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July 17, 2004
The Location of Parliament is the capital of a Nation

The controversy surrounding the move of the Pan African Parliament to SA is not unique to Africans. The decision to move the PAP to SA can be changed. It is not too late to ensure that Addis Ababa remains the seat of the African Parliament. Below are some examples of how states choose the seat of the parliaments, and the significance they attach to that choice.

The 1998 decision to locate the Scottish Parliament at Holyrood caused a lot of distress in Scotland, especially because the scottish people showed clear preference for Calton Hill. As a result of the decision, certain Labour Party MPs also broke ranks to accuse one of their own, Labour Secretary of State Donald Dewar, of having decided against Calton Hill from the very start in order to punish Scottish Nationalists.

Surveys done showed that no one in Edinburgh thought that Holyrood was a better site than Calton Hill. Most thought Holyrood was probably the worst location for the parliament. The location of the Scottish Parliament at Holyrood was seen as an attack on the Scottish National Party, and an "affront to the people of Scottland, who were never consulted". Even the Labour dominated Edinburgh City Council voted for Calton Hill.

Last year when Australian Prime Minister John Howard decided to stay in Sydney instead of the seat of the Australian parliament, Canberra, he was accused of undermining the importance of Australia's capital, and he was told it was his obligation to live there. The choice for the location of the Australian Parliament House at a Canberra was a hardfought compromise to find a site between Sydney and Melbourne, and that choice actually made federation possible. It served as an administrative and political centre that could satisfy competing interests of powerful Melbourne and Sydney.

Canadian Parliament, Ottawa
The case of the Canadian Parliament is even more revealing. Ottawa straddles the border between French Catholic Canada and English Protestant Canada. When it was chosen by the Queen of England, they were other grand cities in Canada, yet the rivalry between the two peoples had caused wars. After Montreal, the first capital of unified Canada, was burned by rioters, the capital rotated annually between Toronto and Quebec City. In order to reduce the expense of this back and forth gyration, the parliament decided to choose one city. The competition between Kingston, Toronto, Montreal and Quebec City was so fierce, they petitioned the Queen Victoria to intervene and break the impasse. On 31, December 1857 she designated Ottawa as the Seat of the Canadian Legislature. After the initial shock and some unpleasantness, the Ottawa compromise held.

The choice of Brussels for the capital of the EU is somewhat similar to Addis Ababa...they sort of grew into the obvious choice for capitals. The world fair of 1958 put Brussels on the European map and after that NATO and the EEC set up their headquarters there. The city never looked back, and despite attempts to move EU institutions around, it has remained the administrative capital of the EU. If EU heads of state attempted to do to Brussels what the AU heads have done to Addis Ababa they would never cease to hear about it. Shall Africans meekly stay silent while Addis Ababa is discarded?

When Washington DC was chosen for the Seat of Congress, the USA was all of thirteen colonies and it was a fair choice geographically. Moreover, although General George Washington made the choice, there was consultation. The states of Maryland and Virginia both offered land and George chose the one because the US Congress asked him to. Of course the US is now much larger, but the capital has enough prestige that no one is going to move it anytime soon.

Africa Hall, Addis Ababa
Addis Ababa has been the capital of Africa, on account of the historic significance it held for Pan Africanists all over the world. The founding of the OAU happened there, and even the vast majority of Assemblies of African Heads of State have taken place there. The famous Pan African colors that adorn the majority of African flags, made even more famous by Marcus Garvey and Bob Marley, were first flown in what is now Ethiopia in 1798. The Pan African Parliament was inaugurated in Addis Ababa. Are we to discard all this history? Why?

Morever, Africa is shaped like a bent human arm, and Addis Ababa sits at the elbow, right in the middle, part of the central belt, and roughly equidistant for Senegalese brothers and sisters as it is for South Africans brothers and sisters. Putting the capital of Africa in SA will put it a little further away for most Africans. Should't they have a say? It is cheaper to get to Addis Ababa from most places in the AU, than it is to get to SA. If the PAP were moved to Dakar, Senegal, it would be unfair to South Africans.

The Strategic Location Argument
In terms of strategic military advantage, Addis Ababa sits inside a vast natural fortress, towering above the plains of east Africa. It a hard and huge granite and basalt mass, forming a great oval mountain, with its main ridge toward the east. The chain is 650 miles long from north to south, and seen from the shores of the Red Sea, it looks like a vast wall, between 8,000 and 11,000 feet high. The massive chain is mountainous only on the eastern side, which means that it is easy for central and east Africans in the interior to occupy and hold, and extremely hard to take and reinforce if you are attacking from the coast.

The geography made it hard for the Portuguese, French, and British to mount an effective invasion against Ethiopia. They tried to invade Addis Ababa by capturing Congo, Uganda, Sudan and Kenya first. But in order to occupy the African interior, colonial armies had to capture the coastal regions first (it took them nearly 400 years). In otherwords, Ethiopia was the safest place to be if you had to avoid getting colonised, thanks to the geography of Africa. It also allowed Ethiopian leaders to prepare impressive counter offensives from a position of relative safety.

The largest invasion via the ocean route was mounted by the Italians, and it ended at Adowa in 1896. The Italians lost. Years later Mussolini had to occupy Eritrea and Somalia first, in order to stage an effective attack against Ethiopia, with planes and tanks. Still, without a solid foothold in the African interior, he couldn't hold Addis Ababa for long. No place in Africa has such good natural defenses.

According to Alexander Bulatovich, a Russian diplomat stationed in Addis Ababa in the 1800s, the French and British armies decided against attacking from the coast after observing the spectacular destruction of the Italian army by the Ethiopians. He writes that in order for the French and British to strike at Addis Ababa, Lord Kitchener had to capture Khartoum first, and link up with the troops of Major MacDonald, who was to advance from Uganda, in order to capture Ethiopia. The Russian diplomat states that the French also equipped several expeditions to try and take Addis Ababa from "...the West, from French Congo". The Marchand expedition advanced toward the Nile, to link up with the other French expeditions of Clochette and Bonchamps. Neither France nor Britain succeeded.

So then claims by African brothers and sisters who think SA is strategically safer than Addis Ababa in the event of a foreign invasion, they need to rethink their position. In fact SA's coastal terrain is remarkably vulnerable like most coastal regions. However, SA can be protected only by counter attack from the interior (the apartheid situation reaffirmed this). Brothers and sisters in SA should rise up to the challenge once more, and save Africa from suffering one more unnecessary indignity, the loss of Africa's true capital, Addis Ababa. Call Mbeki, fax him, tell him Addis Ababa is your first choice, as it is for all Africans. How many anti-apartheid initiatives were crafted in Addis Ababa? Addis Abeba was there when South Africans needed it, now it needs South Africans to fight for it.