O Level Revision : History - The Organisation of African Unity (OAU)/ African Union (AU)

There was need to decolonise Africa. This could only be done if Africa was united under an organisation that could spearhead the fight against colonialism. The OAU was formed to fight colonialism and to promote unity and solidarity among African states. The OAU was born on 25 May 1963 in Addis Ababa in Ethiopia.

  • The OAU is commended for decolonising Africa.
  • But Africa  still  has  to  fight  poverty,  famine, illiteracy and disease. Faced with such challenges, the OAU changed its name to the African Union (AU) on 10 July 2002 in Durban, South Africa.
  • The AU has the same objectives as the OAU.

The  origins of the  OAU

  • Pan Africanism resulted from a common experience of oppression, discrimination and exploitation of the people of Africa.
  • Pan-Africanism refers to a desire to bring together all black peoples of the world in a common struggle for freedom, equality, self-confidence and self- determination.
  • Pan-Africanists claimed that:

-     Africa is a single unit which must unite.

-     The people of Africa are similar.

-     The people of Africa were once taken as slaves and colonised.

-     There is a deep cultural unity among all the people of Africa.

Formation of the  OAU

  • Ghana became independent in 1957 under Kwame Nkrumah who  declared,  “Ghana’s  independence is meaningless unless it is linked up with the total liberation of Africa.”
  • His sentiments  were  shared  by  Sekou Toure  of Guinea resulting in the Ghana-Guinea Union. Modibo Keita of Mali joined in.
  • In April 1958 Nkrumah called for the first Accra Conference of Independent African States.
  • Egypt, Ethiopia, Ghana, Liberia, Libya, Morocco, Sudan and Tunisia attended.
  • These leaders agreed to form an African Common Market and Heads of Independent African States and would meet once in two years.
  • The  leaders  formed  the  Pan-African  Freedom MovementforEastandCentralAfrica(PAFMECA).
  • In December 1958, Nkrumah called for the All - Africa People’s conference (AAPC).
  • Delegates came from all of Africa including Holden Roberto (Angola), Patrice Lumumba (Congo) and Tom Mboya (Kenya).
  • They agreed to form a United States of Africa.
  • Efforts to unite Africa were hampered by political, economic and linguistic differences.
  • The idea of African unity divided the delegates.

Two main groups emerged:

(i)   The  Casablanca group

-     Group met in Casablanca in Morocco.

-     The  members  were  Ghana,  Guinea,  Mali, Morocco, Libya, Egypt and Algeria.

-     They  wanted  the  United  States  of  Africa immediately.

-     They also wanted a strong federation ofAfrican states, a joint military command, an African common market and a socialist development of Africa.

(ii)  The  Monrovia  group

-     Group  met  in  Monrovia  in  Liberia  in  May 1961.

-     The members were Cameroon, Central African Republic, Chad, Congo, Liberia, Madagascar, Mauritania, Niger, Nigeria, Senegal, Sierra Leone, Somalia, Togo, Tunisia and Upper Volta.

-     In January 1962 they adopted a draft charter for an organisation of inter-African and Malagasy states.

-     They wanted a gradual move to African unity beginning with coordination of efforts in foreign affairs, health, economic development and education.

  • In May 1961, 20 countries met in Monrovia to resolve the differences between the Casablanca and Monrovia Groups.
  • Emperor  Haile  Selassie  (Ethiopia)  worked  on resolving the differences between the two groups.
  • A meeting of Ministers of Foreign Affairs from 30 countries met in Addis Ababa in May 1963.
  • They prepared an agenda for a conference of Africa Heads of State and Government.
  • The Heads of State conference was held in Addis Ababa from 23 May 1963.
  • Emperor Haile Salassie chaired the conference.
  • The Charter to establish the OAU was approved.
  • 30 Heads of State and Government signed it on 25 May 1963 (Africa Day today).
  • Its headquarters was in Addis Ababa.
  • Its  official languages  were Arabic,  English  and French.
  • The founding fathers of the OAU were:

-     Kwame Nkrumah – Ghana

-     Modibo Keita – Mali

-     Sekou Toure – Guinea

-     Ben Bella – Algeria

-     Nasser – Egypt

-     Azikiwe – Nigeria

-     Emperor Haile Selassie –Ethiopia Aims of the  OAU

  • To promote the unity and solidarity of the African States.
  • To coordinate the efforts to achieve a better life for the peoples of Africa.
  • To defend their sovereignty, territorial integrity and independence.
  • To eradicate all forms of colonialism from Africa.
  • To promote international cooperation.

To achieve these goals, member states pledged themselves to harmonise their policies in the following fields:

-     political and diplomatic cooperation;

-     economic cooperation, including transport and communication;

-     educational and cultural cooperation;

-     health, sanitation, and nutritional cooperation;

-     scientific and technical cooperation; and

-     cooperation for defence and security.

OAU guiding principles

  • The sovereign equality of all member states.
  • Non-interference in the internal affairs of states.
  • Respect for the sovereignty and territorial integrity of each state and for its inalienable right to independent existence.
  • Peaceful  settlement  of  disputes  by  negotiation, mediation, conciliation or arbitration.
  • Unreserved condemnation  in  all  its  forms,  of political assassination as well as of subversive activities on the part of neighbouring states or any other states.
  • Absolute dedication to the total emancipation of the African territories which are still dependent.
  • Affirmation of  a  policy  of  non-alignment  with regard to all blocs.


  • It is open to all independent African states.

Organs  of the  OAU

  • General Assembly
  • Council of Ministers of Foreign Affairs
  • General Secretariat
  • OAU Coordinating Committee for the Liberation of Africa
  • Commission   of   Mediation,   Conciliation   and Arbitration

General  Assembly/ Assembly of Heads of State and  Government

  • It is the supreme organ and policy making body of the OAU.
  • It coordinates all activities of the OAU.
  • It is made up of the heads of state and government.
  • It has power to review the structure, functions and activities of all organs.
  • It makes decisions and adopts resolutions.
  • Each member state has one vote.
  • Unlike the UN, no member state has a power of veto.
  • Decisions are determined by a two-thirds majority.
  • It deals with applications for membership.
  • Directs the process of conflict resolution.
  • It has overseas specialised agencies.
  • It meets once a year.

Council  of Ministers of Foreign Affairs

  • It is made up of ministers of foreign affairs.
  • It approves the budget and prepares conferences.
  • It is responsible to the Assembly.
  • It sets the agenda for the General Assembly.
  • It   implements   the   decisions   of   the   General Assembly.
  • Each member has one vote.
  • It meets twice a year.

General  Secretariat

  • It is the central and permanent organ of the OAU.
  • It is appointed by the General Assembly.
  • It is made up of full time civil officials who run the day-to-day business of the OAU.
  • It draws up agendas for Assembly and Council meetings.
  • It can carry out resolutions and decisions of the OAU.
  • It prepares reports on the activities of the OAU.
  • It keeps all documents and files of the organs.
  • It prepares the programme and budget of the OAU for each year.
  • It is headed by a Secretary General appointed by the General Assembly.
  • The Secretary General reports to the OAU and does not receive any instruction from any government or individual.

The  Coordinating Committee for the  Liberation of Africa (OAU Liberation Committee)

  • The  most   successful   was   the   Coordinating Committee for the Liberation of Africa (OAU Liberation Committee).
  • It was set up in 1963 to help liberation movements with weapons,    military    equipment,    travel documents and money.
  • ZANU,  FRELIMO,  ANC,  SWAPO  and  MPLA benefited from it.
  • At a UN meeting, the OAU Liberation Committee called on Western powers to impose economic sanctions on apartheid South Africa.
  • The OAU faced problems because some countries did not break diplomatic and trade ties with South Africa, e.g. Malawi.
  • Zaire continued to trade with Israel and did not cut diplomatic and trade ties with Israel in support of Palestine.
  • There have been many civil wars, ethnic violence, coups and border disputes.
  • Examples of coups: Jerry Rawlings staged a coup in Ghana, Idi Amin in Uganda and several coups in Nigeria.
  • Ethnic clashes in Rwanda and Burundi between the Hutu and Tutsi in 1994 and 1995, respectively.
  • Civil wars inAngola (1975 – 2002), in Mozambique (1975 -1999), in Liberia (1989 -1997)
  • Border disputes: Ethiopia and Eritrea; Sudan and South Sudan; Nigeria and Cameroon.
  • Africa has also faced the following problems:

-     The principle of non-interference

-     Colonial history

-     One party states

-     Religions

-     Multi-party democracy

-     Different types of governments.

Weaknesses of the  OAU

  • The OAU has no power to reprimand, suspend, expel or impose sanctions against misbehaving states.
  • The “no interference in other states’internal affairs” position is a constitutional weakness of the African Charter.
  • It allows some states to get away with murder.
  • Idi Amin, a dictator, became OAU chairman.
  • The OAU has limited resources and funds.

African  Union (AU)

The transition from OAU to AU was clearly intended to transform the institutional framework for realising the pan-African vision and mission from what some critics regarded as a mere ‘talking shop’ to an action-oriented forum.