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ECOWAS and AU parliaments: The need to change

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By Madi Jobarteh

As currently constituted Africans do not vote for members of their regional and continental parliaments. The AU and ECOWAS parliaments do not have legislative powers, nor do they have the necessary oversight functions to monitor and hold accountable their respective institutions and the governments of member states.

The protocols establishing both the ECOWAS Parliament and Pan-African Parliament only gave them powers and functions of consultation, making recommendations and proposals and promoting the policies and programs of the AU or ECOWAS. This means these parliaments are essentially inconsequential and irrelevant to the very lives of African people. They are rather bodies that embellish and protect the interest of the heads of state and the officials at ECOWAS and AU headquarters!

A parliament is the foundation of democracy and governance in any modern and civilized society. Every society has an apex decision making body which derives its legitimacy, authority, and powers from the members of that society. The question therefore is, from who do the ECOWAS and AU parliaments derive their legitimacy, authority, and powers? Certainly not from African citizens! While the members of these parliaments are derived from the individual national parliaments, they are still irrelevant and ineffective so long as they carry no legislative and oversight powers to monitor and take binding decisions on member states and institutions.

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On the other hand, the progress registered in a similar political union and its parliament is the European Union. The members of the EU Parliament are directly elected by EU citizens themselves (see the announcement poster). The EU Parliament is a co-legislator with the European Council which is the equivalent of the ECOWAS Authority of Heads of State or the AU Assembly of Heads of State. This means the EU Parliament is not subordinate to the EU Council or the heads of state.

In Africa, both the ECOWAS and AU parliaments are secondary at best and irrelevant at worst to the heads of state. For this reason alone, the ECOWAS and AU parliaments are totally ineffective and inconsequential. This is why these parliaments make no impact on the situation in Africa. They are completely sidelined by the heads of state in issues of paramount importance to African people. For that matter the ECOWAS and AU parliaments are a total waste of resources and a liability to Africa. This must stop.

The time has come for Africans to stand up to demand that the legal and institutional frameworks of AU and its regional blocs to change for the better. The continental and regional parliaments must be repositioned from being at the periphery to be brought to the front and centre of decision making and governance in Africa. They should have definitive powers of legislation and oversight to monitor and enforce their decisions and laws. Until these reforms are undertaken African heads of state shall continue to create treaties, protocols, and charters only to flout them with impunity while also disregarding regional and continental institutions.

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For example, African governments do not only violate or disregard ratified treaties but also, they are notorious for ignoring judgments of the African Court on Human and Peoples Rights, the African Commission or the ECOWAS Court and other similar bodies. So long as member states can disregard these instruments and institutions as they like then this continent shall not enjoy peace and stability necessary to bring about development and strengthen democracy and good governance.

African civil society and its development partners should therefore engage in robust advocacy to compel these regional blocs and the AU to reform. The current state of these regional and continental bodies together with national governments pose insurmountable obstacles to progress on the continent. It is precisely because of this weak institutional setup at national, regional, and continental levels that political instability through military coups and constitutional coups are widespread. These reforms are therefore necessary to prevent political instability and rather strengthen governance systems. These reforms will significantly engender a culture of transparency and accountability without which democracy and development will remain weak in Africa.

Africa has no shortage of instruments, institutions, knowledge, and resources. The widespread poverty, instability and corruption across Africa which are characteristic of poor governance environment are due to the untenable structure of the AU and its regional blocs. Instead of these bodies become real architects and safeguards for democracy and development they have been rendered ineffective because they are subservient to individual interests such an individual presidents and governments. For that matter AU institutions only aid and abet bad leadership and poor governance thanks to their structure and foundation.

The current trajectory of the world makes it imperative and inevitable that Africa restructures and repositions itself if it will survive and flourish in this unkind world! To achieve this, it requires that African instruments and institutions at both continental and regional levels are made modern, democratic, and pragmatic. In their present construction, the AU and its regional blocs are irrelevant, weak and a liability to African progress and governance.

Time to reform.

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