On 18th March 2014, A small gathering of protesters outside the buildings at Gallagher Park in Midrand, South Africa shouted “AU where are you? Down, down, Ethiopia down!” during the inauguration of the 10 years Anniversary of the Pan-African Parliament.
The protesters were members of the Ogaden-Somali and Oromo ethnic communities who live in Johannesburg, South Africa. They had convened to protest the actions of the Ethiopian government and massive human rights abuses inflicted over 20 years by Ethiopian troops.
Despite the fact that the police in Johannesburg had allowed these protesters to convene, the very same police decided to directly interfere with the protest. Under the Gathering Act No. 205 of 1993 the police gave permission to the protestors to convene at the Pan-African Parliament.
Attorney Ziyaad Patel explained. “I would like to state for the record, that the Johannesburg police department had provided for the Ogaden community to protest outside the Pan-African Parliament and particularly it states under clause( 2): ‘100 metres outside the Pan-African Parliament’. We have been pushed 500 metres away from the PAP. It is a clear sign that those who have given authority have decided to hide that these people have a legitimate case.”
This may have been a small gathering of voices. Nonetheless, these voices speak volumes of the utter hypocrisy behind the message propagated by the African Union, which states, “One Africa, One voice.”
Not only did the PAP refuse to receive the memorandum created by the Ogaden –Somali people, but they also asked them to re-schedule their protest, and failing that, pushed them as far away as they could from the center of the 10th anniversary celebrations.
The Pan-African Parliament (PAP) proudly boasts the slogan “The Pan African Parliament represents all the people of Africa.” Established in March 2004, by Article 17 of The Constitutive Act of the African Union, The Pan-African Parliament is one of the nine Organs provided for in the Treaty Establishing the African Economic Community.
This past week, the Pan-African Parliament commemorated its tenth anniversary under the theme “10 years of existence of the Pan African Parliament: Reflections on its roles”. Pan African parliamentarians are expected to represent all the peoples of Africa, and the vision of the PAP is well documented in a statement underscored by its president, Hon. Bethel Amadi.
Speaking specifically on the engagement of African governments with the youth, the President of the Pan African Parliament Hon. Bethel Amadi pointed out the grave gaps in governance on the continent. “Investing in youth education is the key to development in Africa. Regrettably our governments have not shown leadership in engaging the youth," he said.
During the Youth Dialogue, Dr Olawale Mayeigun noted that least two thirds of Africa’s population consists of young people aged 25 and below, yet unemployment among those with secondary education or above in Africa is three times higher than among those with similar educational attainment on other continents.
Despite the numbers being in their favor, young people are the least represented in the Pan-African Parliament. During the Youth Dialogue, Sindane, a student from University of South Africa, made this observation quite succinctly. "On tables in front me and behind me I see so many old people; it’s disturbing."
While one Member of Parliament valiantly tried to argue that youth is a matter of attitude and not age, it was clear that the young people who had the fortune to attend the PAP celebrations were not only outnumbered by older MPs but were also struggling to have their issues concretely addressed.
Sindane, the student from UniSA, put it best. “I am not trying to disrespect this sitting, but it should be about giving solutions and not problems".
DISREGARDING CRIES FOR HELP
If the Youth Dialogue was anything to go by, then the PAP is incapable of truly representing the vast majority of the people of Africa, despite having members drawn from national assembly in the various AU member states.
This is not just about 60 per cent of the continent anymore. It is also about a political decision by the Pan-African Parliament to disregard the cries for help by an ethnic minority in a country that houses the headquarters of the AU.
It is also about justice. The fact that many young people were unable to attend the 10th anniversary celebrations due to discriminatory policies that enforce visa requirements from residents and citizens of member states to travel to both South Africa and Ethiopia speaks to access and visibility, and being heard and taken seriously.
Ten years down the line, the Pan-African Parliament is not able to even give the time of day to African people who are unrepresented; yet it claims that through the parliament, all African people will be represented. This isn’t just about electing the right leaders at the National Assembly in each country, but about the AU and its different organs recognizing that it is indeed one of the last resorts that oppressed communities have to turn to. Failing this, the people of Africa may turn to the International Criminal Court.