Another day of chaos as deeply divided Pan-African Parliament votes for new president


Chaos erupts in the Pan-African Parliament. (Screenshot via Parliament of the Republic of South Africa)

Chaos erupts in the Pan-African Parliament. (Screenshot via Parliament of the Republic of South Africa)

  • Southern African delegates are at loggerheads with their eastern and western counterparts.
  • Southern Africa is demanding a presidency on a rotational basis, while the eastern and western delegates want a vote-based system.
  • Dramatic scenes in the Pan-African Parliament are bad for the image of an institution still trying to maintain relevance, says one analyst.

Within minutes of starting the session meant to elect a new president, the Pan-African Parliament (PAP) erupted into more chaos on Tuesday. At the centre of it was a letter believed to be sent from the African Union to the PAP over reforming the contesting voting procedure.

For the second day in a row, the southern African delegation refused to go ahead with the vote, calling for a rotational presidency. Delegates from west and east Africa demanded that the vote go ahead.

“The ad-hoc committee hopes that today we members of parliament are going to conduct ourselves as we should and… continue because we are here, representing our respective countries, but also the people of Africa,” said committee chairperson Jaynet Kabila.

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The ad-hoc committee is charged with organising and managing the election.

“I do not agree with going ahead with these elections unless we follow what has been written to the clerk of this parliament,” said Zimbabwe’s Barbara Rwodzi, also a member of the ad-hoc committee.

Economic Freedom Fighters leader Julius Malema tried to rise on a point of order, but when Kabila refused to open the floor to debate, mayhem ensued. Rwodzi and Malema are two of the most vocal members of the southern Africa caucus.

MPs left their seats, fighting over the podium. At one point, several MPS were all trying to grab the mic off the speaker’s podium. They pushed and shoved each other around the dais and would not take their seats. When Namibia’s McHenry Venaani tried to read the letter in question, he was shouted down.

The fourth ordinary session of the continental body has been marked by deep division between regional blocs vying for the coveted position of president. The PAP is led by a bureau, which consists of a president and four vice presidents, each representing a geographical region.

The southern African caucus, of which South Africa is a member, is calling for a rotational presidency, which will give each region a fair chance. The southern and north African blocs are outnumbered by the east, west and central blocs, meaning a weakened position in a system that relies on the number of votes to secure the presidency.

On Monday, heated exchanges in the assembly led to outright violence, and a failure to hold an election.

African National Congress chief whip Pemmy Majodiena threatened to lay charges of gender-based violence against Senegalese politician Djibril War. He later apologised on live television to Majodiena.

Regional divisions

Ahead of the vote, regional divisions remain deep. The southern African delegation released a statement condemning what it called a “brazen attempt” by the eastern and western caucuses to undermine the PAP’s unity. They accused the caucuses of taking advantage with the financial perks that come with heading the PAP’s bureau.

“The two caucuses have been using their majority in the continental parliament to ensure only their candidates occupy the Presidency and when the time comes to account they use the same majority to shield them from accounting for how they spent the funds of the PAP,” said ANC veteran and leader of the South African delegation, Amos Masondo.

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The southern Africans say they will not go ahead with the vote unless the legislature agrees to a rotational presidency, which is in line with the African Union’s own principles for other bodies. The southern caucus is fielding current acting PAP President Chief Fortune Charumbira from Zimbabwe as its president.

But the western and eastern caucuses intend to push ahead with the vote. The Malian delegation, who are fielding Haidara Aichata Cisse as preferred candidate for the Western caucus, accuse the South African delegation of using their home-ground advantage to intimidate foreign delegates.

Last week, Malema threatened to kill a member of the Malian delegation.

By Monday, Malema told the SABC that he and Mali’s Ali Koné had smoked a peace pipe, but added that the video going viral failed to see the threat Koné had levelled at him.

“It was a reaction. When a person says to me I will kill you, I can’t give him roses,” said Malema.

The east African caucus is backing Albino Mathom Ayuel Aboug from South Sudan as its presidential candidate.

A struggle for relevancy

While the PAP has no ability to make laws, it is meant to enact the regulations of the African Union in each country. However, since its inception in 2004, the institution has struggled to assert its relevance as an AU body. The dramatic scenes from a day earlier may have gone viral, but they have done little to help the credibility of an already “fragile” institution, said Steven Gruzd, who heads of African Governance and Diplomacy programme at the South African Institute of International Affairs.

“I’ve never seen it degenerate in public like this,” said Gruzd, who has monitored the PAP throughout its establishment. “I don’t think is a very good image for an institution that is struggling to maintain relevance.”

The footage of well-dressed parliamentarians in scuffles may go viral among the public, but it also raises questions among taxpayers who foot the bill for delegates travel, stipends and other expenses during these sessions, said Gruzd.

“The shocking scenes of violence at the #PanAfricanParliament today tarnish the image of this honourable institution,” tweeted AU Chairperson Mouusa Faki Mahamat. “I appeal to all parliamentarians to recover their composure and comply with the rules and procedures of the institution.”

This session of the PA started on 21 May and is set to end on 4 June, with the election of a new bureau one of its key objectives.

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