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18 March 2004
Continental Parliament Elects Gertrude Mongella the Leader of Africa

On the Inaugural Session of the Pan African Parliament, representatives from all over Africa have elected Gertrude Ibengwe Mongella president to lead Africa into a new era of unity and peace. The parliament elected four Vice Presidents: Franca Van-Du'Nem, Mohammed Lutfi Farahat, Loum N. Nelounsei Elise, and Jerome Sacca Kina Guezere. The election of the Vice Presidents was presided over by President Gertrude Mongella.

Negotiations among interested parties to choose a leader went on for weeks before the opening of the session. Mongella seemed to be the overwhelming choice of many in a field of many strong presidential candidates, including Abraham Ossei Aidooh, Frene Ginwala and Sayed Angelo Beda. On the floor she was nominated by members from Nigeria and Sierra Leone, and had the backing of most political parties and states representatives.

The Chair of the Assembly of Head of States, Joachim Chissano called a vote even after Angelo Beda, the last candidate to hold out, conceeded in favor of Mongella. The concession by Angelo Beda, who has served as Speaker of the Sudan Parliament, caused cheering, clapping and drumming of desks, as members streamed out of their seats, weaving among the desks towards Gertrude Mongella for victory hugs and impromptu dancing, stopping en route to shake the hands of the Ghanaians and Sudanese members who had conceeded.

Ms. Mongella won with 166 votes, with 21 Against and 13 Abstantions. In the speech after her election Mongella said she had been positively shocked and humbled by the vote of confidence from the members.

In her statement Mongella said, among other things:

"I humbly take this position knowing that in the Constitutive Act of the African Union, the African people have resolved to achieve greater unity and solidarity to defend sovereignty, territorial integrity and the independence of its members.

The African people have also resolved to accelerate political and socio-economic integration of the continent. The inauguration of the PanAfrican Parliament is a sign of democratic maturity in Africa. The OAU as we knew it did a wonderful job for the liberation of Africa. We are moving now, taking that along with us and - particularly if you take into consideration of African culture, we are story tellers, we keep our histories - OAU will remain with us as a foundation as we move on to be the Africa Union.

In doing so, the newest thing which was not in the AU is the African Parliament where the voices of people will be represented from all corners of the continent, by the voices of the members of parliment, men and women.

For those who know me, if I don't say what I'm going to say now they will wonder whether I have lost my mind. I want to say to my sisters in Africa, the struggle we have started for many years - abolishing slavery on this continent along with men, abolition of colonialism, dismantling of apartheid, we are now in a Union where we can see the practical implementation of gender equality.

And this has come together because we have worked together. If you count the men in this gathering they are more than the women. I think the change has been more on the men's side than the women's side. They have supported this election. Our presidents have made resolutions in the Maputo summit to push the gender equality on the African continent.

I just want to say that - for men and women - these principles, the partnership between men and women, the struggle for peace on the African continent, will still remain the guiding principles in my heart as I execute my duties as the president of the Pan African Parliament."

President Mongella now becomes the focus for the hopes of Africans all over the world. Her diplomatic and leadership skills are going to be challenged over the course of the next five years, especially by members of the Assembly of Heads of States and Government, and by the entrenched bureaucracies of various African institutions, especially the AU Commission, and governments unwilling to accept the requirements of African unification.

She has to raise the profile and power of the Parliament vis a vis the states, raise the prestige and authority of the Presidency, lead domestic and international initiatives, and turn Africa into a respected and prosperous state. She is going to need a lot of good will and public support in order to succeed. Although she needs to handle the Heads of the States with kid gloves, she cannot let them continue to undermine peace and integration.