Cameroonian, Martin Chungong is the first African to head the Inter-Parliamentary Union (IPU). As the new Secretary General he heads an organization of 164 member states.
DW: Mr Chungong, you are the first African Secretary General in the history of the IPU. What are you going to do differently compared to your European predecessors?
Chungong: I am deeply honoured to have been elected to this position as the first African. What I want to do is to build on the reputation and legacy the IPU has established for itself as a forum for dialogue between parliamentarians and parliaments around the world on global issues. I want to bring to the IPU my experience of 21 years, and I would like to promote greater diversity within the IPU. I want to be more inclusive in my approach to issues, which means that more priority would be given to groups that have been more or less marginalized within the IPU. I want to reach out to small parliaments so that they can feel a sense of belonging in the Inter-Parliamentary Union.
The IPU is a forum where parliamentarians can share their experience and their knowledge. Is there something that you want members of parliament to learn from their African counterparts?
I think that African parliaments are not doing badly when it comes to gender equality in politics. I would imagine that the average of women's representation in parliament in Africa is higher than the global average which is 2.1. We have countries like Rwanda that have 56% women's representation in parliament and this is something that all the parliaments around the world can learn from. We also have some experience in resolving conflicts and reconciliation, for example in Siera Leone. In Kenya in particular, the parliament was at the forefront of the reconciliation exercise and the establishment of a new constitution.
Many Africans I have talked to, share a notion that their parliamentarians draw large salaries but do little for their country. What would be your advice to African parliamentarians?
I think it is a question of perception. It is a question of educating the public to tell them what responsibilities parliamentarians have to fulfill. There has always been the argument that in Africa, when you are a parliamentarian you have to meet the material needs of maybe a whole village or province. So I believe that it is important for parliamentarians to educate the public and tell them exactly what their role is and how they can perform that role with the resources that are available to them. Of course, there is always going to be that issue of the amount of money and benefits paid to parliamentarians when you compare that to the income of other layers in society. In Africa that gap is always gaping and people are always quick to speak on it.
What makes you confident that Africa can gain a stronger voice for democracy and human rights?
I think that the world as they say has become a global village. There is a spirit of emulationthat is prevalent across the world today and African parliaments cannot stay out of this context. They will have to work in a way that is consistant with global trends. So I would not think that parliaments in Africa are lagging behind. We have seen some concrete examples of how parliaments have driven different processes in their countries. I mentioned Kenya. We have Uganda that is very active when it comes to maternal and child health. It is important to use these success stories to get other parliaments to emulate the good stories that are coming out of Africa.
There are several conflicts flaring up in countries like South Sudan and the Central African Republic. How do you want to strengthen parliaments so they can take on a stronger role in bringing these conflicts to an end?
At the end of the day, parliament is the pre-eminent forum for mediation and striking compromises between the diverging interests in society. We have always said that politics should take place in parliament and not on the streets or on the war front. So we are thinking of providing support to the transitional parliament in the Central African Republic so that these parliaments can actually play a prominent role in reconciling the various warring factions. The same thing applies to Southern Sudan.
Martin Chungong takes up his position as Secretary General of the Inter-Parliamentary Union (IPU) on June 30, 2014. He served in the Cameroonian parliament for 14 years before joining the IPU in 1993.
Interview: Daniel Pelz