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The African region
which was labeled as the “Dark Continent” by the European colonizers was the
main source of slave trade and raw materials for the industries that flourished
during the Industrial Revolution in Europe and the expansion of cotton farms in
In the advent of the
African decolonization in the early 1960’s the bell toll for Africa. Several
African leaders felt the need to create a continental organization that would
foster unity among the African countries and accelerate the decolonization of
The historical foundations of the African Union
originated in the First Congress of Independence African States, held
in Accra, Ghana, from 15 to 22 April
1958. The conference aimed at forming the Africa Day,
to mark the liberation movement each year concerning the willingness of the
African people to free themselves from foreign dictatorship, as well as
subsequent attempts to unite Africa, including the Organization of African Unity (OAU).
OAU was established on
25 May 1963 in Addis
Ababa, Ethiopia with
32 signatory governments. Among the main founders for OAU’s establishment were
Emperor Haile Selassie of Ethiopia, Dr. Kwame Nkrumah
of Ghana, Gamal Abdul Nassir of Egypt, Leopold Sedhar Senghor of Senegal,
Milton Obote of Uganda Jomo Kenyatta of Kenya, Julius Nyerere of Tanzania,
Sekou Ture of Guinea and Al Haji Abubakir Tefewa Belewa of Nigeria and other
leaders of Africa.
Some of the key aims of
the OAU were to encourage political and economic
integration among member states, and to eradicate colonialism
and neo-colonialism from the African continent.
Although it achieved some success, there were also differences of opinion as to
how that was going to be achieved.
Soon after achieving independence, a number of African
states expressed a growing desire for more unity within the continent. Not
everyone was agreed on how this unity could be achieved, however, and two
opinionated groups emerged in this respect:
The Casablanca bloc, led by Kwame Nkrumah of Ghana, wanted a federation of
all African countries. Aside from Ghana, it comprised also Algeria, Guinea, Morocco, Egypt, Mali and Libya. Founded in 1961,
its members were described as “progressive states”.
The Monrovian bloc, led by Senghor of Senegal,
felt that unity should be achieved gradually, through economic cooperation. It
did not support the notion of a political federation. Its other members
were Nigeria, Liberia, Ethiopia,
and most of the former French colonies.
Some of the initial discussions took place in Liberia. The
dispute was eventually resolved when Ethiopian emperor Haile Selassie I invited
the two groups to Addis Ababa, where the OAU and its headquarters were
subsequently established. The Charter of the Organization was signed by 32
independent African states.
At the time of the OAU’s disbanding, 53 out of the 54
African states were members; Morocco left
on 12 November 1984 following the admission of the Sahrawi Arab Democratic Republic as
the government of Western Sahara in 1982.
Pursuant to the Charter signed by the founding member
states, the OAU had several objectives which included coordinating and
intensify the co-operation of African states
in order to achieve a better life for the people of Africa.
To defend the sovereignty, territorial integrity and independence of African
The OAU was also dedicated to the eradication of all forms
of colonialism and
white minority rule as, when it was established, there were several states that
had not yet won their independence or were white minority-ruled. South Africa and Angola were
two such countries. The OAU proposed two ways of ridding the continent of
colonialism and white minority rule. First, it would defend the interests of
independent countries and help to pursue the independence those of
still-colonized ones. Secondly, it would remain neutral in terms of world
affairs, preventing its members from being controlled once more by outside
continental organization had other aims which included ensuring that all
Africans enjoyed human rights. Raising the living standards of
all Africans and settling of disputes between members – not through fighting
but rather peaceful and diplomatic negotiation.
The OAU was successful in several ways. Many of its
members were members of the UN, too, and they stood together within the latter
organization to safeguard African interests – especially in respect of
The organization played a pivotal role in eradicating colonialism and
white minority rule in Africa. It gave weapons, training and military bases to
rebel groups fighting white minority and colonial rule. Groups such as the ANC
and PAC, fighting apartheid, and ZANU and ZAPU, fighting to topple
the government of Rhodesia, were aided in their endeavors by the OAU.
The OAU also worked with the UN to ease refugee problems.
It set up the African Development Bank for economic
projects intended to make Africa financially stronger. Although all African
countries eventually won their independence,
it remained difficult for them to become totally independent of their former
colonizers. There was often continued reliance on the former colonial powers
for economic aid, which often came with strings attached: loans had to be paid
back at high interest-rates, and goods had to be sold to the aiders at low
Among other things, the OAU formulated the Lagos Plan of Action,( 1980), The African Charter for Human and Peoples Rights, ( 1981), African Priority Program for Economic Recovery, (1990), Treaty on African Economic Community, (1991), and formulation of NEPAD in 20001.
The OAU initiatives paved the way for the birth of the African Union (AU). In July 1999, the Assembly decided to convene an extraordinary session to expedite the process of economic and political integration in the continent. Since then, four Summits have been held leading to the official launching of the African Union:
- The Sirte
Extraordinary Session (1999) decided to establish an African Union
- The Lome Summit (2000)
adopted the Constitutive Act of the Union.
- The Lusaka Summit
(2001) drew the road map for the implementation of the AU
- The Durban Summit
(2002) launched the AU and convened the 1st Assembly of the Heads of States of
the African Union.
The vision of the African Union is that of: “An integrated, prosperous
and peaceful Africa, driven by its own citizens and representing
a dynamic force in global arena.”
The structure of the AU include the Assembly of Heads of State and Government,
the Executive Council, the AU Commission, Permanent Representative Committee,
Peace and Security Council, Pan African Parliament, Economic, Social and
Cultural Council, Courts of Justice and 7 specialized committees.
Some of the Objectives of the AU
- To achieve greater
unity and solidarity between the African countries and the peoples of
- To defend the
sovereignty, territorial integrity and independence of its Member States;
- To accelerate the
political and socio-economic integration of the continent;
- To promote and defend
African common positions on issues of interest to the continent and its
- To encourage
international cooperation, taking due account of the Charter of the United
Nations and the Universal Declaration of Human Rights;
- To promote peace,
security, and stability on the continent;
- To promote democratic
principles and institutions, popular participation and good governance;
- To promote and protect
human and peoples’ rights in accordance with the African Charter on Human and
Peoples’ Rights and other relevant human rights instruments;
- To establish the
necessary conditions which enable the continent to play its rightful role in
the global economy and in international negotiations;
AU has been registering
positive achievements particularly in paving the ways to create economic
integration among member states. In this regard one of the key measures taken
by member states is the establishment of the African Continental Free Trade
Area (AfCFTA). Many believe in the fact that Africa’s free trade area can
deliver considerable inclusive economic growth for the continent. According to
the World Bank, AfCFTA will create the
largest free trade area in the world measured by the number of countries
participating. The pact connects 1.3 billion people across 55 countries with a
combined gross domestic product (GDP) valued at 3.4 trillion USD. It has the
potential to lift 30 million people out of extreme poverty, but achieving its
full potential will depend on putting in place significant policy reforms and
trade facilitation measures.
In terms of conflict
prevention AU has been registering impressive positive achievements. According to information obtained from the
AU, in the context of conflict prevention, the AU and its sub-regional
organizations have developed significant institutional capacity over the past
decade to undertake early warning analysis and conflict prevention.
The 35th Ordinary Session of the Assembly of Heads of State
and Government will convene in Addis Ababa from February 5-6, 2022 with a theme
“Building Resilience in Nutrition in African Continent, Accelerate the Human
Capital, Social and Economic Development.” .