African Union

2008/9 Schools Wikipedia Selection. Related subjects: Politics and government

African Union
الاتحاد الأفريقي
Union africaine
Unión Africana
União Africana
Umoja wa Afrika
Flag of the African Union Emblem of the African Union
Flag Emblem
Let Us All Unite and Celebrate Together
Location of the African Union
Administrative Centre Addis Ababa, Ethiopia
Working languages Arabic
Membership 53 African states
 -  Chairman Jakaya Kikwete
 -  Commission Chairperson Jean Ping
 -  as the OAU May 25, 1963 
 -  as the African Union July 9, 2002 
 -  Total 29,757,900 km² ( 1st1)
11,489,589  sq mi 
 -  2005 estimate 850 million 
 -  Density 25.7/km² ( 177th1)
66.6/sq mi
GDP ( PPP) 2003 estimate
 -  Total US$ 1.515 Trillion ( 16th1)
 -  Per capita $1,896 
GDP (nominal) 2003 estimate
 -  Total $514 billion 
 -  Per capita $643 
Time zone ( UTC-1 to +4)
1 If the African Union considered as a single entity.

Life in the African Union
Flag of the African Union

  • Citizenship
  • Culture
  • Demographics
  • Economy
  • Education
  • Enlargement
  • Foreign relations
  • Geography
  • History
  • Languages
  • Military
  • Politics
  • Sport
  • Statistics

The African Union (abbreviated AU in English, and UA in its other working languages) is an intergovernmental organization consisting of fifty-three African nations. Established on July 9, 2002, the AU was formed as a successor to the amalgamated African Economic Community (AEC) and the Organization of African Unity (OAU). Its headquarters is in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia. Eventually, the AU aims to have a single currency (the Afro) and a single integrated defense force, as well as other institutions of state, including a cabinet for the AU Head of State. The purpose of the union is to help secure Africa's democracy, human rights, and a sustainable economy, especially by bringing an end to intra-African conflict and creating an effective common market.


The African Union, the African equivalent of the European Union or Organization of American States is made up of both political and administrative bodies. The highest political organ of the African Union is the Assembly, made up of all the heads of state or government of member states of the AU and currently chaired by Jakaya Kikwete, president of Tanzania, elected at the 9th ordinary meeting of the Assembly in January 2008. Its secretariat is the AU Commission, whose chair is Jean Ping of Gabon.

Other institutions of the AU include the Executive Council, made up of foreign ministers; the Permanent Representatives Committee, made up of the ambassadors to Addis Ababa of AU member states; the Pan African Parliament; and the Economic Social and Cultural Council (ECOSOCC), a civil society consultative body (see further below).

The AU covers the entire continent except for Morocco, which opposes the membership of Western Sahara as the Sahrawi Arab Democratic Republic. However, Morocco has a special status within the AU and benefits from the services available to all AU states from the institutions of the AU, such as the African Development Bank. Moroccan delegates also participate at important AU functions, and negotiations continue to try to resolve the conflict with the Polisario Front in Tindouf, Algeria and parts of Western Sahara.

The AU's first military intervention in a member state was the May 2003 deployment of a peacekeeping force of soldiers from South Africa, Ethiopia, and Mozambique to Burundi to oversee the implementation of the various agreements. AU troops are also deployed in Sudan for peacekeeping in the Darfur conflict. The AU also has pledged to send peacekeepers to Somalia, of which the peacekeepers from Uganda have already reached Somalia.

The AU has adopted a number of important new documents establishing norms at continental level, to supplement those already in force when it was created. These include the African Convention on Preventing and Combating Corruption (2003) and the African Charter on Democracy, Elections and Governance (2007), as well as the New Partnership for Africa's Development and its associated Declaration on Democracy, Political, Economic and Corporate Governance.


Map of the African Union (with Morocco incorrectly shown as a member)
Map of the African Union (with Morocco incorrectly shown as a member)
Current members

Flag of Algeria Algeria
Flag of Angola Angola
Flag of Benin Benin
Flag of Botswana Botswana
Flag of Burkina Faso Burkina Faso
Flag of Burundi Burundi
Flag of Cameroon Cameroon
Flag of Cape Verde Cape Verde
Flag of the Central African Republic Central African Republic
Flag of Chad Chad
Flag of the Comoros Comoros
Flag of Côte d'Ivoire Côte d'Ivoire
Flag of the Democratic Republic of the Congo Democratic Republic of the Congo
Flag of the Republic of the Congo Republic of the Congo
Flag of Djibouti Djibouti
Flag of Egypt Egypt
Flag of Equatorial Guinea Equatorial Guinea
Flag of Eritrea Eritrea

Flag of Ethiopia Ethiopia
Flag of Gabon Gabon
Flag of The Gambia Gambia
Flag of Ghana Ghana
Flag of Guinea Guinea
Bissau">Flag of Guinea-Bissau Guinea-Bissau
Flag of Kenya Kenya
Flag of Lesotho Lesotho
Flag of Liberia Liberia
Flag of Libya Libya
Flag of Madagascar Madagascar
Flag of Malawi Malawi
Flag of Mali Mali
Flag of Mauritania Mauritania
Flag of Mauritius Mauritius
Flag of Mozambique Mozambique
Flag of Namibia Namibia
Flag of Niger Niger

Flag of Nigeria Nigeria
Flag of Rwanda Rwanda
Flag of Sahrawi Arab Democratic Republic  Sahrawi Arab Democratic Republic
Flag of São Tomé and Príncipe São Tomé and Príncipe
Flag of Senegal Senegal
Flag of the Seychelles Seychelles
Flag of Sierra Leone Sierra Leone
Flag of Somalia Somalia
Flag of South Africa South Africa
Flag of Sudan Sudan
Flag of Swaziland Swaziland
Flag of Tanzania Tanzania
Flag of Togo Togo
Flag of Tunisia Tunisia
Flag of Uganda Uganda
Flag of Zambia Zambia
Flag of Zimbabwe Zimbabwe

Former members

Flag of Morocco Morocco left the AU's predecessor ( the Organization of African Unity) in 1984; See below.

Morocco's withdrawal

The only African state that is not a member of the African Union is Morocco, which left the AU's predecessor, the Organization of African Unity (OAU), in 1984, when many of the other member states supported the Sahrawi nationalist Polisario Front's Sahrawi Arab Democratic Republic. Morocco's ally, Zaire, similarly opposed the OAU's admission of the Sahrawi Arab Democratic Republic, and the Mobutu regime boycotted the organisation from 1984 to 1986. Some countries have since retracted their support for the Sahrawi Republic.

Organs of the AU

The African Union has a number of official bodies:

Pan-African Parliament (PAP) 
To become the highest legislative body of the African Union. The seat of the PAP is at Midrand, South Africa. The Parliament is composed of 265 elected representatives from all fifty-three AU states, and intended to provide popular and civil-society participation in the processes of democratic governance. The current President of the Pan African Parliament is Gertrude Mongella of Tanzania.
Assembly of the African Union 
Composed of heads of state and heads of government of AU states, the Assembly is currently the supreme governing body of the African Union. It is gradually devolving some of its decision-making powers to the Pan African Parliament. It meets once a year and makes its decisions by consensus or by a two-thirds majority. The current Chairman of the Assembly is Jakaya Kikwete, president of Tanzania.
African Union Commission 
The secretariat of the African Union, composed of ten commissioners and supporting staff and headquartered in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia. In a similar fashion to its European counterpart, the European Commission, it is responsible for the administration and co-ordination of the AU's activities and meetings.
African Court of Justice 
The Constitutive Act provides for a Court of Justice to rule on disputes over interpretation of AU treaties. A protocol to set up the Court of Justice was adopted in 2003, but has not yet entered into force: it is likely to be superseded by a protocol creating a Court of Justice and Human Rights, which will incorporate the already established African Court of Justice and Human and Peoples' Rights (see below) and have two chambers -- one for general legal matters and one for rulings on the human rights treaties. The draft protocol has been under discussion for several years and is likely to be adopted during 2008.
Executive Council
Composed of ministers designated by the governments of member states. It decides on matters such as foreign trade, social security, food, agriculture and communications, is accountable to the Assembly, and prepares material for the Assembly to discuss and approve.
Permanent Representatives' Committee
Consisting of nominated permanent representatives of member states, the Committee prepares the work for the Executive Council. (European Union equivalent: the Committee of Permanent Representatives (COREPER).
Peace and Security Council (PSC)
Proposed at the Lusaka Summit in 2001 and established in 2004 under a protocol to the Constitutive Act adopted by the AU Assembly in July 2002. The protocol defines the PSC as a collective security and early warning arrangement to facilitate timely and effective response to conflict and crisis situations in Africa. Other responsibilities conferred to the PSC by the protocol include prevention, management and resolution of conflicts, post-conflict peace building and developing common defence policies. The PSC has fifteen members elected on a regional basis by the Assembly. Similar in intent and operation to the United Nations Security Council.
Economic, Social and Cultural Council
An advisory organ composed of professional and civic representatives, similar to the European Economic and Social Committee. The interim chair of ECOSOCC is Nobel prizewinner Wangari Maathai of Kenya.
Specialised Technical Committees
Both the Abuja Treaty and the Constitutive Act provide for Specialised Technical Committees to be established made up of African ministers to advise the Assembly. In practice, they have never been set up. The ten proposed themes are: Rural Economy and Agricultural Matters; Monetary and Financial Affairs; Trade, Customs, and Immigration; Industry, Science and Technology; Energy, Natural Resources, and Environment; Transport, Communications, and Tourism; Health; Labour, and Social Affairs; Education, Culture, and Human Resources.
Financial institutions
African Central Bank, African Investment Bank, African Monetary Fund. These institutions have not yet been established.
Human rights 
The African Commission on Human and Peoples' Rights, in existence since 1986, is established under the African Charter on Human and Peoples' Rights (the African Charter) rather than the Constitutive Act of the African Union. It is the premier African human rights body, with responsibility for monitoring and promoting compliance with the African Charter. The African Court on Human and Peoples' Rights was established in 2006 to supplement the work of the Commission, following the entry into force of a protocol to the African Charter providing for its creation. It is planned that the African Court on Human and Peoples' Rights will be merged with the African Court of Justice (see above).

Role of the diaspora

The Constitutive Act of the AU declares that it shall "invite and encourage the full participation of the African diaspora as an important part of our Continent, in the building of the African Union". The African Union Government has defined the African diaspora as "consisting of people of African origin living outside the continent, irrespective of their citizenship and nationality and who are willing to contribute to the development of the continent and the building of the African Union".

Current issues

The AU faces many challenges, including health issues such as combating malaria and the AIDS/HIV epidemic; political issues such as confronting undemocratic regimes and mediating in the many civil wars; economic issues such as improving the standard of living of millions of impoverished, uneducated Africans; ecological issues such as dealing with recurring famines, desertification, and lack of ecological sustainability; as well as the legal issue of the still-unfinished decolonisation of Western Sahara.

Union Government

The principal topic for debate at the July 2007 AU summit held in Accra, Ghana, was the creation of a Union Government, with the aim of moving towards a United States of Africa. A study on the Union Government was adopted in late 2006, and proposes various options for 'completing' the African Union project. There are divisions among African states on the proposals, with some (notably Libya) following a maximalist view leading to a common government with an AU army; and others (especially the southern African states) supporting rather a strengthening of the existing structures, with some reforms to deal with administrative and political challenges in making the AU Commission and other bodies truly effective.

Following a heated debate in Accra, the Assembly of Heads of State and Government agreed in the form of a declaration to review the state of affairs of the AU with a view to determining its readiness towards a Union Government. In particular, the Assembly agreed to:

  • Accelerate the economic and political integration of the African continent, including the formation of a Union Government of Africa;
  • Conduct an audit of the institutions and organs of the AU; review the relationship between the AU and the RECs; find ways to strengthen the AU and elaborate a timeframe to establish a Union Government.

The declaration lastly noted the ‘importance of involving the African peoples, including Africans in the Diaspora, in the processes leading to the formation of the Union Government.’

Following this decision, a panel of eminent persons was set up to conduct the ‘audit review’. The review team began its work on 1 September 2007. The review was presented to the Assembly of Heads of State and Government at the January 2008 summit in Addis Ababa. No final decision was taken on the recommendations, however, and a committee of ten heads of state was appointed to consider the review and report back to the July 2008 summit to be held in Egypt.

The role of the Regional Economic Communities

One of the key debates in relation to the achievement of greater continental integration is the relative priority that should be given to integration of the continent as a unit in itself or to integration of the sub-regions. The 1980 Lagos Plan of Action for the Development of Africa and the 1991 treaty to establish the African Economic Community (also referred to as the Abuja Treaty), proposed the creation of regional economic communities (RECs) as the basis for African integration, with a timetable for regional and then continental integration to follow.

Currently, there are eight RECs recognised by the AU, each established under a separate regional treaty. They are:

  • the Arab Maghreb Union(UMA)
  • the Common Market for Eastern and Southern Africa (COMESA)
  • the Community of Sahel-Saharan States (CEN-SAD)
  • the East African Community (EAC)
  • the Economic Community of Central African States (ECCAS)
  • the Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS)
  • the Intergovernmental Authority on Development (IGAD)
  • the Southern Africa Development Community (SADC)

The membership of many of the communities overlaps, and their rationalisation has been under discussion for several years – and formed the theme of the 2006 Banjul summit. At the July 2007 Accra summit the Assembly finally decided to adopt a Protocol on Relations between the African Union and the Regional Economic Communities. This protocol is intended to facilitate the harmonisation of policies and ensure compliance with the Abuja Treaty and Lagos Plan of Action time frames.

Choosing the chair of the Union

In 2006, the AU decided to create a Committee ‘to consider the implementation of a rotation system between the regions’ in relation to the presidency. Controversy arose at the 2006 summit when Sudan announced its candidacy for the AU's chairmanship, as a representative of the East African region. Several member states refused to support Sudan because of tensions over Darfur (see also below). Sudan ultimately withdrew its candidacy and President Denis Sassou-Nguesso of the Republic of the Congo was elected to a one-year term. At the January 2007 summit, Sassou-Nguesso was replaced by President John Agyekum Kufuor of Ghana, despite another attempt by Sudan to gain the chair. 2007 was the 50th anniversary of Ghana's independence, a symbolic moment for the country to hold the chair of the AU -- and to host the mid-year summit at which the proposed Union Government was also discussed. In January 2008, President Jakaya Kikwete of Tanzania took over as chair, representing the East African region and thus apparently ending Sudan's attempt to become chair -- at least till the rotation returns to East Africa.


The political crisis in Zimbabwe has been debated both by the African Union and in particular by the Southern African Development Community. At African Union level, the situation in Zimbabwe has been a controversial focus of discussions in the Executive Council of the activity reports of the African Commission on Human and Peoples' Rights in which human rights abuses in Zimbabwe have been a leading subject since the early 2000s.

AIDS in Africa

One of the most serious issues to face Africa is not a dispute between nations, but rather the rapid spread of HIV and the AIDS pandemic. Sub-Saharan Africa, especially southern Africa, is by far the worst affected area in the world, and as the infection is now starting to claim lives by the millions. While the measurement of HIV prevalence rates has proved methodologically challenging, more than 20% of the sexually active population of many countries of southern Africa may be infected, with South Africa, Botswana, Kenya, Namibia, and Zimbabwe all expected to have a decrease in life expectancy by an average of 6.5 years. The effects on South Africa, which composes 30% of the AU's economy, threatens to significantly stunt GDP growth, and thus internal and external trade for the continent.

Interventions in support of democracy


In response to the death of Gnassingbé Eyadéma, President of Togo, on February 5, 2005, AU leaders described the naming of his son Faure Gnassingbé the successor as a military coup. Togo's constitution calls for the speaker of parliament to succeed the president in the event of his death. By law, the parliament speaker must call national elections to choose a new president within sixty days. The AU's protest forced Gnassingbé to hold elections. Under heavy allegations of election fraud, he was officially elected President on May 4, 2005.


On August 3, 2005 a coup occurred in Mauritania that led the African Union to suspend the country from all organisational activities. The Military Council that took control of Mauritania promised to hold elections within two years. These were held in early 2007, the first time that the country had held elections that were generally agreed to be of an acceptable standard.

Regional conflicts and military interventions: The role of the Peace and Security Council

One of the objectives of the AU is to 'promote peace, security, and stability on the continent'. Among its principles is 'Peaceful resolution of conflicts among Member States of the Union through such appropriate means as may be decided upon by the Assembly'. The primary body charged with implementing these objectives and principles is the Peace and Security Council. The PSC has the power, among other things, to authorise peace support missions, to impose sanctions in case of unconstitutional change of government, and to 'take initiatives and action it deems appropriate' in response to potential or actual conflicts. The PSC is a decision-making body in its own right, and its decisions are binding on member states.

Article 4(h) of the Constitutive Act, repeated in article 4 of the Protocol to the Constitutive Act on the PSC, also recognises the right of the Union to intervene in member state in circumstances of war crimes, genocide and crimes against humanity. Any decision to intervene in a member state under article 4 of the Constitutive Act will be made by the Assembly on the recommendation of the PSC.

Since it first met in 2004, the PSC has been active in relation to the crises in Darfur, Comoros, Somalia, Democratic Republic of Congo, Burundi, Côte d’Ivoire and other countries. It has adopted resolutions creating the AU peacekeeping operations in Somalia and Darfur, and imposing sanctions against persons undermining peace and security (such as travel bans and asset freezes against the leaders of the rebellion in Comoros). The Council is in the process of overseeing the establishment of a 'standby force' to serve as a permanent African peacekeeping force.

Darfur, Sudan

AMIS peacekeepers in Darfur
AMIS peacekeepers in Darfur

In response to the ongoing Darfur conflict in Sudan, the AU has deployed 7,000 peacekeepers, many from Rwanda and Nigeria, to Darfur. While a donor's conference in Addis Ababa in 2005 helped raise funds to sustain the peacekeepers through that year and into 2006, in July 2006 the AU said it would pull out at the end of September when its mandate expires. Critics of the AU peacekeepers, including Dr. Eric Reeves, have said these forces are largely ineffective due to lack of funds, personnel, and expertise. Monitoring an area roughly the size of France has made it even more difficult to sustain an effective mission. In June 2006, the United States Congress appropriated US$173 million for the AU force. Some, such as the Genocide Intervention Network, have called for United Nations (UN) or NATO intervention to augment and/or replace the AU peacekeepers. The UN has considered deploying a force, though it would not likely enter the country until at least October of 2007. The under-funded and badly equipped AU mission was set to expire on December 31, 2006 but was extended to June 30, 2007 and will merge with the United Nations African Union Mission in Darfur.


Somalia has been effectively without a government since the early 1990s. A peace agreement aimed at ending the Somali Civil War that broke out following the fall of the regime of Siad Barre, was finally signed in 2006 after many years of peace talks. However, the new government was almost immediately threatened by further violence. On March 6, 2007, Ugandan AU soldiers arrived in Mogadishu as part of a peacekeeping force that is intended by the AU to eventually be 8,000 strong. Burundi, Nigeria, Malawi and Ghana are also expected to contribute, but have yet to do so. Somaliland, in the north of Somalia, effectively operates as an independent country, though neither the AU nor any other international organisation has recognised it.

Anjouan, Comoros

Mohamed Bacar, who had led the separatist government since 2001, was elected for a 5-year term as President of Anjouan. His term expired the 14th of April 2007, and the president of the assembly, Houmadi Caambi, became acting president from 15th of April 2007 to 10th of May 2007. Citing irregularities and intimidation in the run-up to voting, the African Union (AU) and the Union government postponed the polls on Anjouan, but a defiant island president Mohamed Bacar printed his own ballots, held elections anyway and claimed a landslide victory of 90 percent on the 11th of May 2007.

In October 2007, the African Union imposed travel sanctions on Anjouan's President Mohamed Bacar and other government officials and freezed their foreign assets while calling for fresh elections. Additionally, a naval blockade of the island was implemented. In February 2008, the Comoros rejected the African Union's extended sanctions against Anjouan and instead opted for a military solution. In March 2008, hundreds of Union government troops began assembling on Moheli, which is closer to Anjouan than the larger island Grande Comore. Sudan and Senegal were expected to provide a total of 750 troops, while Libya has offered logistical support for the operation. In addition, 500 Tanzanian troops were due to arrive soon after.

The forces invaded Anjouan on March 25, 2008.


The combined states of the African Union constitute the world's 17th largest economy with a nominal GDP of US$500 billion, ranking after the Netherlands. By measuring GDP by PPP, the African Union's economy totals US$1.515 trillion, ranking it 11th after Brazil. At the same time, they have a combined total debt of US$200 billion.

The AU future confederation's goals include the creation of a free trade area, a customs union, a single market, a central bank, and a common currency, thereby establishing economic and monetary union. The current plan is to establish an African Economic Community with a single currency by 2023.


According to the Constitutive Act of the African Union, its working languages are Arabic, English, French, and Portuguese, as well as African languages 'if possible'. A protocol amending the Constitutive Act adopted in 2003 but (as of 2007) not yet in force added Spanish, Swahili and 'any other African language' and termed all six 'official' (rather than 'working') languages of the African Union. In practice, translation of documents of the AU into even the four current working languages causes significant delays and difficulties to the conduct of business.

Founded in 2001, the African Academy of Languages promotes the usage and perpetuation of African languages amongst African people.


Member states of the African Union cover almost the entirety of continental Africa and several off-shore islands. Consequently, the geography of the African Union is wildly diverse, including the world's largest hot desert (the Sahara), huge jungles and savannas, and the world's longest river (the Nile).

The AU presently has an area of 29,922,059 km² (18,592,705 mi²), with 24,165 km² (15,015 mi²) of coastline. The vast majority of this area is on continental Africa, while the only significant territory off the mainland is the island of Madagascar ( the world's fourth largest), accounting for slightly less than 2% of the total.

Foreign relations

The individual member states of the African Union coordinate foreign policy through this agency, in addition to conducting their own international relations on a state-by-state basis. The AU represents the interests of African peoples at large in intergovernmental organizations (IGO's); for instance, it is a permanent observer at the United Nations' General Assembly. Both the African Union and the United Nations work in tandem to address issues of common concerns in various areas. The African Union Mission in United Nations aspires to serve as a bridge between the two Organizations.

Membership of the AU overlaps with other IGO's, and occasionally these third-party organizations and the AU will coordinate matters of public policy.

The African Union maintains special diplomatic representation with the United States and the European Union.

History of the African Union

The historical foundations of the African Union originated in the Union of African States, an early confederation that was established by Kwame Nkrumah in the 1960s, as well as subsequent attempts to unite Africa, including the Organisation of African Unity (OAU), which was established on May 25, 1963, and the African Economic Community in 1981. Critics argued that the OAU in particular did little to protect the rights and liberties of African citizens from their own political leaders, often dubbing it the "Dictators' Club".

The idea of creating the AU was revived in the mid-1990s under the leadership of Libyan head of state Muammar al-Gaddafi: the heads of state and government of the OAU issued the Sirte Declaration (named after Sirte, in Libya) on September 9, 1999, calling for the establishment of an African Union. The Declaration was followed by summits at Lomé in 2000, when the Constitutive Act of the African Union was adopted, and at Lusaka in 2001, when the plan for the implementation of the African Union was adopted. During the same period, the initiative for the establishment of the New Partnership for Africa's Development (NEPAD), was also established.

The African Union was launched in Durban on July 9, 2002, by its first president, South African Thabo Mbeki, at the first session of the Assembly of the African Union. The second session of the Assembly was in Maputo in 2003, and the third session in Addis Ababa on July 6, 2004.


The emblem of the African Union consists of a gold ribbon bearing small interlocking red rings, from which palm leaves shoot up around an outer gold circle and an inner green circle, within which is a gold representation of Africa. The red interlinked rings stand for African solidarity and the blood shed for the liberation of Africa; the palm leaves, for peace; the gold, for Africa's wealth and bright future; the green, for African hopes and aspirations. To symbolise African unity, the silhouette of Africa is drawn without internal borders.

The flag of the African Union bears a broad green horizontal stripe, a narrow band of gold, the emblem of the African Union at the centre of a broad white stripe, another narrow gold band and a final broad green stripe. Again, the green and gold symbolise Africa's hopes and aspirations as well as its wealth and bright future, and the white represents the purity of Africa's desire for friends throughout the world. The flag has led to the creation of the " national colours" of Africa of gold and green (sometimes together with white). These colours are visible in one way or another in the flags of many African nations. Together the colours green, gold, and red constitute the Pan-African colours.

The African Union has adopted a new anthem, Let Us All Unite and Celebrate Together, and has the chorus O sons and daughters of Africa, flesh of the sun and flesh of the sky, Let us make Africa the tree of life.

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