The African Union was founded in 2002 and is an all-African organization with the aim of promoting cooperation between African countries. This is done through joint work on peacekeeping efforts, refugee issues and poverty reduction. The chairman of the AU 2020–2022 is the President of South Africa, Cyril Ramaphosa.
The African Union (abbreviated as AU on ABBREVIATIONFINDER.ORG) is a partner organization for Africa’s 55 countries. Morocco withdrew from its predecessor OAU in 1985, in protest against the adoption of Western Sahara’s government in exile as a member, but became a member of the AU in 2017. Periodically, several countries have been suspended due to illegal takeovers.
The Union is based in the Ethiopian capital Addis Ababa. When it was founded in July 2002, the AU replaced its predecessor, the OAU, which had endured increasingly severe criticism for being an “ineffective discussion club for dictators”. The main reason for the inefficiency of the OAU was its fundamental principle of non-interference in the internal affairs of the Member States.
The hope was that the AU, by scrapping the principle of non-interference, could work for a far-reaching political and economic integration between the African countries. This would promote peace, democracy, greater respect for human rights, accelerate development and reduce poverty on the continent. The model was the EU and the method was mutual monitoring between the countries of, for example, peace agreements, corruption, misrule and respect for human rights.
The basis for the AU’s organization and activities is the Union Agreement, the Constitutive Act of the African Union, from 2000. An important provision is that a member state whose regime has taken power by violating its constitution can be expelled from the Union. The AU can also impose sanctions on the unconstitutional regime.
According to the Charter, the purpose of the Union is to promote unity, solidarity and peace between African countries, to promote and defend common African interests in international contexts, to work for democracy and respect for human rights on the African continent, to accelerate Africa’s development and to promote political and economic integration between the different regions of the continent.
Praise as well as skepticism were heard from various quarters when the ambitious project AU was launched. Many described it as a well-meaning initiative that would soon stall due to insufficient funding, lack of will on the part of non-democratic leaders in the Member States and armed conflicts.
At least the gloomiest prophecies have come to shame since the beginning. The AU has managed to gather sharp condemnation when Member States have violated the statutes. The Union has mediated in several crisis situations and also sent observers and peacekeepers to a number of African conflict hotspots.
AU, like several other African partner organizations, has its roots in pan-Africanism, which grew strong in the early 20th century. This ideology is based on the idea that all African peoples are part of a political and cultural community. Pan-Africanism became a means for the black peoples to regain pride and independence and thereby gather strength to free themselves from colonialism.
A direction within the Pan-African movement advocated the formation of a single African state. Such a state would be effective in the fight against colonialism and apartheid, the supporters said. The idea was part of the debate that preceded the founding of OAU. The decision to convert OAU to AU was also linked to this idea.
After World War II, there were only four independent African states: Egypt, Ethiopia, Liberia and South Africa. Around 1960, many countries became free from the colonial powers. Several conferences were held in the early 1960’s to expand cooperation between the new states.
In early 1963, the African states were divided into three main groups: the Casablanca group with states from northwestern and western Africa, the Monrovia group with states spread across Africa, and the Brazzaville group with French-speaking countries. Each group had its own charter with guidelines for how the collaboration should be designed. After lengthy negotiations, the groups agreed on an intergovernmental form of cooperation.
On May 26, 1963, the OAU Charter was signed by 32 African heads of state. The rest of Africa’s countries were not yet independent at that time. A number of purposes were written into the Charter: to promote unity and solidarity between African states; to improve the standard of living; to defend the sovereignty, territorial integrity and independence of African states and to promote international cooperation in accordance with the UN Charter.
However, the OAU’s overriding task was to liberate Africa from colonialism and apartheid. Proponents are keen to highlight the role of the OAU in African liberation from these oppressive systems. But the organization’s detractors emphasize how the principle of not interfering in the internal affairs of the member states made the OAU ineffective in many other areas, as the OAU could only act when the members agreed. The rule that the national borders that prevailed during independence would not change made the OAU toothless in conflicts such as the one between Ethiopia and Eritrea, where Eritrea wanted to liberate itself from Ethiopia.
A declaration was issued in 1965 prohibiting Member States from engaging in subversive activities against any other member. The OAU eventually came to be jokingly referred to as the “Union of African Heads of State and Government”. Criticism was strengthened when Uganda’s infamous dictator Idi Amin was elected chairman of the OAU in 1975.
In the late 1990’s, up to half of the African states were involved in some kind of conflict. The OAU had been sharply criticized for passivity in the wake of the 1994 genocide in Rwanda and in the wars in Congo-Kinshasa, Sierra Leone, Somalia and Sudan. The development led to a desire for OAU to take on more peacekeeping tasks.
However, this would be a departure from the principle of non-interference. At a meeting in Sirte in Libya in September 1999, convened on the initiative of Libyan leader Muammar Gaddafi, a majority of OAU members in the so-called Sirte Declaration therefore decided that the organization should be transformed into an AU. National sovereignty could no longer be used as an argument against measures against misrule and abuses against civilians.
The AU would be based on the OAU Charter, but African co-operation, integration and development would be more far-reaching. Joint institutions would be formed, such as an all-African parliament, a common court, central bank and currency. Economic and monetary union would also be created.
At the OAU’s annual meeting in Lomé, Togo in July 2000, 27 Heads of State and Government signed the Union Agreement, the Constitutive Act of the African Union. It entered into force in May 2001, when two thirds of the 53 Member States ratified the agreement. After a transition period of just over two years, OAU was fully replaced by AU.