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.
“It (PAP) helps members to understand and deliberate on common issues affecting Africa and make relevant resolutions,” said Uganda Parliament Spokesperson Helen Kawesa. In the half year of the 5-year tenure of the current Pan African Parliament, debates and resolutions have focused on climate change, infrastructure deficits and intra-Africa trade, land grabbing by foreign nationals and firms, violence against women and discouraging export of unprocessed products.
But most of these determinations have remained on paper since the parliament is advisory, and cannot hold any of the 54 member countries to account.
Uganda has shown earlier signs of default not just in regard to PAP but the AU which Kampala flags as the appropriate vehicle to offer solutions to the continent’s innumerable problems.
It has over the years signed 12 and ratified only six of AU’s total 19 treaties, official records show, raising questions about the country’s commitment to be held accountable on internationally agreed benchmarks.
MP Ogwal says Uganda’s failure to, for example, ratify the instrument on democracy and human rights has prompted them to play hide-and-seek when sensitive discussions on related topics come up in the continental Parliament.
“When these issues are being discussed we sneak out because of embarrassment,” she said.
Inadequate knowledge among Ugandans on the parliament’s work adds to a basket of impediments in lobbying for or galvanising public support for some of its priorities, according to insiders.
When the Organisation of African Unity in 2000 transformed into the African Union, the continent was faced with the question of how to cooperate beyond Independence campaigns now that anti-imperialism struggles liberated almost all member states?
Paul Etiang, a former top Ugandan diplomat to the OAU, said the 1980 Lagos Plan of Action aimed to move debate on the continent from seeking autonomy from colonial masters to joint post-independence economic initiatives, among them agriculture and food safety and infrastructure development.
34 years later, on Tuesday in South Africa, President Museveni flagged road/railway development together with ideological disorientation among top 10 bottlenecks for Africa to surmount to progress.
Africa’s issues evidently rotate on a cyclical axis, with only the faces – and rarely the character - of players changing. The continent is arguably the least integrated in the world. Financial transactions and flights to different parts say, Anglophone and Francophone countries, have first to be routed to Europe before conclusion.
The continent’s leaders should address such millstones encumbering movement of people and capital before indulging in debates of whether PAP should be an advisory or legislative institution, said Mr Etiang.
“The present status of the Pan African Parliament should continue and from there ideas will gradually come up for a reform roadmap,” he said. “If you hurry it [the transition], it is likely to be misunderstood and it collapses.” Nearer home, the ambitious plan of East African political federation has remained wet in the wings over suspected mutual suspicion among regional leaders.
Because African countries are sovereign and there is not even a political federation at regional level, dissenters argue that discussions on empowering PAP are premature.
Uganda in Pap
The five Ugandan representatives to PAP have been active, with four serving its executing wing, the Bureau. They persuaded for a debate, the first of its kind, for members to debate and recognize Uganda’s Golden Independence anniversary in 2012.
On March 12, PAP paid tribute to Ms Cecilia Ogwal, the outgoing head of the Ugandan delegation, for her “outstanding” contribution to the continental House. PAP passed a number of resolutions on climate change and food security, land grabbing, democracy and good governance and violence against women.
No African country, however, is obliged to enforce the determinations because the parliament is just an advisory institution. President Museveni in a key note to its members on March 18 declined to comment on the institution’s agitation to transform to a full legislative body with power to bring the 54 member states to account.