Pan-African Parliament now a reality
Africa moved a step closer towards continental unity with the establishment of the Pan-African Parliament in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia, in March. The body, created as an organ of the African Union (AU), is open to all 53 countries in the organization.
On 18 March, Mozambican President Joaquim Chissano, the current AU chairman, swore in 202 legislators from 41 countries. The first act of the new deputies was to elect Ms. Gertrude Mongella of Tanzania as president of the parliament. They also elected four vice presidents: Mr. Fernando Dias Van-Dúnen of Angola, Dr. Mohammed Lutfi Farahat of Libya, Ms. Elise Loum of Chad and Mr. Jerome Sacca Kina Guezere of Benin. Cape Town, South Africa, and Cairo, Egypt, have each offered to permanently host the parliament and heads of state are expected to make a decision at the next AU summit in July.
"There is great hope and expectation pinned on the establishment of the Pan-African Parliament," President Chissano told its inaugural session. "The whole world shall be watching to see what added value this organ is going to contribute to our plan of building a strong and prosperous African Union."
The Union was established in 2002, continuing the efforts of the Organization of African Unity (OAU) to unify the continent politically, economically and socially. According to the protocol establishing the parliament, it will provide "a common platform for African peoples and their grassroots organizations to be more involved in discussions and decision-making on the problems and challenges facing the continent." During its first five years, the parliament will be an advisory body, but the ultimate goal is to accord it full legislative powers, with members directly elected. Each country signing and ratifying the protocol gets five parliamentary deputies, one of which must be a woman.
Members of the Pan-African Parliament are selected from the national legislatures or other deliberative organs of member states, reflecting the diversity of political opinions in these organs. The tenure of each deputy at the parliament will run concurrently with his or her term in the national house. The Pan-African Parliament is expected to meet for at least two sessions a year.
The parliament's inauguration "is a sign of democratic maturity in Africa," Ms. Mongella told the session. According to former Malian President Alpha Oumar Konaré, the chairperson of the Commission of the AU, the parliament has a "vital role to play" in protecting human rights, consolidating democratic institutions and popularizing and promoting good governance.
Across Africa, the inauguration was greeted with guarded optimism. The parliament "offers hope for a new era of transparency and accountability in African politics," commented South Africa's Business Day newspaper. "For the first time, opposition parties will be given official space in continental politics," with opportunities to create alliances to exert pressure on autocratic governments. (Deputies enjoy parliamentary immunity and are not liable to prosecution for what they say when carrying out their duties.)
In Nairobi, Kenya, Mr. Irungu Houghton of the non-governmental organization Oxfam described the parliament's establishment as "significant." The next challenge is to enable it to pass laws, monitor compliance of African states to agreed standards and "intervene decisively to protect human rights in member states." The credibility of the parliamentarians, he says, will rest "on the issues they espouse, the causes they champion and the changes they bring to the lives of ordinary people across Africa."
African 'peer review' gets going
Four African countries -- Ghana, Kenya, Rwanda and Mauritius -- will undergo over the next year the first "peer reviews" of their governance performance, a summit meeting of nine African heads of state and government decided in Kigali, Rwanda, on 13 February. The four are among the 17 governments that have so far agreed to participate in the African Peer Review Mechanism (APRM).
Established within the framework of the New Partnership for Africa's Development (NEPAD), the APRM is a system of "self-monitoring" by which African countries review each others' political and economic management. In each review, a team of experts will spend several months gathering documentation and interviewing government, opposition, civil society and media representatives. They will look in particular at the country's policies, standards and practices relating to political governance and the rule of law, economic growth, sustainable development and regional integration.
In addition to these four countries, Algeria, Burkina Faso, Cameroon, Republic of Congo, Ethiopia, Gabon, Mali, Mozambique, Nigeria, Senegal, South Africa and Uganda belonged to the APRM at the time of the 13 February meeting. Angola indicated its readiness to join the following day, during a meeting of NEPAD's heads of state implementation committee.
The peer review summit the day before also named a seventh member, Mr. Mourad Medelci of Algeria, to the APRM Panel which oversees the mechanism's work. The other members are Mr. Adebayo Adedeji (Nigeria), Ms. Graça Machel (Mozambique), Ms. Dorothy Njeuma (Cameroon), Mr. Chris Stals (South Africa), Mr. Bethuel Kiplagat (Kenya) and Ms. Marie-Angelique Savané (Senegal), who was named chairperson of the panel.