What exactly is the point of the Pan-African Parliament?
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To rotate or not to rotate – that is the question.
It is also the reason why the Pan-African Parliament (PAP) descended into chaos this week.
At the heart of the dispute is the election of the parliament’s president and office bearers. Southern African states are calling for a rotational presidency which their East and West African counterparts are opposing.
Since the establishment of the parliament in 2004, the presidency has never been held by a Southern African state – the only exception being Zimbabwe’s Chief Fortune Charumbira, who served in an acting capacity following the premature departure from office of Algeria’s Bouras Djamel in December.
An African Union resolution, calling for the rotation of the presidency, is what Southern African states cited when led by Zimbabwean Babara Rowdzi, they disrupted the presidential election proceedings. The subsequent chaos and violence led to the session being abandoned, leaving the parliamentary body leaderless until it meets again in October.
But perhaps the greater question to be asked and one that is probably on the minds of most Africans who saw the drama unfold is what exactly is the point of the Pan-African Parliament?
Professor Lesiba Teefu, a political analyst attached to the University of South Africa identifies with the sentiment.
“I wish I could be more positive about this entire saga but I can’t. The idea behind this type of body has not been realised. Instead we have regional blocs working for self interests instead of working together. The Pan-African Parliament represents a costly and worthless talkshop,” said Teefu.
It becomes difficult to argue with Teefu’s point when you consider that it costs the South African tax payer around R250 million each time the Parliament rolls into town – this time in the middle of a deadly third wave of the coronavirus pandemic.
According to Teefu, the fact that the continent is battling more serious challenges with so much at stake given the impact of the coronavirus pandemic, the need for economic growth, undermining coup leadership and other security challenges – the whole saga becomes pretty shameful.
“We are more divided as a continent than we ever have been – that’s the reality. We parade this false solidarity in the face of great injustice. We have ‘sit tight presidents’ and ’presidents for life’. We don’t criticise each other. We have been experimenting with liberation for almost 60 years now and we are no closer to unity,” said Teefu
Without trivialising the principle of rotational leadership, which will no doubt promote continental solidarity, the harsh truth is that office bearers of the Pan-African Parliament stand to benefit materially from their participation in the continental body. This includes raising the political profile of individuals both on the continent and in their home countries.
PhD scholar and analyst at Africa Risk Consulting, Leonard Mbulle-Nziege, believes that while the Pan African Parliament, since its inception, has been much ado about nothing – for parliamentarians it represents a system of patronage and diplomatic clout.
“The diplomatic opportunities for these parliamentarians besides the material benefits is what is driving the current scenes we are seeing. There have always been regional tensions between francophone and anglophone regions on the continent and right now SADC believes it is not getting a fair share,” said Mbulle-Nziege.
He pointed out the the aggressive approach that South Africa adopted during its push for Nkosazana Dlamini-Zuma to take up the chair of the AU Commission to further SADC’s diplomatic clout on the continent, as well as the recent election of Patrice Motsepe as president of The Confederation of African Football (CAF) – which was previously seen as a cabal run by French speaking West African nations.
But he too believes that, given the extreme challenges facing the continent, the behaviour on display at the Pan-African Parliament is rather selfish.
Professor Steven Friedman of the Centre for Study of Democracy believes that the events of the past week give the impression that participation in the Pan-African Parliament has more to do with positions rather than issues affecting the continent.
“The body has no power and serves in an advisory capacity, therefore it has hardly any impact. It is difficult to justify this institution and even more difficult to identify one thing it has done that has directly benefited the people of Africa,” said Friedman.
Friedman contends that the average African citizen finds the body completely irrelevant or, in most instances unheard of, with the pandemonium of recent events creating a negative impression that the politics at play is more centred around “who can get their hands on the gravy”.
It’s perhaps a timeous reminder of that clichéd African proverb – “When elephants fight, it is the grass that suffers” and while political leaders on the continent squabble over the benefits of diplomatic clout, resources and raised continental profiles – the average African continues to battle poverty, a global pandemic and the effects of deadly wars.
Maybe Professor Teefu’s opinion, that if the people of Africa continue to elect people who do not have their best interests at heart then they stop being victims but rather accomplices, may hold true.
African News Agency/ANA