Policy Brief 15: Strengthening the Pan-African Parliament to deepen democracy in Africa


The Pan African Parliament (PAP) launched in 2004, is struggling to transform from a toothless organisation to one that holds continental leaders and institutions accountable, strengthens democratic rights and help forge greater integration of African countries. The PAP is an unfortunate abbreviation, meaning “weak” in Afrikaans. The mandate, effectiveness and relevance of the PAP need to be urgently reviewed. For all intents and purposes, it appears that PAP has become a glorified debating society, holiday and shopping destination for the lucky representatives.

Among the nine objectives of the PAP was to promote democracy, human rights, the rule of law; and good governance generally, on the continent. When the African Union (AU) was formed in 2000, out of the old Organisation of African Unity (OAU), the Pan African Parliament was created to become the legislative arm of the new AU. It is envisaged in the PAP founding documents, Article 2 (3) of the PAP Protocol signed by members in 2001, that the institution will be the participatory and representative institution for ordinary Africans (PAP 2004, 2008a, 2008b). The PAP was envisioned to allow ordinary citizens, through their elected representatives, the parliamentarians, to have a say over decision-making at the AU. The PAP over time is intended to help integrate Africa closer.

Relationship between Pan-African Parliament and the African Union

In the current configuration of Africa-wide continental institutions, the AU is the executive branch. Its structures consist of the Assembly, which is the highest decision-making body, consisting of heads of states and governments. It can direct sanctions to errant member countries. The AU Commission is the secretariat with executive functions. The Assembly of heads of states and governments appoints the AU Commission Chairperson, which is the CEO and Accounting officer of the AU.

The Chairperson of the African Union is the ceremonial head, elected on rotation among the five regions of the continent for a one-year term by the Assembly of heads of state and governments. The AU Executive Council is made up of ministers designated by member countries who prepare proposals for the AU Assembly on five issues namely foreign trade, social security, food, agriculture and communications. It elects eight AU Commissioners, who are appointed by the AU Assembly.

The AU’s Peace and Security Council (PSC) is the standing decision-making body responsible for continental peace and security. The chairpersonship of the PSC is rotated on a monthly basis between countries, in alphabetical order of names of member states, with regular summits of heads of state and government.

How the Pan-African Parliament works

At the moment all African countries who are members of the AU are represented at the PAP. This means that representatives from undemocratic African countries – on the basis that they have had elections, even if phoney – are participating in the PAP. A better solution should be to set minimum democratic standards before accepted into the PAP. Nevertheless, currently, each member state sent five representatives to the PAP. Two members must be from the opposition. This is praiseworthy because it may help to inculcate the acceptance of opposition – which is almost never the case at country level, where sitting governments often see the opposition wrongly as the ‘enemy’.

Two of the members must be women. African political parties and governments and societies are notoriously patriarchal. So, this represents some change. The PAP has a plenary where decisions are made. The PAP must hold ordinary sessions at least twice a year. It has 10 permanent committees, ranging from the one on trade, customs and immigration to the one on monetary and financial affairs, carrying out its work. The weakness of the PAP is that it has only advisory, consultative and debating roles. Its decisions are not binding. There is not even an obligation on the AU to consult the PAP on issues – or to it least gives the PAP’s recommendations a formal hearing.

Very little of the PAP’s policy proposals, recommendations and resolutions appear to have been implemented by African heads of state in the AU nor has any mechanisms to enforce implementation. A major weakness of the PAP is that it has no legislative powers. Last year, former Mozambican President Joachim Chissano (2016), urged the AU to give the PAP legislative powers, so it can play the kind of watchdog role it is supposed to. Not surprisingly, African leaders are not keen to do so.

Many African leaders clung to the concept of sovereignty whereby peers should not interfere in others’ domestic affairs – however undemocratic. At the AU’s June 2014 summit in Malabo, Equatorial Guinea, the heads of state adopted a proposal to give the PAP the required legislative powers. To have these powers, a simple majority of the AU’s members will have to ratify this yet less than half a dozen countries have done so.

Current PAP protocols do not explicitly give the PAP democratic oversight over all AU activities (Demeke 2004). The PAP needs to be empowered to do so. It can prepare resolutions and reports on the state of democracy, human rights and good governance on the continent. It should be given the powers to launch inquiries into specific wrongful actions not only of AU activities but also those of country heads of states and governments.

The PAP’s budget is drawn up by the AU. The PAP needs to have control over its own budget, which it currently does not have, undermining its independence. Most of both the AU and PAP budgets are funded by donors – which undermines the independence of both. African countries must fund both institutions themselves.

How the Pan-African Parliament can boost democracy in Africa

The PAP must scrap all colonial-era undemocratic laws, such as “insulting” the president. Such laws are frequently used by African leaders and governments to repress legitimate opponents. It must also scrap all other undemocratic laws on the statutes of African countries – and bring the laws of all participatory countries to democratic norms. Depressingly, many African countries hold elections, which are either manipulated by sitting leaders or governments, or the opposition suppressed. The PAP must declare such elections illegal. PAP representatives regularly observe African country elections – however, have said very little about obviously rigged elections.

The PAP must be empowered to elect the AU Commission chairperson – rather than the Assembly of heads of states and governments. Currently, the Assembly of heads of states and governments appoints the AU Commission Chairperson. Appointments to the PAP staff must not be like in many African countries based on patronage, links to the governing leader and party, and ethnicity, but on merit. The 5 PAP members assigned per country should not be nominated by their parliaments, but directly elected by ordinary citizens in their countries. The PAP must have the powers to veto Assembly of heads of states and governments decisions – if these are not democratic, and not in the public interest of ordinary Africans.

The PAP must have the powers to veto Assembly of heads of states and governments decisions – if these are not democratic, and not in the public interest of ordinary Africans. African civil society is absent in the PAP – this has to change. The PAP Protocol and the PAP Rules of Procedures do not include the participation of civil society in PAP processes. The PAP must not only partner closely with African civil society, it must also set the tone for parliament and civil society cooperation across Africa. Sadly, African leaders, governments and legislatures are often hostile to civil society.

African civil society – with their ideas, organisations and community footprint can provide the PAP with the capacity to come up with new policies, implement and monitor current policies. Civil society partnership with the PAP could also help mobilise broad-based citizen support (UNECA 2011) for PAP policies, decisions and laws (if they are in the public interest of course). Civil society is also vital to monitor rights breaches by national leaders and governments and report these to the PAP for action.

In most African countries there is a wide gap between elected representatives and ordinary citizens they represent (Afrobarometer 2004; Bratton, Mattes & Gyimah-Boadi 2004; Nijink, Mozaffer & Azevedo 2006). The PAP must ensure this is not the case between it and ordinary Africans. Very few ordinary Africans are aware of the existence of the PAP; let alone what it does.

The PAP will have to do much more to make itself more visible. African civil society can play a vital role in doing this. The PAP must hold regular and genuine public consultations to provide information about their activities and to give citizens an opportunity to voice their priorities. There needs to be “clear consultation mechanisms for African citizens prior to all of the decision-making states” of the PAP (2007). Currently, no provision has been made for African citizens to have the right to directly complain and petition the PAP if their rights had been violated in their countries. This is a major short-coming which must be rectified (Demeke 2004). Holding the AU, African country leaders and governments accountable will be the best way for the PAP to market itself to ordinary Africans.


Ideally, both the PAP and the AU should be restricted to African countries that are democratic, rather than to all African countries. The PAP must work towards continental integration of African countries based on democracy, gender equality and human rights-based governance. The PAP must urgently be given legislative powers. Civil society, democratic activists and the media must put pressure on the African Union, national African leaders, governments and parliaments to ensure their countries ratify protocols to give the PAP long overdue legislative powers. The PAP needs the powers to be able to pass laws that are not only accepted by heads of state but also implemented in individual countries. It needs to be able to monitor compliance by African leaders and governments to agreed decisions, policies and actions and be able to intervene at a country level to protect human rights, defend democracy and freedom.

The PAP is also crucial in promoting the idea of opposition parties – as crucial to development, democracy and unity; rather than as ‘enemies’, which is the way most current African leaders view the opposition. The PAP policy of including opposition parties and women as country representatives should be replicated in African country parliaments, governments and governing parties. African governing parties must appoint opposition members to offices in national parliaments, Cabinet and public offices, rather than marginalise them. Like their societies, most African political parties are patriarchal.

The PAP will have to dispel the mistaken belief in “sovereignty” whereby African leaders do not interfere in the affairs of neighbours even if the latter oppress their people. The PAP will have to promote the ‘sovereignty’ of African people – meaning their democratic rights, not that of leaders who equate the protection of the ‘sovereignty’ of pursuing their own self-interest using public funds to that of the protecting the ‘sovereignty’ of their countries. When the PAP was launched in Addis Ababa in 2004, Irungu Houghton, of Oxfam warned that the credibility of the continental parliament will “rest on the issues it espouses, the causes it champions and the changes it brings to the lives ordinary people across Africa” (Mutume 2004).


African Union (2001) Protocol to the Treaty Establishing the African Economic Community relating to the Pan-African Parliament. African Union, Adopted at Sirte, Libya, 2 March

African Union (2007) Audit of the African Union. AU Publications, Addis Ababa, December

African Union (2014) Revised Pan-African Parliament Protocol as of June 2014 [Protocol to the Constitutive Act of the African Union relating to the Pan-African Parliament. African, Union, Adopted by the Twenty-Third Ordinary Session of the African Union Assembly, held in Malabo, Equatorial Guinea, June 2014

Afrobarometer (2004) The Afrobarometer Network, ‘Afrobarometer Round 2: Compendium of Results from a 15-Country Survey’. Afrobarometer Working Paper No. 34, IDASA, Cape Town, IDASA

Bratton, M. Mattes R. and E. Gyimah-Boadi, (2005) Public Opinion, Democracy and Market Reform in Africa, Cambridge University Press, Cambridge

Joachim Chissano (2016) Former Mozambique President Joachim Chissano speech to the Pan African Parliament Second Session. Midrand, May 2016


Demeke, T. (2004) The Pan-African Parliament: Prospects and challenges in view of the experience of the European Parliament. African Human Rights Law Journal 4 (1), pp. 53-73

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Gumede, W. (2013) Remaking the African Union. Policy Brief, Foreign Policy Centre, London

Gumede, W (2012) Time for a radically new African Union. Open Space, Open Society Institute of Southern Africa (OSISA), September

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Mutume, G. (2004) Pan-African Parliament now a reality – A sign of democratic maturity. Africa Renewal, April


Nijzink, L.N., Mozaffer, S. and Azevedo, E. (2006) Parliaments and the enhancement of democracy on the African Continent: An analysis of institutional capacity and public perceptions, Journal of Legislative Studies, 12(3-4), pp. 311-35

Pan-African Parliament (2007) Submission from Civil Society Organisations to the Pan-African Parliament on the Proposal for Continental Government, Midrand, May 14

(http://www.afrimap.org/english/images/research_pdf/CSO_Sub mission_PAP_May2007.pdf)

Pan-African Parliament (2008a) Pan African Parliament Contribution to the Grant Debate on the African Union Government. Submitted to the Ninth Ordinary Session of the African Union Summit, Accra, Ghana, 1-3 July, (Ref: PAP/P.7/WP/52/07)

Pan-African Parliament (2008b) Report of the Committee on Rules on the Transformation of the Pan-African Parliament. Pan-African Parliament, Midrand, PAP/C.9/CRPD/RPT/37/08

Pan-African Parliament (2004) Rules of Procedure of the Pan-African Parliament. Adopted by the Pan-African Parliament on 21 November, Midrand, South Africa

Scully, M.R. (1997) The European Parliament and the co-decision procedure: a reassessment. The Journal of Legislative Studies, 3(3), pp. 58-73

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William Gumede is Associate Professor, School of Governance at the University of the Witwatersrand. He is Executive Chairperson of Democracy Works Foundation and former Deputy Editor of The Sowetan newspaper.

During the anti-apartheid struggle, Gumede held several leadership positions in South African student, civics and trade union movements. He was a political violence mediator and area coordinator for the National Peace Committee during the multiparty negotiations for a democratic South Africa and was seconded to South Africa’s Truth and Reconciliation Commission. He is the author of several number 1 bestsellers. His more recent books include: Restless Nation: Making Sense of Troubled Times (Tafelberg); and South Africa in BRICS – Salvation or Ruination (Tafelberg).

To read publications by William Gumede on our website please click here.

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