Speakers of Africa’s parliaments met last week in Abuja, in an inaugural parley, under the aegis of Conference of Speakers and Heads of African Parliaments (CoSAP), during which far-reaching observations and ways out of some of the perennial challenges facing the continent were proffered. JOSHUA EGBODO reviews some takeaways from the confab
A common ground?
From President Muhammadu Buhari to Speaker of Nigeria’s House of Representatives, President of the African Development Bank, Dr Akinwumi Adesina and more, the messages were anchored on the global economic impact of the COVID-19 pandemic and how it affected Africa in terms of food security and other basic human necessities.
These were said to be threats to democratic governance with violent military take over of power on the increase, insecurity and the needed efforts to ensuring speedy recovery, as well as expected deliberate plans by countries in Africa for shock absorbability in the face of possible future pandemics of similar nature and other identified challenges.
The confab was themed: “Strengthening Legislative Leadership for Africa’s Development”, with an objective amongst others, to deliberate on socio-political and economic progress in Africa, and build a fairer world for all mankind, and in the opinion of many, stakeholders were seemingly on the same page on the issues involved.
Buhari ‘s message
As the event commenced last Monday, President Muhammadu Buhari, who formally declared it open, in his remarks, noted that the COVID-19 pandemic was a global health crisis that created devastating effects on the world economy.
Represented by Vice President Yemi Onsinbajo, the president said “These impacts are also being felt by the food and agriculture sector.
“While the supply of food has held up well to date, in many countries, the measures put in place to contain the spread of the virus are starting to disrupt the supply of agro-food products to markets and consumers, both within and across borders.
“The sector is also experiencing a substantial shift in the composition and, for some commodities, the level of demand”.
On his part, Speaker of Nigeria’s House of Representatives, Femi Gbajabiamila said the present insecurity and rampaging uncertainty across the continent represent the single biggest threat to the well-being of our children.
He, however, acknowledging the huge success achieved by the continent during the scourge of the COVID-19 pandemic’ said the onus was on the parliament to set the terms of national development and ensure that government priorities reflect the most pressing needs of the citizens.
“We live in a time fraught with potential and danger, and every governing decision we make and every action we take has the potential to substantially remake our world for good or ill. This is, in effect, one of those defining historical moments. And when, as is inevitable, history delivers its judgment, we will either be remembered for doing the hard and necessary things that make for progress and prosperity or be reviled for squandering the opportunity of a generation…
“Africa has come of age. Yet there is no gainsaying that we are far from achieving the highest potential that we are able. Across the continent, democracy is under threat and in retreat. From Sudan to Mali, Guinea and Chad, elected governments have been usurped by military juntas, overturning years of progress and the hopes of millions”, he said.
AfDB President’s perspective
President of the African Development Bank, Dr. Akinwumi Adesina who virtually participated in a keynote address, explained that the continental bank has designed a $1.5 billion emergency food production plan with a view to supporting African avert the looming food crisis.
“The Russian war in Ukraine has added another challenge to what we are facing in Africa. The dependency of African countries on Russia and Ukraine, the war disruption has added to the looming food crisis in Africa.
“Africa should be decoupled from food import dependency. Africa must feed itself and do so with pride. The economic recovery must be felt in day to day lives of people. The recovery must create jobs and recover jobs lost, focus on MSMEs, the recovery must focus on youths and tackle debts of Africa.
“The recovery will require close partnership with executive arm and legislative arm of government. Regardless of the challenges facing our country, be the solution providers, drive for an economic recovery that’s felt by all”, he said, and noted that “COVID-19 pandemic affected the growth and development of Africa as well as the rest of the world”.
The event saw plenary sessions, during regional economic councils and heads of parliaments brainstormed on lifting the continent out its lingering identified challenges.
At the end of the conference, the heads of parliament’s recommended amongst other things, strong punitive measures for unconstitutional overthrow of governments. “African parliaments must stand together to resist military coups in all parts of the continent and jointly advocate for more punitive measures, collectively as defenders of our democracies”, one of such recommendations on the communique read.
The conference asked for the enactment of debt management legislation. “African countries should institutionalise mandatory regular publication of public debt reports. This should also be legislated requiring approval from legislature on any borrowing, as well as limits and properly documented plans for borrowing tied to specific projects and programmes. African parliamentary leadership must ensure proper oversight to proactively reduce Africa’s debt profile”.
There was also the call to mitigate aggravation of food insecurity, as it said “African parliamentary leadership should ensure enhanced agricultural productivity and building of internal capacity for food production to eliminate Africa’s import dependency. Therefore, legislation is required to enhance farmers’ access to inputs and credit”, and also support expansion of social protection and safety nets to achieve equitable growth.
“There is a need to develop mechanisms to increase coverage and scope of social protection to aid citizens who live in poverty, especially those affected by the recent pandemic. Legislative interventions are needed to ensure that across our continent, we cater to the needs of the poorest and weakest. This should also include the provision of stimulus packages to enable MSMEs recover from adverse effects of economic shocks”, the conference submitted..
The conference further called for the building of a resilient health defense system for the next pandemic, saying countries must “develop quality health care and pharmaceutical industries and infrastructure for domestic production of health products. Parliaments must legislate to foster advancement of healthcare technology through proper budgetary allocation”.
The seeming agitation that engaged pundits in much debate in the aftermath was that on the need to strengthen African parliaments for effective oversight, with possible parliamentary exchange programs to be facilitated across the continent to foster shared learning, and to accelerate demand for debt cancellation. “Debt cancellation from international financial institutions is required to enable African countries to invest more revenue towards social protection programs. CoSAP should press for this as a collective entity”, it stated.
With far reaching and lofty recommendations beyond those highlighted above, analysts have raised questions on the extent to which these could be translated into tangible and realistic programs and policies.
Convener and host Speaker of the inaugural conference, Femi Gbajabiamila of Nigeria’s House of Representatives offered some hopes as the event winded down with a media conference during which he attempted to provide answers to some of the pertinent questions.
In specific response to the question of “endemic corruption” in Africa, and demand of the conference for debt cancellation for countries in the continent at the same time, Gbajabiamila agreed that corruption was a deep rooted problem, but argued that CoSAP as fresh initiative was an ongoing project, and that at future engagements, corruption alone could be the subject to address. In the call for debt cancellation, he assured that creditors would be made to understand the need to make parliament’s part of negotiations and agreements, as institutions which appropriate the monies.
Gbajabiamila who decried the huge debt profile of Africa, said it was stunting the growth and development of the continent, but assured that the resolution of the conference will be fully implemented by way of legislations to give Africa an edge.