For almost 30 years, AWEPA has been a pioneer in implementing parliamentary capacity building programmes in Africa. The ideology of this organisation, established for and by parliamentarians, is rooted in the struggle against apartheid.
In 1984 the ‘Association of West-European Parliamentarians for Action against Apartheid’ (AWEPAA) was founded by President, Dr. Jan Nico Scholten (NL), Hon. Donald Anderson (UK) and Treasurer Pär Granstedt (Sweden). This first Executive Committee’s goal was to mobilise politicians in democratically elected European parliaments to end apartheid. The organisation grew quickly from a small group of members in 16 national parliaments and in the European Parliament in September 1985, to some 1000 members by the early 1990s. Parliamentarians passed laws that facilitated effective sanction policies, monitored the implementation of these laws by enforcing accountability. AWEPAA’s involvement contributed to the elimination of apartheid and the occupation of Namibia.
After the apartheid regime was overthrown in South Africa, AWEPAA shifted its focus. With advice from its African partners, AWEPAA focused more on promoting democracy, peace, human rights and democratic governance in many African regions. In 1993, AWEPAA was renamed ‘The Association of European Parliamentarians for Africa’ (AWEPA) and grew to some 1500 members.
The following is a brief timeline outlining AWEPA’s historical progression and development.
1980s – 90s
AWEPAA undertook many fact-finding missions and regularly liaised with the leaders of UN-recognised liberation movements. Several leading personalities like Archbishop Desmond Tutu were invited to European capitals to speak with parliamentarians and others.
AWEPAA mostly addressed its natural allies and opponents, i.e. fellow parliamentarians and governments. An exception was made in 1989 when South Africa´s international financial situation was jeopardized due to its debt. In addition to calling for parliamentary and government action, AWEPAA appealed on the main banks involved to refrain from pardoning debts and loaning money to South Africa.
From its beginning, AWEPAA has supported sanctions in regard to the South African occupation of Namibia. AWEPAA’s 1986 European Parliamentary Conference focused on the problems within Namibia. Important participants in that conference included SWAPO leader and later President of Namibia, Dr. Sam Nujoma.
During the 1980s, AWEPAA prioritised ending Frontline States’ economic dependence on South Africa.The organisation showed its support for these states by collecting hundreds of signatures for the coal boycott campaign against South Africa in 1986. AWEPAA liaised, lobbied and held conferences in Europe with Southern African guests, among them the current President of South Africa, Thabo Mbeki. Additionally, it greatly enhanced several hundred European parliamentarians’ commitment to and understanding of Southern African issues by inviting them to visit countries in the region and to participate in Frontline States seminars.
African European Institute
In 1988, the initiators of AWEPAA founded the African European Institute (AEI) together with a group of Europeans and Africans such as the South African anti-apartheid activist Rev. Dr. Allan Boesak and late Dr. Mosé Tjitendero, The AEI was set up to help promote relations between Europe and Africa.
1994 – 2006
The AEI and AWEPA merged, and the former chair of the AEI, Archbishop Desmond Tutu, became the chair of the highest advisory board, called the Eminent Advisory Board (EAB). Other members of the EAB include Mozambican human rights activist Ms. Graça Machel, former Ambassador of Algeria to the United Nations H.E Mohamed A. Sahnoun, Beninese writer and politician Albert Tevoedjre, former President of Ireland Mary Robinson and Nobel Prize winner Hon. Prof. Wangari Maathai.
During the 1990s, AWEPA became active in areas such as election observation and parliamentary and democratic capacity-building at regional, national, provincial and local levels in Southern, Central and Eastern Africa. Thematically, AWEPA activities promote the achievement of the Millennium Development Goals in Africa with special focus on aid effectiveness, poverty reduction, women’s and children’s rights, HIV/AIDS, agriculture and climate change, and peace and security.
These shifts reflect AWEPA’s belief that it should use its identity as an organisation of parliamentarians for parliamentarians to contribute where possible to solving severe problems and conflicts and to promote human rights by strengthening parliamentary democracy in Africa.
The AWEPA at a Glance brochure provides an overview of AWEPA’s activities from 1984-2010.