Africa And Aboriginal Tuesdays: Pan-African Parliament Aims To Bring In Grassroots
Africa is about to establish its first ever pan-African parliament. Within 30 days a single pan-African parliament is due to come into force.
But while the African Union (AU) hails the move, it admits there is a lot of work to be done before the newly established parliament is up and running.
"This is an extremely important step for us," AU spokesman Desmond Orjiako told IRIN. "It will enable all persons to have a forum where they can air their views.
"This is the first body to be set up and allow them to make an input into how they are governed," he said from the AU headquarters in Addis Ababa.
KEY GOVERNANCE BODY
As yet the parliament - which will have five members from each country - has still to find a home. Libya, Egypt and South Africa are all vying to host it. A decision is expected to be made early next year.
The parliament - which is based on the European parliament - will also become a key governance body of the AU and play a critical role in shaping the future of the continent.
It will also play an important role in the controversial "peer review" system, whereby African leaders hold each other accountable for their leadership.
But AU officials say they are keen to avoid the pitfalls that have often beset the European parliament by the differing opinions of national parliaments.
"The pan-African parliament will be a full legislative body," Orjiako said. "Each member state will elect its representatives based on elections in each country."
"But it will only have consultative and advisory powers for the first five years," he added. "It will not be able to make laws in the first five years.
"We are trying to avoid the problems faced by similar parliaments by having this five year experimental period."
The representation of each member state must also reflect the diversity of political opinions in each national parliament, he said.
The pan-African parliament will work in close cooperation with the parliaments of the regional economic communities and the national parliaments of member states.
It will hold annual consultative forums with these economic communities and national parliaments to discuss matters of common interest, Orjiako said.
The AU is keen to ensure that the parliament is not a toothless body - reminiscent of the Organisation of African Unity (OAU), which was finally dissolved last year.
"It will eventually make laws and coordinate laws for the whole continent and its decisions will override national parliaments," Orjiako explained. "You will have to abide by its laws."
At its heart, according to the AU, is ensuring "grassroots" involvement by ordinary Africans in the laws that affect their future.
There are 10 key bodies that make up the AU, of which the parliament is one of the most crucial. A Peace and Security Council will be able to intervene to prevent crimes against humanity in African countries. And a Court of Justice will have jurisdiction over member states, while a Central Bank will coordinate a single African economic policy.
Lack of financial resources has often been at the root of the many problems faced by the defunct OAU, but Orjiako played down fiscal hurdles.
By its sheer size - some 30 million sq km - and a population of 811 million people, the AU believes the continent will be a global powerhouse.
It also aims to tap the enormous African Diaspora - more than 80 million Nigerians live outside the country alone.
But the continent's gross domestic product of US $612,916 million is dwarfed by the combined debt of Africa - a colossal US $305 billion. And already, the AU has inherited more than $40 million in debt from its predecessor.
Orjiako says that funding for the parliament will come from AU member states, but he acknowledged that the AU might need support from the international community.
"Our partners are interested in African democracy and will support this system," he said.
© UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs 2003
Note: This article first appeared at the IRIN News website
Tuesday, November 18, 2003