The Pan-African Parliament (PAP) sincerely seems to believe its Cinderella days could be drawing to an end. A decision on its long-delayed transition from talking-shop to continental legislature is finally on the agenda at an African summit.
African leaders meeting in Ethiopia on Sunday and Monday will have an amended protocol about the PAP’s future in the stack of resolutions before them. If they choose to support it, they can start to retrieve the parliament from the political and geographical margins in Midrand where it is currently languishing. It turns 10 next year and its speaker, Bethel Nnaemeka Amadi of Nigeria, is hoping Africa’s presidents and prime ministers will allow it to transform from being a consultative and advisory body to a legislative one.
"We are advisory but no-one seeks our advice; we are consultative but no-one consults us," Mr Amadi told a briefing on Friday in Addis Ababa where foreign ministers are meeting ahead of the January 27-28 African Union (AU) summit.
"The question is, really, is Africa ready? I think the time has come and it will be a big leap forward for African people," he said.
South Africa’s Maite Nkoana–Mashabane, the minister of international relations and co-operation, was pretty optimistic on Friday.
"We think it will go through this time. It’s not disputed by anybody and no-one opposed it last time," she said, referring to the AU summit last July when the reform of PAP was put off. There were bigger issues at stake, the paramount one being the fight to elect a chair of the AU Commission. South Africa’s Nkosazana Dlamini-Zuma won that battle but a lot of important business, like the status of the PAP, was deferred until now.
Even if the amended protocol gets the nod in Addis, it will have to be ratified by at least half of member states before its provisions are binding.
Even after that hurdle is scaled, a revamped PAP will not have the powers to frighten even the most dictatorial African regime. Its powers will be restricted to passing "model laws" that it deems to be desirable by all the AU’s 54 member states. Free movement of people, goods and services, and reforms to boost intra-African trade, are the two first priorities, Mr Amadi said.
A reformed PAP will have more work and therefore more sessions — currently it only sits for six weeks a year. It will still have five members per country but they will be full-time and no longer able to sit in their national parliaments as well as the pan-African one.
The PAP’s budget currently stands at $10m a year but members’ salaries are paid by their national governments, a major saving.