By Percy Zvomuya
Civil society organisations and the Pan African Parliament (PAP) should realise that they “are not in contradiction” and that their relationship should be “complementary not adversarial”, Gertrude Mongella, president of the PAP, said this week in an address at the parliament’s first consultative dialogue with African civil society organisations.
Mongella lamented the high levels of suspicion between civil society organisations and their governments and said the PAP and NGOs should work together to “oversee those who govern”. Mongella, a former Tanzanian minister and diplomat, encouraged civil society organisations to work together and use the institutional framework already in place within the PAP to “give voice to the voiceless”. She noted that the PAP was working on establishing a civil society dialogue unit to further improve relations.
In her address Mongella also invited civil society organisations to explain the proposed African Union to their constituents before the next African Union Summit, which is scheduled to take place in Ghana in June (see sidebar).
Bheki Moyo, a researcher with TrustAfrica in Dakar, Senegal, noted that the AU economic, social and cultural council is the official platform for civil society to contribute to the work of the AU and its affiliated bodies, “but some contributors at the conference felt that the council was under-resourced and did not have the capacity” to deal with the continent’s civil society organisations. One delegate complained that “AU people” don’t respond to emails and are “always away on summits or engaged in other business”.
It was because of these constraints that a civil society organisation mechanism based in Midrand is being considered to manage interactions with AU institutions located in South Africa. However, certain participants expressed concern about creating more facilities; Vitalice Meja, a programme director at the NGO, Afrodad, was wary of the proliferation of “facilities that were meant to facilitate facilities”.
In his address Moyo argued that the PAP is building relations with NGOs, and said that its president, for example, meets annually with large civil society organisations. He also noted that the PAP already deals predominantly with academics, think-tanks and research institutes, “most of whom provide a research function to Parliament”. By way of example Moyo noted that the Institute for Security Studies works especially closely with the PAP’s committee on cooperation, international relations and conflict resolution.
Although Moyo noted that there was room for NGOs to participate in the PAP and interact with other AU institutions, he also argued that dialogue should be opened up further, observing that the African Peer Review Mechanism is “not complete until there is [civil society organisation] participation”.
Moyo noted that in their engagement with AU institutions, NGOs should not be relegated to a junior partnership, but engage as “equals”.
In an unusually frank comment, Lyn Chiwandamira, a senior international relations officer with the PAP, noted wryly that many civil society organisations “have moved upstream” and are alienated from the people “they purport to represent and that, in fact, “political parties are more connected to the ordinary people than some” civil society organisations except, perhaps, those in HIV/Aids and food distribution programmes.
To stunned laughter Maurice Tadadjeu of the African Civil Society Organisation muddied the waters by observing that the continent’s faith in the AU and its organs is misplaced. “Let us not make an assumption that the AU is functional,” he said, adding that we are not to “expect an institution that is not working to have functional organs”.
However Irungu Houghton, Pan-African policy adviser at Oxfam, said sweeping generalisations were not useful. He said the AU had managed to confront the rest of the world in a “unified way” to negotiate on matters relating to debt cancellation, with the United Nations organs such as the Security Council and more equitable trade relations between Africa and the rest of the world.
Houghton added that the AU has managed to raise the bar on “common policy standards” on health and agriculture spend and is building capacity to deal with trouble spots such as the Democratic Republic of Congo, Core d’Ivoire and Somalia. “It has not been a success everywhere,” he admitted. For instance, increased rates of economic growth are not translating into substantive poverty reduction and the quest for peace on the continent continues, Houghton said.
He said the real challenge was not one of relevance but of creativity. Institutions such as the AU and the PAP still lacked sufficient transparency and accountability. Moyo concurred, noting that “the AU is working, although there are serious challenges”. For these grandiose continental designs to work resources need to be pumped in, something that is yet to happen, he said.
This consultative dialogue was facilitated by the Southern Africa Trust.
There can be no US of Africa without citizenship
Africa NGOs have called for extensive consultations before the African Union sets in motion the process that will result in the formation of the United States of Africa, a body that is envisaged to be operational by the 2015.
Foreign affairs ministers from the continent are meeting in Durban, ahead of the heads of state meeting in Accra in July, where they will discuss proposals for the AU government. “The public have not been involved in the AU’s conversation about continental governance … We cannot have a United States of Africa without citizenship,” argued Janah Ncube, a programme officer at the African Agency for Cooperation and Research Development.
Ncube expressed concern that this project is going ahead without extensive consultations. “African peoples should be engaged. We should have a union of peoples, not that of governments,” she said. Ozias Tungwarara, a director at AfriMap, said that although a decision was made at the AU summit in January to carry out consultations “we have not seen anything of this” in the trade unions, churches or other grassroots people’s movements.
Pan African policy adviser at Oxfam Irungu Houghton hailed the idea for a United States of Africa as “the start of a great debate” that would affect how Africa engages the rest of the world in matters relating to defence, foreign and trade policy. He also expressed concern that the public’s views had not been solicited.
“African governments must explore the immediate implications and opportunities a United States of Africa poses for ordinary citizens, particularly these affected by the denial of human rights, impoverishment and injustice,” he said.
Similarly, Emmanuel Akwetey of the Institute for Global Governance said Africa stands to gain a lot from political and economic integration, especially on the international scene. But he also said the process will pose difficulties, drawing comparisons with the Europeans, who are still building the European Union more than five decades later. —Percy Zvomuya
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