Pan-African Parliament Fights Highlights Tension Between States

Pan-African Parliament members came to blows recently in a debate over who will be the next president of the Parliament. PAP initially formed to unite the continent and help create peace and security amongst the states. However, recent meetings saw physical and verbal altercations between politicians.

The PAP is part of the African Union and comprises 235 members, with five members from each state. These members make up three central bodies, the plenary, bureau, and secretariat. The plenary is the main decision-making body and is headed by the president of the Parliament. The bureau is the leadership body consisting of the President and four Vice-Presidents. Each member of the bureau represents a different region in Africa. The secretariat helps run day-to-day parliament activities. The secretariat body consists of a Clerk, two Deputy Clerks, and support staff. Ten permanent committees, separate from the central bodies, examine different aspects of life in Africa.

The Parliament met on May 31 to elect a new president but talks quickly dissolved. The Southern African bloc is insisting their candidate should be elected to end the “dominance of other regions.” In contrast, other regions think the president should be chosen via the usual elections. The Southern bloc proposed the president position be rotational, but other blocs argue that the best candidate should be elected no matter the region. Within the first hour of the meeting, members were kicking, punching, and running at the podium before the speaker was able to calm everyone down. 

The fighting emphasizes the divisions within the Parliament and between the states themselves. Critics have called the incident an embarrassment to the PAP. Lasiba Teefu, a political analyst at the University of South Africa, stated, “we have been experimenting with liberation for almost 60 years now, and we are no closer to unity”. When the Parliament was first formed, the goal was to eventually create a single government with the PAP serving as a legislative branch.

However, critics and proponents of PAP point out the lack of legislative power of the Parliament. An agreement from 2014, the Malabo protocol, would give the parliament legislative power, but out of the African Union’s 54 member states, only 11 have ratified the agreement. The lack of action from member states keeps the Parliament as “nothing more than a glorified talk shop” and a show pony for country leaders to allow them to claim to work for unity between nations without actually doing anything. The fighting and lack of action from PAP bring into question the usefulness of the organization and the possibility of creating a single government within Africa meant to help countries achieve stability and peace in their regions, help establish trade deals domestically and internationally, and help generate legislature for the overall betterment of the African states.

PAP needs to establish transparent and fair rules for electing parliament presidents that ensure each region is represented and their ideas and concerns are heard. Without creating an understanding between the regional blocs or giving the parliament power, the organization does not help the AU or any member states in a meaningful way and threatens more political turmoil than unity.