The African Union (AU) is an intergovernmental, international organization created in 2002 with the purpose of securing democracy, human rights, and a sustainable economy in Africa, especially by bringing an end to intra-African conflict and creating an effective common market. The AU was formed as a successor of the Organization of African Unity (OAU). The OAU, founded in 1963 on the principles of state sovereignty and noninterference, drew criticism throughout the 1990s for its lack of intervention as conflicts erupted in several African countries.
The idea of creating the AU emerged in the mid-1990s and resulted in the adoption of the Sirte Declaration by the OAU’s heads of state and government. The declaration, issued in September 1999, called for the establishment of an African Union with a view to accelerating the process of integration on the continent. In the following year, the Constitutive Act of the African Union was signed in Lomé, Togo, and the organization was officially launched in Durban in July 2002. Fifty-three countries in Africa are members of the AU (all African countries but Morocco).
Objectives And Principles
The AU is guided by fourteen objectives designed to enhance political cooperation and economic integration, ranging from greater unity and solidarity between the countries and peoples of Africa to promotion of democratic principles and good governance to protection of human rights to coordination and harmonization between the regional economic communities.
The attainment of these objectives is to be achieved through the observance of a number of fundamental principles, in accordance with which the AU shall function. Included among these principles are the participation of African people in the AU activities; the promotion of self-reliance within the AU’s framework; the promotion of gender equality and of social justice; respect for the sanctity of human life; the prohibition of the threat of or use of force; the establishment of a common defense policy; and the condemnation and rejection of unconstitutional changes of government. Unlike its antecessor, the AU has recognized the right to intervene without consent in internal conflicts, in cases in which circumstances are grave, “namely war crimes, genocide, and crimes against humanity” (Constitutive Act, article 4-h). On February 3, 2003 this provision was amended to include “serious threats to legitimate order.” Regarding the economic integration of Africa, the AU bases itself on the Treaty Establishing the African Economic Community (Abuja Treaty), signed in 1991 (came into effect in 1994). The treaty envisaged that the community must be established mainly through the coordination, harmonization, and progressive integration of the activities of the Regional Economic Communities (RECs)—the sub regions of Africa.
According to the Constitutive Act of the AU (2002) and the Protocol Relating to the Establishment of the Peace and Security Council of the AU (2002), the organs of the organization are: (1) Assembly, comprised of heads of state. It meets at least once a year and is the AU’s main decision-making body. Its members elect an AU chair, who holds office for one year. (2) Executive Council, comprised of foreign affairs ministers or other ministers designated by member states. The Executive Council is responsible to the Assembly. (3) Commission, composed by a chair, a deputy and the commissioners holding individual portfolios, which manages day-to-day tasks and implements AU policies. (4) Peace and Security Council (PSC), a body set up in 2004, which serves as a collective security and early war ningarrangement to respond to conflict and crisis (through preventive diplomacy, early warning, peacemaking, peacekeeping, peace enforcement, peace building, and humanitarian action).The PSC has fifteen member states, elected for two or three year terms, with equal voting rights;.(5) Pan-African Parliament, established in March 2004 to ensure the participation of African peoples in governance, development, and economic integration of the continent. This body debates continent-wide issues and advises AU heads of state. It currently exercises oversight and has advisory and consultative powers only, but there are plans to grant it legislative powers in the future. (6) Economic, Social, and Cultural Council (ECOSOCC), established in 2005, which seeks to build partnerships between African governments and civil society. ECOSOCC includes African social groups, professional groups, nongovernmental organizations (NGOs), and cultural organizations. (7) African Court of Justice and Human Rights, which came about as the result of a merger between the regional African Court on Human and Peoples’ Rights and the AU Court of Justice. The court is located in Arusha, Tanzania. And (8) financial institutions. The AU charter names three bodies: the African Central Bank, the African Monetary Fund, and the African Investment Bank.
Besides these key institutions, the AU’s activities are supported as well by a Panel of the Wise, a Continental Early Warning System (CEWS), an AU Standby Force, a Peace Fund, and the New Partnership for Africa’s Development (NEPAD). NEPAD is a comprehensive development plan that addresses key social, economic, and political priorities in a coherent and balanced manner. It was adopted at the thirty-seventh session of the Assembly of Heads of State and Government of the AU in July 2001 in Lusaka, Zambia.
The AU has adopted various key documents establishing norms at the continental level to supplement those already in force when it was created. These include the African Convention on Preventing and Combating Corruption (2003); the Protocol to the African Charter on Human and Peoples’ Rights on the Rights of Women in Africa (2003); the African Union Non-Aggression and Common Defense Pact (2005); the African Youth Charter (2006); the Charter for African Cultural Renaissance (2006); the African Charter on Democracy, Elections, and Governance (2007); and the African Charter on Statistics (2009).
For an organization that only became operational in 2002, and unlike the OAU, the AU has demonstrated a strong political willingness to engage with decisive issues such as conflict resolution and economic development. Its resource capacity is limited, however, which encourages dependency on foreign funds.
- African Union. Constitutive Act of the African Union, Togo, July 11, 2000. Addis
- Ababa, Ethiopia: African Union, 2000.
- The Protocol Relating to the Establishment of the Peace and Security Council of the African Union, July 2, 2002. Durban, South Africa: African Union 2002, www.africa-union.org/root/AU/organs/psc/Protocol_ peace%20and%20security.pdf.
- Francis, David. Uniting Africa: Building Regional Peace and Security Systems. Aldershot, U.K.: Ashgate, 2006.
- Makinda , Samuel M., and Wafula Okumu. The African Union: Challenges of Globalization, Security and Governance. London: Routledge, 2008.
- Murithi,Timothy. The African Union; Pan-Africanism, Peacebuilding and Development. Aldershot, U.K.: Ashgate, 2005.