From the military coups in West and Central Africa to civil strife in Ethiopia and Sudan, disputed elections in Zimbabwe, to climate change-induced hunger, analysts say the African continent’s challenges seem overwhelming for its regional communities tasked with providing solutions.
They believe a united Pan-African Parliament, or PAP, can make greater inroads in solving the continent’s problems although it needs to be reformed and given more powers and authority.
Nairobi-based legal and editorial consultant, Hassan Kulundu says PAP can play a more effective role if granted executive powers to implement decisions. Kulundu said PAP should understudy the European Parliament as a process of gaining insight into how it can play a more influential role on the continent.
"PAP has great potential, but individual PAP member states should cede some ground to the body to give it authority and be willing to abide by the decisions made by the legislative body,” he said.
In a paper titled "Transforming the Pan African Parliament," published by the Institute of Security Studies in 2009, then-senior researcher, Saki Mpanyane, argues PAP members should be elected directly by a universal voting system instead of being seconded by national parliaments.
This will give the parliamentarians full terms instead of their tenure coming to a premature end due to African countries' different election cycles, Mpanyane said. "Where a legislative body’s decisions carry legal force, this often enhances the role and impact of the institution," he said.
Unity has been outlined as a key element in coming up with a powerful PAP, however, lack of consensus among African states is viewed as a major stumbling, block with the continent’s leaders struggling to reach a consensus.
Jethro Mpofu, a political lecturer at the Wits University in South Africa, where the PAP is headquartered says, "'Pan-Africanism' remains a slogan and a buzzword, not a living philosophy that is truly practiced."
Mpofu said, "African unity should not remain an elite ideology amongst politicians and intellectuals but should percolate to ordinary Africans." But lack of "teeth" is seen as its major weakness.
The parliament only has powers to formulate model legislation; however, its member states are not compelled to emulate. Adopted in 2001, formed through the Abuja Treaty of 1991 and the Sirte Declaration of 1999, the parliament’s mandate includes facilitating the implementation of AU policies, creating awareness of AU’s objectives, policy aims, and programs, and promoting human rights, among other issues.
Tapiwa Mashakada, a former PAP member from Zimbabwe, says the lack of resources is another key challenge facing the parliament together with the regional language differences.
"PAP is not yet a fully-fledged parliament with legislative powers. It can only advise or recommend to the AU," Mashakada said.
Kehbuma Langmia, a Kenyan professor at Washington-based Howard University, told VOA that problems are not unique as they occur in other places like Europe and Asia, but says the continent’s response is most critical.
"The continent lacks selfless leaders like Nelson Mandela, who will not grab power for themselves but work for the good of their countries," Langmia said. "Most of our leaders think only about their stomachs instead of the future of the nations they lead."
Langmia blames the lack of unity among the continent’s leaders and the continental legislature — seen last year as regional factions battled for control during the body’s election of its current president, Fortune Charumbira — but also blamed foreign powers for maintaining a “divide and rule” approach to the continent.
Chaos rocked the PAP elective ordinary session in Midrand, South Africa, last year when southern African representatives called for the implementation of the protocol of rotation of the presidency, a policy proposed by the African Union while their West and North African colleagues wanted the election to go ahead with nominated candidates from any region.
The election was delayed for some days as voting was stopped with Zimbabwean MP Barbara Rwodzi leading a revolt that saw her grab the ballot box on election day, insisting on the regional rotation of the presidency.
In West Africa, the Economic Community for West Africa, ECOWAS, the political and economic grouping of 15 countries, is currently addressing seven coups in the region, with July’s military takeover in Niger dividing the bloc. To protect their stay in power, the military juntas which recently took over in Mali, Niger and Burkina Faso are posing a serious threat to ECOWAS after forming an alliance declaring they will unite to defend any of the three countries that may be invaded by a West African regional force.
This, observers say, might jeopardize any plans that ECOWAS was contemplating to forcefully restore constitutional order in Niger.
Elsewhere in the region, the Economic Community of Central African States, or the ECCAS, recently convened to tackle Africa’s latest coup in Gabon, which saw the ousting of President Ali Bongo Ondimba in August.
Disputed elections in Zimbabwe are threatening cohesion within the Southern African Development Community, SADC, after the bloc’s observer mission cast aspersions on the electoral outcome, concluding the polls did not meet regional and international standards. Mpofu says SADC especially has chosen to protect ruling parties, most of them liberation movements such as the Zimbabwe African National Union-Patriotic Front, or ZANU-PF, in Zimbabwe.
"Regional blocs should justify their existence by putting African populations first before ruling parties or lose relevance to soldiers that are popularising coups as means of negotiating power," Mpofu said.