By Thoboloko Ntšonyane

MASERU- The Conference of Speakers and Presiding Officers of the Commonwealth (CSPOC) Africa Region has joined the bandwagon calling for the ratification of the

African Continental Free Trade Area (AfCFTA).

The conference was convened last week hosted by the Parliament of Cameroon, with the theme ‘African Parliaments and the Agenda 2063’.

This landmark trade deal is reported to have a transformative force of tapping into the African population running in excess of over 1.3 billion.

Opening the conference Cameroon’s Prime Minister, Chief Dr. Joseph Dion Ngute told the delegates that their presence reflects the cordial ties and perfect cooperation that exists between African commonwealth countries, which share a fundamental cultural value. Given the determination of the Heads of State and Governments of the African Union and the relevance of Agenda 2063, he indicated it is up to the Presiding Officers to remain confident and to believe in their potential more than in the past.

“In your capacity as representatives of the people, whose aspirations and hopes you represent, and in your dual role as legislators and monitors of public action, your role is decisive for the implementation of Agenda 2063.”

One of the Lesotho delegates who attended this conference, the Deputy Speaker of the National Assembly, Hon ‘Matlhohonolofatso Tšepang Tšita-Mosena said this biannual conference for Presiding Officers allows them to convene and share experiences and agree on a common agenda.

According to the Commonwealth Parliamentary Association (CPA), “Commonwealth Parliamentary Association connects, develops, promotes and supports Parliamentarians and their staff to identify benchmarks of good governance and the implementation of the enduring values of the Commonwealth.

The CPA is an international community of around 180 Commonwealth Parliaments and Legislatures working together to deepen the Commonwealth’s commitment to the highest standards of democratic governance.”

Mosena also noted that the countries’ experiences were shared and recommendations made for a “collective effort towards Agenda 2063”.

She added: “Lesotho will benefit by rekindling its commitment through presiding officers paying more attention to the related issues and advancing parliamentary intervention and oversight over the executive towards acting on agreements.”

Asked what the highlights of the conference were, Hon. Mosena said “it being my first event, I was pleasantly surprised at the varying ages of speakers who seem to represent all age groups. I used to think they were more on the elderly side.

The representation of women was much [more] pronounced with female speakers who attended more in numbers than male speakers. I also found it interesting that Speakers present motions and actually debate on issues just as they run parliaments because they were definitely representing their parliaments.”

She continued: “This says they always have to be abreast of key policy and legislative issues, not expect MPs and the executive to be the only influencers. It was a very enriching experience where formally and informally we discussed challenges and opportunities of parliaments, and navigated on how to move forward. The expansion of networks was also much appreciated.”

The conference has called on the countries to ensure the ratification and domestication of the AfCFTA Agreement and also ensure its harmonization with other sub-regional agreements and treaties while also mainstreaming gender in the process.

The Agreement is envisaged to fuel the economic growth and foster cross-border collaborations amongst the African States through trade opportunities.

Whereas many African countries have signed the AfCFTA agreement, few have ratified but have not domesticated. Lesotho is among those that have signed and ratified the Agreement but have not domesticated.

It will also be recalled that the African Union (AU)’s running theme for 2023, is “Year of AfCFTA: Acceleration of the African Continental Free Trade Area Implementation “.

Other topics of discussion were issues of climate change, addressing the challenge of food security and parliaments securing public trust.

The conference ran from July 17th to 21st, and attracted 18 national Branches of the Commonwealth Parliamentary Association (CPA) Africa Region. Participants were drawn from Botswana, Cameroon, Eswatini, Ghana, Kenya, Lesotho, Malawi,Mauritius, Mozambique, Namibia, Nigeria, Rwanda, Seychelles, Sierra Leone, South Africa, Tanzania, Uganda, and Zambia.

Additionally, several Nigerian State Branches and the South Africa’s Provincial Legislatures attended as observers.

The Lesotho delegation was led by the President of the Senate and the Deputy Speaker.