On March 18, President Museveni in a keynote speech to the Pan African Parliament harangued Western leaders, whom he likened to “wolves on earth”, for meddling in Africa’s internal affairs.
The abrasive address revealed the president’s pent-up fury, including over the violent ouster and eventual killing of Libyan leader Muammar Gaddafi in 2011.
At the time of his removal, Gaddafi’s largesse meant Libya picked more than half of the African Union’s bills and thus the biggest portion of its parliament seated in Midrand, South Africa. Other large contributors included South Africa, Egypt and Nigeria.
The 2011 Arab Spring destabilised Libya and Egypt, whose long-serving presidents were both toppled, reducing their generous contributions to AU.
It was this Western onslaught --- in Libya’s case where the Euro-American Nato enforced a no-fly zone to buoy anti-Gaddafi rebels on the ground in the face of direct disapproval by African leaders --- that Museveni branded “contemptuous”.
“The meddling has not stopped… Imagine African presidents on African soil, on an African mission, with the African Union’s mandate, to be ordered by NATO not to land [in Tripoli]. This is all tharawu (contempt),” the president said, making a clarion call for Africans to strengthen their capacities to insure the continent’s future against re-colonisation.
Pan-Africanism is Museveni’s pep talk; he is a juggernaut of sorts in pushing the agenda that African problems, especially those with political and security tinges, must be solved by Africans and not foreigners.
And this was the line of argument he reinforced in his Tuesday speech to the Pan African Parliament, which had before him and his peers a different pressing demand: For the institution to transform from an advisory to full legislative entity.
PAP was inaugurated in March 2004 under the African Union Constitutive Act as one of the continental bloc’s nine organs and its members drawn from national parliaments have the mandate, among others, to popularise AU policies, promote good governance and democracy.
Ironically, Mr Museveni made no reference to the parliament’s demand for more authority yet delegates had prior to his speech been upbeat he would be their influential emissary.
Did the president’s speech writer then misfire or did the Ugandan leader spurn PAP’s request on purpose?
Dokolo Woman MP Cecilia Ogwal has headed Uganda’s representatives to the South Africa-based parliament since October 2011, was not as before encouraged after listening to Museveni in Pretoria.
In an interview with this newspaper just before his speech, Ms Ogwal said she was “happy” and expected Museveni to make a supportive proclamation and later “lobby other African heads of state and governments to fast-track the transformation of the Pan African Parliament from an advisory to a legislative institution”.
This would be something akin to the European parliament, which the Lisbon Treaty made more powerful and people-oriented. There are ongoing diplomatic discussions to reform the African Union, and with it, a proposal to have members of the Pan African Parliament elected directly through universal adult suffrage, and not electoral college as the case is presently.
In Kampala, Foreign Affairs officials said Uganda would in principle support empowerment of AU and its institutions because as Spokesman Fred Opolot put it, “our position is that Africans should solve African problems.”
Except of course the persuasive rhetoric is not matched with action. For instance, Uganda always makes its mandatory Shs800 million or so annual contributions to AU close to or at the end of the bloc’s every financial year that runs from January to December.
The country has narrowly survived sanctions --- including exclusion from participating in the Union’s activities --- because under the bloc’s law, countries can only be penalised if they default for two consecutive years.
Estimates by the Ministry of Foreign Affairs show that Uganda spends Shs288 million in direct contributions to PAP. But what is the relevance of this Pan African Parliament to the country or its citizens?
Uganda sends five people, selected among national MPs, to PAP to voice the country’s position on the continent’s foremost salient issues. Those representatives get a lot more in stipends than in the service of home parliaments, according to individuals familiar with remunerations of both houses.