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Strengthening African Legislature

By Guardian Nigeria
29 May 2015   |   7:39 am
The Legislative body of the African union, the pan-African parliament recently held a session to elect a new president and 235 parliamentarians came together. CNBC Africa’s Wole Famurewa caught up with the President of the pan-African Parliament, Honourable Bethel Amadi.  Famurewa: Let’s start with a brief of what the parliament is designed to do. Amadi:…


The Legislative body of the African union, the pan-African parliament recently held a session to elect a new president and 235 parliamentarians came together. CNBC Africa’s Wole Famurewa caught up with the President of the pan-African Parliament, Honourable Bethel Amadi. 

Famurewa: Let’s start with a brief of what the parliament is designed to do. Amadi: The pan-African parliament was established in year 2004 basically to provide a platform for African people at the grass root organisations to make an input in the decision making process in finding solutions to the many problems facing our continent.

It was initially given consultative and advisory functions to be able to speak to the African people, provide them a platform to make an input.

Those inputs are sensitized and sent to the Head of state summit of the African Union. Over the last years of its existence, we’ve been able to carry out this function effectively.

The protocol also provided that five years into the existence of the parliament, that it be reviewed to give it enhanced and additional legislative functions.

That process started in the year 2009. At the African Union summit that was held last year in Equatorial Guinea, the pan- African parliament was designated as the legislative organ of the African Union with functions that now include proposing draft module laws to the Heads of state and Government.

These module laws will now be adapted by various member states and be domesticated as part of the body laws of their various countries.

Famurewa: Thank you for that summary. I know that your tenure is about to end as president but what are your thoughts on the last three years? How much has been achieved in terms of the role of pan-African parliament in helping to address some of the big issues in Africa? Amadi: One of our key roles has been to enhance the advocacy for good governance, for democracy and we have participated actively in advocating for the ratification of the African charter on democracy elections and governance.

This very important document came into force in 2012 following 60 ratifications by member states, we are still advocating for many more member states to sign this document which encapsulates our common and shared values about democracy, the freedom to form political parties and for all political parties to participate in the political process of member states.

There should be free and fair elections at regular intervals in member states and those elections should be conducted by an Independent Electoral Commission.

Issues concerning the separation of power, the freedom of judiciary should all be entrained in our various National Constitutions across the continent.

Also, how to protect the rights of women, minority groups in the various member states and human rights issues are covered under the charter. So we believe this charter would help the growth of democracy on the continent and bring about good governance.

Famurewa: The Legislature is clearly a very important of the democratic institutions in Africa.

What is your assessment of the progress we have seen in terms of the democracy on the continent over the last few years and what is your rural assessment on the development of democracy in Africa?  Amadi: We’ve made a lot of progress in a few countries, we still do have a lot of problems especially in crisis and conflict turned countries, we can see what is going on in Burundi today as we are busy trying to see how to sustain the hard won peace after years of civil war.

Today, we are back to crisis in Burundi which is very unfortunate and of course we also look at all the other African countries that we have conflicts- Central African Republic, Burkina Faso, Somalia and of course Libya.

You will find out that these are setbacks for democracy on the continent but in Nigeria, the example is a wonderful one, we are happy about it, we think it is a welcome development, Nigeria has set the pace, we now have a situation where an incumbent African head of state can actually concede defeat even before the final results have been read.

We have had a situation where people have lost elections and refused to move from office, so it’s a welcome development. It is a good example of democracy on the continent and we pray that we can build on it and do more to sustain over the years to come.

Famurewa: In terms of the role that the African Union plays and the pan-African parliament in terms of really deepening democracy on the continent, you just mentioned Burundi, Central African Republic and  Burkina Faso, those are examples of areas where democracy can work a lot better on the continent -many people would be looking into the African union to put pressure on those sovereign states to really institutionalise  democracy, tell us your thoughts about the role the pan African parliament would play in that process going forward.

Amadi: Over the years, we’ve continued to support democratic processes across the continent through being part of election monitoring missions, finding missions in troubled spots across the continent.

The African union has played an active role- In the Burundi crisis,  the chairperson of the union has visited Burundi, a month ago to discuss with the various groups including the government and of course she was also present at the meeting of the Eastern African community where a lot of decisions were made and we believe that the decisions would help stabilise the processes in Burundi, there must be a clear commitment to democratic principles as enshrined in the constitution of various member states and any unconstitutional change of government is totally not welcome at this point in time in the development in Burundi.

Famurewa: If we look at other parts of the world and blocks like the European Union, we see to a large extent- integration not just politically but of course economically.

Now let’s talk about some objectives of the Pan-African parliament; one of them is to contribute to a more prosperous future for Africa by promoting collective self-reliance and economic recovery, another is to facilitate cooperation and development in Africa.

In terms of those two objectives in particular, what’s your overall assessment of where the African union stands today? Amadi: Well, enough has been done especially with the various regional economic blocks to begin to see how we can build a platform for integration.

Integration cannot happen in a vacuum and I think that the most important thing is the integration of the people and we have canvassed the pan African parliament for the free movement of people, goods and services across the continent as a key platform for integration.

Economic integration is very critical to find ways in which we can do common designations that will laud small business people trading across our borders to be able to do it more effectively.

We can enhance intra-African trade by providing common legislative platforms and common standards for trade across customs, sort out immigration issues so that our small businesses from different countries can be able to move freely across and do legitimate business.

It worked in West African region where a lot of progress has been made, in the East Africa region and also the SADEC is coming up with those kinds of provisions so we are hoping that the growth in those regional bodies will help enhance the collective efforts to enhance intra-African trade.

Famurewa: Absolutely! Intra-African trade should be a big priority for all African leaders, giving the economic impact it could have on the continent. But how do we fix some of the very common problems in Africa- Infrastructure? What are your thoughts on the role the pan- African parliament can play? Amadi: I believe that the infrastructure crisis in Africa is a very critical aspect of ensuring that the development of our continent is fast tracked.

We look at the issue of electricity supply; Africa produces less electricity collectively than Spain.

So you would see that there is need for us to find ways in which we can collectively work together so that we can do the big projects that each individual country might not be able to do. There is a proposal to do a big hydroelectricity project in Inga dam in DRC.

This can get many other African countries to buy electricity across the continent. We also need legislative framework, if it is successful and when this electricity project is completed, you need transmission lines that go through different countries.

So the Pan-African parliament has always advocated that we are well positioned to provide legislative framework that will enhance this kind of common projects that go from one country to another and that has been achieved in Europe.

The EU parliament has been able to provide a lot of the legislative framework in which various member states can cooperate and do things together.

This doesn’t take away the powers and sovereignty of the member states and their national parliaments.

We are talking about areas where one parliament will be able to legislate for a project that cuts across many countries.

All we need is for our leaders to come together and put an institutional framework to manage these processes and of course to build institutions that will oversee these processes.

Famurewa: Talking about the advocacy we can expect for the African parliament, and the role it must play in terms of law making on the continent.

What are your thoughts on women empowerment in the continent, as many people have said, “it’s best to keep household income in the hands of a woman as opposed to a man” it’s probably more effective that way.

Amadi: Yes, it is a part of the theme of the African Union for the year 2015 and at the Pan-African parliament we have continued to advocate that, the women of Africa have been kept out of the political, social and economic life of our continent and that is a big mistake.

What we have done basically is to keep 50% of our population out of making their own input by creating religious, social and economic reasons why they cannot be allowed to go beyond the glass ceiling. So we are advocating that every African citizen has a role to play in our development.

What Africa is doing is simply keeping our women out of the mainstream decision-making work force of our continent.

We are more or less running with one leg tied behind our backs. I think that the time has come for us to harness all the resources that are available on our continent, including our human resources and this includes women who we’ve seen doing very well in many opportunities they’ve been given and we think they can do a lot more. So we are convinced they need to be empowered. So many religious and social factors have continued to hold them back.

The time has come for African leaders to open up the space and have their full participation and that is why at the Pan-African parliament, we have an annual women’s conference that we use as a platform to advocate for the empowerment of our women.

Famurewa: What about the traditional law making role of the parliament, give your thoughts on what the parliament needs to do and what we can expect in terms of the bringing out laws that the various member states will respect going forward.

Amadi: The role of the Pan-African parliament as a continental parliament is slightly different from the role of the national parliaments who of course determine what happens within the members of the Border States.

What we are trying to achieve is to be able to harmonize a lot of legislations in key defined areas especially in those areas which we are convinced that a national parliament with its own legislations cannot really cover effectively for the benefit of the continent. Issues of climate change, Intra-Africa trade: free movement of our people, goods and services across the continent and continental infrastructure.

So those are the issues the Pan-African parliament can look into and provide adequate platform going forward and I think it’s important we begin to build and strengthen institutions on the continents so we could have institutions that can intervene in the development process.

Famurewa: Let’s explore the concept of the Millennium Development Goals, the opportunity for this parliament to put out very clear targets for each of the countries in Africa. I think it can really encompass everything from human rights, to the economic policy etc.

Share your thoughts about the Pan-African parliament strategy – putting out very clear targets for everybody to abide by? Amadi: Yes, I believe the United Nations has put out targets for the last fifteen years, and are in the process of developing these targets for the next fifteen years. We at the parliament continue to put our input in that process.

But more importantly, the Pan-African Parliament is in the process of producing the Millennium Goals Barometer, where we can look at the various areas of healthcare, education, human rights, the empowerment of women, poverty elimination and be able to see how far our member states have gone.

This is just a basic part of our role as an advisory consultative body of the African Union. Famurewa: Let’s talk about some of the bigger challenges on the continent right now.

Terrorism is a growing problem, when you look at West Africa, East Africa, everyone is beginning to talk a lot more about this issue. Your thoughts about how the African Union can tackle it as a body.

Amadi: We’ve worked very closely with the Peace and Security Council of the African Union and we have also been able to, on our own, send fact finding missions to conflict areas in the continent from Sudan to Mali, to the crisis in Central Africa Republic, and even the ones in Congo DRC and we believe that part of the resolutions we have sent to the African Union have helped to guide the union in taking decisions on the way forward.

The most important things we need to focus on are the root causes of these crises across our continent and why we continually have these outbreaks of conflict.

Most of it comes from poor governance and violence. If we had adequate governance, we would be able to deal with the issues of poverty and unemployment on our continent. It is these unemployed youths that provide the man power that is required for conflict. There’s a lot of disenchantment in our member states.

There needs to be a proper platform for the redistribution of wealth, and resources, and opportunities on the continent.

So that every African citizen feels that he is part and parcel of the government and he is being provided for.

The wealth of our government remains in the hands of a few creating a lot of problems; there’s a lot of inequality we need to look at and our leaders need to address it as urgently as possible.

Famurewa: I want to talk about the issue of governance you highlighted; many will say that is at the heart of Africa’s problems – improving governance. Again I bring up that standard I suggested; perhaps the Pan-African Parliaments should begin to rank African governments, put standards out there and report on those that are doing well and not.

I think if a parliament comes together and begins to put out those rankings then perhaps we could begin to put a lot more pressure on those countries to improve governance. Amadi: Yes, definitely we’re working on it.

As I said to you, part of our advocacy for the African Charter on Democracy, Elections and Governance is also to set up a parameter that measures how much compliance there has been in various member states.

But, first and foremost, we want to push for the ratification- it’s critical that most member states need to ratify this very important document.

The pace of ratification is slow; we think more needs to be done. That’s why we have continued to advocate for that. A lot more needs to be done in the grass roots level to begin to get our people to participate in the political process.

What happened in Nigeria was a clear example that the people of Nigeria took a decision that this is what they’re looking for.

The issues in the last elections were clear: there were issues of corruption, unemployment, and the issues of inequality across the length and breadth of the country. People spoke out that they wanted change, that they wanted something different, and that’s what they came out to do.

When people begin to take ownership of their democratic process then we can have an effective and sustainable change that can be there for all times for our people. Famurewa: You make an interesting point of Africans taking ownership of the process for themselves. Thank you very much.