AU steps in to try and fix the Pan-African Parliament

The African Union (AU) Executive Council ― constituted of AU ministers of foreign affairs ― has strongly criticised the ‘lack of decorum’ shown by members of the Pan-African Parliament (PAP) and the physical and verbal violence ‘that have damaged the image of the AU’. It has asked the AU Commission to step in until PAP gets its house in order.

This follows incidents in May and June this year when African parliamentarians wreaked havoc during a dispute over the election of a new PAP president. Accusations bordering on defamation were levelled at candidates from Mali and South Sudan and disputes between West and Southern African delegates led to a fistfight. The PAP plenary was suspended until further notice.

However, it remains to be seen if this decision by the AU ministers will solve the deep-rooted issues at the heart of the PAP debacle, which include gross financial mismanagement. The way it is resolved could serve as a lesson to regional parliaments on the continent also struggling to assert their positions and show their relevance.

While oversight of PAP may seem necessary given recent events and longstanding accusations of financial and other mismanagement, some believe it contrary to the parliament’s original aims. It was intended to mirror the power separation of regular democracies and oversee AU decisions, rather than the other way around. Many of PAP’s 235  parliamentarians are not products of free and fair elections, which further complicates relations among members of diverse political backgrounds and the quest for the body’s legitimacy.

Support for the rotational route

At its meeting earlier this month, the council discussed the ructions at PAP, which revolved around the modalities for the nomination of a parliamentary president for the next five years. Following its regular mid-year meeting, held on 14 and 15 October, the council noted that the election of the PAP  president and four vice-presidents should follow the regional rotation principle.

Will the decision by the AU ministers resolve deep-rooted issues at the heart of the PAP debacle?

According to its 2001 protocol establishing PAP and subsequent AU decisions and recommendations that give each of the five regions a chance to lead the institution. It has, therefore, instructed PAP to restrict presidential election candidates to regions that have not held the position. This supports the southern African caucus’s argument that neither it nor North Africa had presided over PAP and that candidates from West, East and Central Africa should be excluded this time.

In its first term, from 2004 to 2009, PAP was led by former member of parliament Gertrude Mongela from Tanzania in the eastern region. From 2009 to 2015, the task fell to Idriss Ndele Moussa from Chad in the central region. Between 2012 and 2015 former western region parliamentarian Nigerian Bethel Nnaemeka Amadi took the helm.

In 2015, however, according to a statement by a PAP official, the leadership was ‘hijacked’ by central region candidate, former PAP president Roger Nkodo Dang from Cameroon, who was re-elected in 2018. Chief FC Chirumbira from Zimbabwe in the southern region is acting president until the next elections and is also the region’s candidate to succeed Nkodo Dang.

The AU instructed PAP to restrict presidential election candidates to regions that have not held the position

The council ordered that the forthcoming elections be run by the AU’s Office of the Legal Counsel, not by the legal counsel of the PAP secretariat, which had been the case previously. It has requested that both the AU Commission Chairperson, Moussa Faki Mahamat, and the Commissioner for Political Affairs, Peace and Security, Bankole Adeoye, be present at the elections.

The council has called for an independent investigation into the 2021 incidents and those responsible to be punished. It has also asked that the AU legal counsel examine PAP rules of procedure ― including the divisive issue of regional rotation ― and align them with those of other AU organs.

Those who opposed the southern African stance on regional rotation of the PAP presidency argue that it was decided on in 2017 and is not retroactive. Therefore, all regions except Central Africa should be able to send candidates.

Deep, troubled waters

PAP’s problems flow much deeper than recent incidents, with ingrained challenges of corruption, nepotism and mismanagement, which were also noted by the ministers in their decision on PAP. The report of the AU Commission’s PAP fact-finding mission at the end of September notes that an earlier audit report pointed out these issues. The council subsequently asked that the irregularities be resolved and a report on corrective measures taken by PAP be tabled at the council meeting of July 2022.

If PAP is fortified and taken seriously as an advisory body to the AU, it could set the tone for other parliaments

At the time, PAP host country, South Africa, was accused of not giving enough support to this body based in Midrand, Johannesburg. South African Minister of International Relations and Cooperation Naledi Pandor ‘expressed displeasure’ to the fact-finding mission and said this was regrettable, given the huge resources South Africa spends on PAP.

She stated that the country was planning to build new headquarters for all AU organs. This could resolve the recurring issue of host country agreements, which also affects the South African-hosted AU Development Agency-New Partnership for Africa’s Development (AUDA-Nepad) and the African Peer Review Mechanism.

Can legislative power strengthen PAP?

Beyond these management and operational issues lurks the reluctance of African states to transform PAP into a fully-fledged legislative body, which could vastly improve implementation of AU decision-making and strengthen continental integration. These issues are felt by other regional parliaments on the continent that are hamstrung by a lack of real power. If PAP is fortified and taken seriously as an advisory body to the AU Assembly, it could set the tone for similar parliaments.

In 2014, the Assembly adopted the so-called Malabo protocol, which gives PAP greater legislative powers. So far, only 12 AU member states have ratified the protocol,  of the 28 ratifications needed for enforcement. In its recent decision, the council again asks member states to acquiesce. However, this might not happen as long as PAP is perceived as a struggling organisation that gobbles up funds but has very little to show for them.

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