The History of the African Union


posted on: April 5th, 2019


The idea of African Unity, and of an African Union (AU), has a long history – originating perhaps in the pan-Africa movement, which emerged amongst intellectuals and leaders both in Africa and around the world. ‘Pan Africanism’ calls for solidarity between all peoples of African descent, as a method of empowering all African peoples around the world.

The development of African Unity was also influenced by more practical concerns – promoting African interests abroad, protecting the security of the African continent, and competing with other influential organisations like the European Union.


The first attempt at a pan-African organisation was the ‘Organisation of African Unity’ (OAU), established in 1963 in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia. Essentially the precursor to the AU, the OAU had three main aims;

With the end of colonialism, white minority rule, and several longstanding disputes, 53 out of the 54 African countries that existed at the time were members of the OAU by the time of its dissolution in 2002.

Whilst the establishment of the OAU was an important step towards both the institutionalisation of African solidarity and unity and the end of colonialism, the organisation wasn’t very effective – it could do little to actively prevent conflict, human rights violations, and so on.

The 1990s were a period of radical change in Africa. Politically, the end of the Cold War produced demands for democratisation and political openness. Globalisation created opportunities, but also dangers of exploitation. The idea of an ‘African Renaissance’ was strongly promoted in a post-Apartheid South Africa by then-Deputy President Mbeki. All of these changes led to increasing demand on African institutions which the OAU was unsuited to meet.


In 2002 the OAU was disbanded and succeeded by the African Union – with the intention of establishing the ‘necessary conditions that should enable the continent to play its rightful role in the global economy’.


In conclusion, the AU is born out of a legacy of Pan-Africanism and more practical concerns – the promotion of African ideas and interests, the preservation of peace on the continent, the end of external oppression, and the desire for economic growth and development.

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