‘Our continent has decided where to go. And we have established the institutions to take us to this destination,’ according to the South African President Thabo Mbeki. He was speaking at the opening ceremony of the Pan-African Parliament (PAP) at its permanent seat in Johannesburg in September.
In its first five years of existence, the 265-member PAP will mainly serve in an advisory and consultative capacity to the African Union (AU). The AU’s 53 member states will each send five representatives drawn from national parliaments to the PAP, including at least one woman. In 2009, the Parliament will be given teeth: the power to make laws.
While the creation of a continent-wide legislature is undoubtedly historic, it has yet to elicit universal support in Africa. So far, only 46 African countries have ratified the assembly’s protocols. Fear of PAP intervention may explain why Côte d’Ivoire, Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC), Eritrea, Guinea-Bissau, Liberia, São Tomé and Príncipe, and Somalia have yet to ratify. Mbeki said Africans were looking to the Parliament to resolve their problems: ‘This includes putting an end to unnecessary wars which force Africans to live as refugees in their own countries.’ At present, the continent is pock-marked with conflicts. The actions of Arab militias against three ethnic groups in the western Sudanese region of Darfur have drawn extensive media attention recently. But the situations in Eritrea, Ethiopia, Côte d’Ivoire, Burundi, Rwanda, the DRC and northern Uganda are also fraught.
‘A wind of change is blowing across Africa. But the challenges are daunting,’ Julia Doily, an AU representative, told the assembly.