Monetary Fund as well as the British, French and American Governments seem set to continue crowding out national sovereignty and dominating the policy discourse on and in Africa for the next three years.

Challenge for public accountability ahead - the Pan African parliament

At a rough estimate, there are over 9,210 national parliamentarians among Africa's population of 700 million people. That is, one legislator for every 76,000 people. For most poor people in Africa, parliaments and legislative bodies seem disconnected from the day-to-day realities and challenges they face. If the crisis of relevance seems stark in some national contexts, than at regional levels the challenge for parliamentarians is multiplied.265 legislators elected indirectly in a continent of 700 million people (one MP for every 2.6 million people) does not embody a high capacity for representative democracy, much less "a platform for African peoples and their grassroots organisations".

Until members are elected by universal adult suffrage the credibility of the Pan African Parliament cannot rest on their representational quality but on the issues they espouse, the causes they champion and the changes they bring to the lives of ordinary people across Africa.


AfricaFocus Bulletin is an independent electronic publication providing reposted commentary and analysis on African issues, with a particular focus on U.S. and international policies. AfricaFocus Bulletin is edited by William Minter.

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