The decision to suspend the business of the Pan-African Parliament (PAP) following this week’s skirmishes raises questions about whether the dream of continental unity and integration is achievable or is just another paper covenant.
The PAP suspended a vote to select a new president on Tuesday following days of scuffles and discontent over the voting system.
The dispute pitted the Southern African caucus against those from East and West Africa, with the former refusing to go ahead with the vote unless the process was reformed to a rotational presidency.
Previous PAP presidents have come from East Africa (Gertrude Mongella of Tanzania who served from 2004-2008); Central Africa ( Idriss Ndele Moussa of Chad, 2009-2012); West Africa (Bethel Nnaemeka Amadi of Nigeria, 2012-2015); Central Africa (Roger Nkodo Dang of Cameroon, 2015-March 2021).
Zimbabwe’s Chief Fortune Charumbira is acting president while a substantive head of the continental parliament is being looked for.
The powerful position of president is currently decided by the number of votes attained by each candidate, with the incumbent heading up the PAP bureau that is responsible for the management and administration of the continental parliament.
The bureau consists of four vice-presidents, whose seniority is decided by the number of votes attained.
The current bureau's mandate expired in May, and the West and East African caucuses accuse Charumbira of using the delay to hold onto power. Charumbira is the southern African caucus' presidential candidate.
East Africa is pushing the candidature of South Sudan’s Mathom Ayuel Aboug while Haidara Aichata Cisse of Mali is West Africa’s preferred presidential candidates.
The southern African caucus is, however, contesting Cisse’s eligibility, citing Mali's domestic politics where the AU this week suspended the country following a military coup in that country.
The PAP has a vital role to play in the implementation of the objectives and principles enshrined in the Constitutive Act of the AU, particularly with regard to the protection of human rights, consolidation of democratic institutions, popularisation and promotion of good governance.
Its objectives include, among others, acting as an institution for strengthening a sense of solidarity and for building a common destiny among the peoples of Africa, as well as facilitating cooperation among the AU’s eight Regional Economic Communities (RECs) and their parliament.
The parliament, which is made up of five representatives from each of the AU’s 55 member states, has, among others, powers to examine, discuss or express an opinion on any matter, either on its own initiative or at the request of the AU Assembly of Heads of State or other policy organs.
It also has powers to work towards the harmonisation or coordination of the laws of the member states, as well as to promote the coordination and harmonisation of policies, measures, programmes and activities of the RECs and the parliamentary fora of Africa.
However, the events of the past few days raise questions about the ability of the PAP to act as a beacon of continental unity and cohesion.
They have left many observers questioning the ideals of having a united Africa and the envisaged African Economic Community are at all achievable if the very gatekeepers can not see beyond their narrow regional and national interests.