African lawmakers defend democratic rule

HARARE - Not so long ago, Africa’s coup plotters and autocrats felt confident they could get a pass from their fellow rulers elsewhere on the continent.

In recent months, however, as military officers and authoritarian presidents from Guinea to Niger and Madagascar are discovering, Africa is saying “no” — and starting to mean it.

In November — as the crisis in Guinea finally seemed on the verge of a peaceful resolution, but yet another coup was festering in Niger — African legislators gathered in Abuja for the first summit to step up pressure against coups.

In a resolution on the prevention of unconstitutional changes of government, from November 10-13 the first ever Africa Legislative Summit proclaimed a policy of “zero tolerance” for military coups and other violations of democratic standards.

The summit, organised by the National Institute for Legislative Studies (NILS) and running under the theme: ‘Emerging Legislatures in

Africa: Opportunities and Challenges’, demonstrated commitment to good governance in line with African Union Charter of Democracy, Elections and Good Governance, and as evidenced by collective action at the regional and sub-regional levels to counter illegal attempts at undermining legitimate governments.

In a report presented last week to the Zimbabwe Parliament by Masvingo Urban Zanu PF MP Daniel Shumba on the summit, African legislators strenuously rejected military coups on the continent.

Jacob Mudenda, the Speaker of the National Assembly of Zimbabwe, led the delegation to the first Africa Legislative Summit, which also comprised Shumba, Jonathan Samukange, Jessie Majome and Monica Mutsvangwa.

The summit was attended by delegates from 34 African countries.

“It was particularly noted that African legislatures have accepted elections as the way of conferring legitimacy to govern and that Africa legislatures are increasingly becoming viable, credible and independent institutions,” Shumba told the National Assembly.

“The role of AU, regional and sub-regional parliamentary bodies in fostering constitutionalism on the continent was highly commended and should be sustained.”

The summit “encouraged leaders at all levels to strive to sustain the recent gains in the entrenchment of democracy in Africa in order not to roll back the gains of democracy.”

The process has taken a decade to unfold and legislators were unequivocal in their condemnation and rejection of unconstitutional changes of government.

Legislators called for “continued regional collaboration towards tackling of Africa’s numerous security challenges, as individual country solutions are considered inadequate, going by the recent example of Mali.”

“In this regard, other relevant measures include networking among parliaments, legislature-executive interface, collaboration between the ruling and opposition parties and other national stakeholders, and non-politicisation of religion and ethnicity.”

The summit, Shumba said,  encouraged legislators to endeavour to secure their financial independence to avoid being stooges of the executive arm of  government.

Parliaments, political parties, court systems, civil society organisations and other institutions that could defend democratic practices must be strengthened, Shumba said.

“The summit enjoined legislators to actively engage with constituents and other stakeholders, including civil society, religious organisations, traditional institutions and the private sector to effectively execute their mandates and gain confidence of the citizenry,” Shumba said

“The summit called for democracy to be strengthened as an important step towards overcoming developmental challenges; at the same time, efforts must be made to promote inclusive economic growth, provide infrastructure, create jobs and enhance the security of citizens.”

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