The African Union

AU in a Nutshell

AU Members


The advent of the African Union (AU) can be described as an event of great magnitude in the institutional evolution of the continent. On 9.9.1999, the Heads of State and Government of the Organisation of African Unity issued a Declaration (the Sirte Declaration) calling for the establishment of an African Union, with a view, inter alia, to accelerating the process of integration in the continent to enable it play its rightful role in the global economy while addressing multifaceted social, economic and political problems compounded as they are by certain negative aspects of globalisation.

The main objectives of the OAU were, inter alia, to rid  the continent of the remaining vestiges of colonization and apartheid; to  promote unity and solidarity among African States; to coordinate and intensify  cooperation for development; to safeguard the sovereignty and territorial  integrity of Member States and to promote international cooperation within the  framework of the United Nations.

Indeed, as a  continental organization the OAU provided an effective forum that enabled all  Member States to adopt coordinated positions on matters of common concern to  the continent in international fora and defend the interests of Africa  effectively.

Through the  OAU Coordinating Committee for the Liberation of Africa, the Continent worked  and spoke as one with undivided determination in forging an international  consensus in support of the liberation struggle and the fight against  apartheid.

Quest for Unity
African countries, in  their quest for unity, economic and social development under the banner of the  OAU, have taken various initiatives and made substantial progress in many areas  which paved the way for the establishment of the AU. Noteworthy among these  are:  

  • Lagos Plan of Action (LPA) and the Final Act of Lagos (1980); incorporating programmes and strategies for self reliant development and cooperation among African countries. 
  • The African Charter on Human and People’s Rights (Nairobi 1981) and the Grand Bay Declaration and Plan of Action on Human rights: two instruments adopted by the OAU to promote Human and People’s Rights in the Continent. The Human Rights Charter led to the establishment of the African Human Rights Commission located in Banjul, The Gambia. 
  • Africa’s Priority Programme for Economic recovery (APPER) – 1985: an emergency programme designed to address the development crisis of the 1980s, in the wake of protracted drought and famine that had engulfed the continent and the crippling effect of Africa’s external indebtedness. 
  • OAU Declaration on the Political and Socio-Economic Situation in Africa and the Fundamental Changes taking place in the World (1990): which underscored Africa’s resolve to seize the imitative, to determine its destiny and to address the challenges to peace, democracy and security. 
  • The Charter on Popular Participation adopted in 1990: a testimony to the renewed determination of the OAU to endeavour to place the African citizen at the center of development and decision-making. 
  • The Treaty establishing the African Economic Community (AEC) - 1991: commonly known as the Abuja Treaty, it seeks to create the AEC through six stages culminating in an African Common Market using the Regional Economic Communities (RECs) as building blocks. The Treaty has been in operation since 1994. 
  • The Mechanism for Conflict Prevention, Management and Resolution (1993): a practical expression of the determination of the African leadership to find solutions to conflicts, promote peace, security and stability in Africa. 
  • Cairo Agenda for Action (1995): a programme for relaunching Africa’s political, economic and social development. 
  • African Common Position on Africa’s External Debt  Crisis (1997): a strategy for addressing the Continent’s External Debt Crisis. 
  • The Algiers decision on Unconstitutional Changes of Government (1999) and the Lome Declaration on the framework for an OAU Response to Unconstitutional Changes (2000). 
  • The 2000 Solemn Declaration on the Conference on Security, Stability, Development and Cooperation: establishes the fundamental principles for the promotion of Democracy and Good Governance in the Continent. 
  • Responses to other challenges: Africa has initiated collective action through the OAU in the protection of environment, in  fighting international terrorism, in combating the scourge of the HIV/AIDS pandemic, malaria and tuberculosis or dealing with humanitarian issues such as refugees and displaced persons, landmines, small and light weapons among others. 
  • The Constitutive Act of the African Union: adopted in  2000 at the Lome Summit (Togo), entered into force in 2001. 
  • The New Partnership for Africa’s Development (NEPAD) : adopted as a Programme of the AU at the Lusaka Summit (2001).

Advent  of the AU
The OAU  initiatives paved the way for the birth of 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.

Vision 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.”

This vision of a new,  forwardlooking, dynamic and integrated Africa will be fully realized through  relentless struggle on several fronts and as a long-term endeavour. The African  Union has shifted focus from supporting  liberation movements in the erstwhile African territories under colonialism and  apartheid, as envisaged by the OAU since 1963 and the Constitutive Act, to an organization spear-heading Africa’s development and integration.  

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; 
  • To promote sustainable development at the economic, social and cultural levels as well as the integration of African economies; 
  • To promote co-operation in all fields of human activity  to raise the living standards of African peoples; 
  • To coordinate and harmonize the policies between the existing and future Regional Economic Communities for the gradual attainment of the objectives of the Union; 
  • To advance the development of the continent by promoting research in all fields, in particular in science and technology; 
  • To work with relevant international partners in the eradication of preventable diseases and the promotion of good health on  the continent. 

The Organs of the AU

The Assembly
Composed of Heads of  State and Government or their duly accredited representatives. The Assembly of  Heads of State and Government is the supreme organ of the Union.

The Executive Council
Composed of Ministers or  Authorities designated by the Governments of Members States. The Executive  Council is responsible to the Assembly. 

The Commission
Composed of the Chairperson, the Deputy Chairperson, eight Commissioners and  Staff members; Each Commissioner shall be responsible for a portfolio.
The Permanent Representatives' Committee
Composed of Permanent Representatives of Member States accredited to the Union.  The Permanent Representatives Committee is charged with the responsibility of  preparing the work of the Executive Council.
Peace and Security Council (PSC)
By decision AHG/Dec 160 (xxxvii) of the Summit of Lusaka, July 2001, a decision  was made for the creation within the African Union of the Peace and Security  Council. The Protocol establishing the PSC is in the process of ratification.
Pan-African  Parliament
A Pan-African Parliament, and organ to ensure the full participation of African  peoples in governance, development and economic integration of the Continent.  The protocol relating to the composition, powers, functions and organization of  the Pan-African Parliament has been signed by Member States and is in the  process of ratification.
The Economic, Social and Cultural Council, an advisory organ composed of  different social and professional groups of the Member States of the Union. The  statutes determining the functions, powers, composition and organization of the  Economic, Social and Cultural Council have been prepared and will be submitted  to Maputo Summit.
The  Court of Justice
A Court of Justice of the Union shall be established. The statutes defining the  composition and functions of the Court of Justice have been prepared and will  be submitted to the Assembly in Maputo.

The  Specialized Technical Committees
 The following Specialized Technical Committees are meant to address sectoral  issues and are at Ministerial Level:  

  • The Committee on Rural Economy and Agricultural Matters; 
  • The Committee on Monetary and Financial Affairs; 
  • The Committee on Trade, Customs and Immigration Matters; 
  • The Committee on Industry, Science and Technology, Energy, Natural Resources and Environment; 
  • The Committee on Transport, Communications and Tourism; 
  • The Committee on Health, Labour and Social Affairs; and 
  • The Committee on Education, Culture and Human Resources.

The Financial Institutions  

  • The African Central bank 
  • The African Monetary Fund 
  • The African Investment Bank

The AU Commission

The Commission is the  key organ playing a central role in the day-to-day management of the African  Union. Among others, it represents the Union and defends its interests;  elaborates draft common positions of the Union; prepares strategic plans and  studies for the consideration of the Executive Council; elaborates, promotes,  coordinates and harmonizes the programmes and policies of the Union with those  of the RECs; ensures the mainstreaming of gender in all programmes and  activities of the Union. 

Members of the Commission  

  • Chairperson; 
  • Deputy Chairperson; 
  • Eight (8) Commissioners. 
  • Staff members

Portfolios of the Commission
1. PEACE AND SECURITY  (Conflict Prevention, Management and Resolution, and Combating Terrorism...)
2. POLITICAL AFFAIRS (Human Rights, Democracy, Good Governance, Electoral  Institutions, Civil Society Organizations, Humanitarian Affairs, Refugees,  Returnees and Internally Displaced Persons)
3. INFRASTRUCTURE AND ENERGY (Energy, Transport, Communications, Infrastructure  and Tourism…)
4. SOCIAL AFFAIRS (Health, Children, Drug Control, Population, Migration,  Labour and Employment, Sports and Culture…)
5. HUMAN RESOURCES, SCIENCE AND TECHNOLOGY (Education, Information Technology  Communication, Youth, Human Resources, Science and Technology…) 
6. TRADE AND INDUSTRY  (Trade, Industry, Customs and Immigration Matters…) 
7. RURAL ECONOMY AND    AGRICULTURE (Rural Economy, Agriculture and Food Security, Livestock,    Environment, Water and Natural Resources and Desertification…)
8. ECONOMIC AFFAIRS (Economic Integration, Monetary Affairs, Private Sector    Development, Investment and Resource Mobilization…).  

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