African Union

The continent of Africa is home to over 2000 languages, 3000 tribes, and over 1.3 billion people. Now with all these people, languages, religions, ethnicities and tribes, it would seem almost impossible for the continent to be unified on matters. Well, the African Union seeks to make this possible. 

African Union African Union

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Table of contents

    Whilst the African Union does not deny the fact that nations across the continent are unique with their own histories, cultures and objectives, there is still the possibility for a wider Pan-African unification. Let's take a deeper look into the African Union: the treaties, achievements, and more.

    What is the African Union?

    The African Union is a continental union comprised of 55 members from the African continent. All the countries in Africa are represented in the African Union, with Morocco being the latest addition after joining the union in 2017.

    The African Union as we know it today was founded in 2001 and was formally launched on the 9th of July 2002 in Durban. The purpose behind the launch of the African Union was to provide a replacement for the Organisation of African Unity (OAU) which was founded in Addis Ababa in 1963.

    The African Union represents the needs of over 1 billion people of the African continent and its reach spans over 11.5 million square miles, with the AU's base being located in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia. The African Union is currently funded by both private donors and member state contributions.

    African Union, Flag of the African Union, StudySmarterFlag of the African Union, African Union, CC-BY-SA-4.0, Wikimedia Commons

    The African Union's Historical Background

    In May 1963, Africa’s first post-independence continental institution was born, which was named the Organisation of African Unity (OAU). The OAU in its inception comprised 32 independent African nations. The OAU was founded in a period when Africa had begun to witness an upswing of successful decolonisation attempts and the OAU sought to promote unity solidarity, defend state sovereignty and eradicate all remnants of colonialism and apartheid in the continent.

    It is important to note that many nations such as Mozambique, Guinea-Bissau and São Tomé and Príncipe were still colonies when the OAU was created. It would not be until the 1970s that these nations gained independence and therefore unification and integration of nations in Africa would not be readily achievable by the OAU due to the fact that not all nations were independent.

    It is not uncommon for the first iteration of an organisation to have hiccups. Much like with the League of Nations before the UN was created, the OAU had its faults which led to the need for a new organisation which would be the African Union.

    In 1999, the Heads of State and Government of the OAU issued the Sirte Declaration which saw the establishment of the African Union (which was formally ratified and launched in 2002), this would help to increase their prominence and relation with the world and address social, economic and political problems that impacted the nation.

    Analysis: Criticisms of the Organisation of African Unity

    A large reason for the OAU's downfall was its non-interference principle. Article III of the OAU's charter bound member states to a commitment of non-interference. This meant that the OAU failed to highlight violations of human rights that occurred in the period of postcolonialism due to the belief that calling out violators of human rights may be interpreted as interference.

    Therefore, a radical overhaul of the OAU was required in order to form an organisation that truly promotes the advancement, cooperation and solidarity of the African people. The Sirte Declaration founded the African Union we know today, which has institutions to address conflict resolution and peacekeeping.

    Check out this article on Anti-Colonial Nationalism to learn about how Africa came to be colonised and the period of decolonisation.

    Aims and objectives of the African Union

    The aims and objectives of the African Union centre on a vision to achieve an "integrated and prosperous African, driven by its own citizens" 1

    The African Union's aims are outlined in its Constitutive Act, which all members of the African Union have agreed to uphold. A few of the objectives outlined in the Act can be seen in the table below

    Aims of the African Union
    Defence of the sovereignty of member states Accelerate the political and socioeconomic integration of AfricaPromote democratic principles Cooperate with relevant international actors for the eradication and prevention of disease
    Encourage international cooperation Promotion of sustainable development Peaceful resolutions of conflicts between member states sanctityPromote peace and security
    Advance the continent's development Coordinate policies Protect and promote human rights Achieve greater unity

    In order to achieve its aims the African Union had a number of organs these are either decision-making organs, judicial/legal organs, financial organs and key bodies such as the Regional Economic Communities and The African Peer Review Mechanism. These organs allow the African Union to delegate its tasks to appropriate bodies in order to successfully realise its aims.

    African Union, Structure of the African Union, StudySmarterStructure of the African Union, Nadia Ahmed - StudySmarter Originals

    African Union Trade Agreements

    In 2018, the African Union launched the African Continental Free Trade Area (AfCFTA) which made Africa become the largest free trade area (by population). All members of the Africa Union except for Eritrea signed the agreement.

    This trade agreement means that tariffs are to be eliminated on goods over a specified period of years (between 5-13 year). This will be determined by the nature of the goods/services and the level of development of the nation.

    The long-term objectives of the AfCFTA are the production of a single market with the adoption of liberal values and the advancement of infrastructure in the region. The agreement as a whole seeks to accelerate socioeconomic development and eradicate poverty across the continent.

    It is estimated that this agreement will see a rise in trade (among African nations) of over 50 per cent and is forecasted to increase the incomes of close to 70 million Africans. 3 4

    African Union Conflict Resolution

    The AU seeks to promote security, peacefully resolve conflicts between its member states and ensure stability throughout the continent. The chief organ for the promotion of peace in the AU is the Peace and Security Council (PSC). The PSC seeks to ensure that efficient and timely responses are made to arising conflicts and crises across Africa.

    The Peace and Security Council is supported by the peace and security department, in which the following objectives are of vital importance.

    1. Support conflict prevention efforts

    2. coordinate peace and security programmes across Africa

    3. Implement the African Union's framework regarding development and post-conflict reconstruction and development

    Below is an example of the African Union's approach to conflict resolution.

    In 2007, one of the worst occurrences of electoral violence in Africa emerged in Kenya. The violence emerged on the 30th of December after presidential candidate Mwai Kibaki was declared as the winner of the presidential election. There were widespread allegations of election rigging, which was supported by the seemingly hasty swearing in of Mwai Kibaki. In this violent episode, over 1,000 people were murdered, acts of sexual violence were committed and over a quarter of a million people were internally displaced. 5

    In response to this crisis, the African Union agreed on the need to begin mediation in Kenya and the African Union chair president met with Mwai Kibaki and the other principal candidate for president, Ralia Odinga. The African Union condemned the human rights violations occurring in Kenya as a result of the violence, and the recommendations made by the AU's peace and security council in relation to putting an end to the conflict occurring in Kenya were swiftly adopted by its leaders. The African Union was able to bring about an agreement among the chief protagonists in the Kenya violence to cease the violence through mediation, and therefore played an instrumental role in conflict resolution.

    African Union Treaties

    Since its inception, the African Union has ratifies well over 50 of treaties in order to ensure the advancement of its objectives. The treaties fall into the following categories:

    • Treaties on Women and Gender Issues
    • Treaties on Peace and Security
    • Energy and Infrastructure Treaties
    • Agriculture and Environmental Management Treaties
    • Governance Treaties
    • Treaties on Civil Society and Diaspora
    • Treaties on Education, Science and Technology
    • Treaties on Sports, Arts and Culture
    • Health Treaties
    • Treaties on Youth Development
    • Treaties on Trade, Economic Integration and Development
    • Treaties on Migration and Employment
    • Human Rights Treaties

    Below is an example of a treaty of the African Union's treaties from the fields of women and gender issues.

    The Protocol on the rights of women in Africa was adopted by the African Union in July 2003. In this treaty, the African Union pledged a mission to bring about the elimination of gender-based discrimination, the promotion of a woman's right to dignity, life, integrity, and security. The treaty also pledged to eliminate harmful practices and ensure women enjoy equal marriage and divorce rights, alongside other key areas such as the right of political participation and peace.

    African Union Achievements

    The African Union has served to promote peace, encourage African's development and place the issues of ordinary Africans at the forefront of its agendas. In 2020, the African Union sought to promote peace in Libya and successfully facilitated a ceasefire among Libyan forces. The African Union also celebrated the launch of the African Union's 10-year commitment to the economic and financial inclusion of women at all levels of society.

    Additionally, the African Union has exhibited a number of achievements, particularly in response to the COVID-19 pandemic that swept the world in 2020.

    The African Union was instrumental in setting up the African vaccine acquisition task team. This team successfully secured over 1 billion COVID-19 vaccines for the African continent. This was a particular achievement as during this period many nations, particularly in the western world, had over-accumulated doses of vaccines without regard for other nations. Had the African Union not made attempts to procure vaccinations for African nations, many Africans would be without access to COVID-19 vaccines.

    African Union - Key takeaways

    • The African Union is a continental union that contains 55 member states
    • The African Union took over from the now disbanded Organisation for African Unity.
    • It succeeded the Organisation of African Unity (OAU).
    • The objective of the African Union is to achieve an integrated and prosperous Africa.
    • In 2018, the African Union launched the African Continental Free Trade Area (AfCFTA) which made Africa become the largest free trade area.
    • The African Union seeks to promote security, peacefully resolve conflicts between its member states.
    • The African Union has exhibited a number of achievements, particularly in response to the COVID-19 pandemic.


    1. African Union, About The African Union, accessed 28/07/2022
    2. African Union, Constitutive Act of The African Union Article 3 - Objectives, 2001, accessed 28/072022
    3. Al-Jazeera, African Continental Free Trade Area: What you need to know, accessed 12/08/2022
    4. World Bank, The African Continental Free Trade Area, accessed 12/08/2022
    5. African Union, About Conflict Management , accessed 28/07/2022
    Frequently Asked Questions about African Union

    How many countries in african union?

    There are 55 member states in the African Union

    What is the African Union and what does it do?

    The African Union is a continental union that seeks to achieve an integrated and prosperous Africa.

    Who funds the African Union?

    The African Union is funded by donors (usually member states). 

    Why is the African Union important?

    It seeks to advance Africa as a continent and improve the lives of over 1.3 billion people, it is for the people by people and exhibits a Pan-African vision.

    Why is Morocco, not a member of African Union?

    As of 2017, Morocco is, in fact, a member of the African Union. 

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