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Africa Marching Towards Meaningful Unity, Economic Integration –

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African Union

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 the USA.

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 Africa.

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 states.

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 powers.

The 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 lingering colonialism.

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 rates.

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 Africa;
  • 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 peoples;
  • 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;

Positive Achievements

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.”

(Source: ENA)

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