The Organization of African Unity (OAU) was established on May 25, 1963, by representatives of 30 African nations meeting in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia. The conference was held at the invitation of Haile Selassie I, then emperor of Ethiopia. An earlier meeting the same year, the Conference of Addis Ababa, set the groundwork for the subsequent establishment of the OAU. Foreign ministers of 32 African nations attended this earlier conference and despite regional, political, and linguistic differences they managed to come together on many issues. Most important was the agreement that a pan-African organization was needed. The primary aim of such an organization would be to promote African unification and economic development while fighting colonialism and apartheid. Also discussed were relations between the United Nations and various African countries, disarmament, and the creation of a permanent conciliation commission. As a result of this conference, 30 of the original 32 representatives attended a Heads of State Conference and wrote the Charter of the Organization of African Unity.

The OAU was not the first attempt at inter-African unity. A 1958 conference of independent African states was held in Ghana resulting in a charter that would eventually serve as a model for the OAU. A 1961 conference was held in Casablanca that dealt with the possibilities of an African common market and an African military command. Nations attending this conference became known as the "Casablanca Group." In 1960 and 1961, 12 French-speaking African countries not attending the Casablanca conference signed a charter establishing the Union africaine et malgache which later became known as the Organization commune africaine et mauriciene (OCAM). Also in 1961, another conference was held in Monrovia, Liberia, which resulted in the formation of the Organization of Inter-African and Malagasy States. Nations attending this conference became known as the "Monrovia Group."

Although these two groups had similar goals—pan-Africanism—they had divergent ways of reaching this goal. The Casablanca Group took a more radical approach to unity. They favored socialistic planned economies for members and viewed strident anticolonialism as a unifying force. The Monrovia Group was more moderate, placing more emphasis on economic cooperation and less on politics and ideology. This group also took a regional approach to problem solving but a hands-off approach to members' internal affairs and problems. Despite these differences, the two groups came together in 1963 and subsequently established the OAU. Although the new inter-African organization resembled the more conservative Monrovian Group, ideological compromises were made. To mollify the Casablanca Group the OAU gave limited support to liberation movements and passed resolutions condemning apartheid and existing remnants of colonialism.

The principles and objectives of the OAU as stated in its charter are: to promote the unity and solidarity of the African states; to coordinate and intensify their various efforts so as to have the peoples of Africa achieve a better life; to defend the sovereignty, territorial integrity and independence of its members; to work to eradicate colonialism from Africa; and finally, to maintain due regard for the Charter of the United Nations and the Universal Declaration of Human Rights. To achieve these goals, OAU members pledged to harmonize their policies in regard to political, economic, diplomatic, educational, cultural, scientific, defense and security, and health, sanitation, and nutritional cooperation. The OAU also recognized the sovereignty and independence of its members; agreed to noninterference in regards to member's internal affairs; forbade political assassination and political subversion; supported the peaceful settlement of disputes through mediation, conciliation, and arbitration; supported the total emancipation of African states that continue to be "dependent"; and finally, affirmed a policy of nonalignment.

By 1984 all independent African nations except South Africa belonged to the OAU, bringing its membership up to 50. In its battle against apartheid and racial discrimination, the OAU succeeded in excluding South Africa from the Economic Commission for Africa and from UNESCO. The OAU nearly succeeded in having South Africa expelled from the United Nations while showing strong support for Nelson Mandela's African National Congress. (With the fall of apartheid, however, South Africa became the OAU's 53rd member in May 1994.)

The OAU has also promoted economic development and cooperation on numerous fronts. In 1980 it held the African Economic Summit which resulted in the Lagos Plan of Action that called for economic independence of OAU members by the year 2000. The Lagos plan also envisioned a continent wide African Economic Community. In 1989 there was another economic summit, which involved discussion of external debt obligations and economic reforms mandated by the International Monetary Fund and the World Bank. In 1991 the OAU Assembly met in Abuja, Nigeria, and prepared a draft of the African Economic Community (AEC) treaty. This treaty dealt with the long-term economic deterioration of the continent and called for the implementation of six steps through the year 2025 to deal with these problems. Through these six steps the OAU hopes to gradually remove trade barriers while integrating the economies of member countries. The plan also calls for the establishment of an OAU court of justice, an inter-African economic union, a uniform currency, a parliament, and a central bank.

As the OAU evolved, one of its major roles on the African continent has been that of a peacekeeper. Over the decades the OAU has mediated conflicts in Somalia, Rwanda, Burundi, Liberia, Angola, Mozambique, and Sudan. Many of these conflicts have been territorial and boundary disputes that reflected artificial borders created by colonial powers.

At a 1993 Cairo Summit the OAU set up its Central Mechanism for the Prevention and Management of Conflict. One purpose of the new mechanism was to make OAU nations less dependent on outside mediators. This peacekeeping role was also a focal point of the 32nd OAU summit held in Yaounde, the capital of Cameroon, in 1996. The resultant Yaounde Declaration, among other things, set up a new and more efficient mechanism for handling conflicts between members and contained a mutual nonaggression treaty signed by 11 Central African nations. Some experts in conflict resolution feel, however, that a continent-wide peacekeeping initiative cannot be strong enough to overcome nationalism, and that various regional approaches are more guaranteed of success. In the late 1990s there were stirrings in some Western countries—namely France, Great Britain, and the United States—to have these countries train an African peacekeeping force. Again because of nationalism, however, it was feared that these peacekeeping forces could quickly revert into private armies of African ruling parties and presidents.

On the agenda for the 1998 54th OAU/African Economic conference were discussions on reparation and debt forgiveness, dual citizenship, a single currency, and the formation of an Africa mineral exporting countries bloc and an African export-import bank. Also scheduled for discussion was the creation of an artificial nation-state that could become the OAU's 54th member. This nation-state would be comprised of an estimated 60 million people of African descent now living in other parts of the world, including African Americans. Such a nation-state would better allow those of the African diaspora, especially those who have been exposed to Western technology, to help 'develop a vehicle for transitional change and regional reciprocal trade between Africans globally who seek to have an impact on the economic growth of Africa."

The chief policy-making body of the OAU is the Assembly of Heads of State and Government. The assembly meets annually and each member nation is allotted one vote. The Council of Ministers meets biannually and is made up of the foreign ministers of each member country. The Council of Ministers advises the assembly on budgetary matters, policy implementation, inter-African affairs, and relations with nonmember countries. The General Secretariat carries out those duties assigned to it by the OAU charter and by the agreements and treaties of the OAU. The Secretariat has numerous departments including: Economic Development and Cooperation, Administration and Conference, Political, Finance, and Culture and Social Affairs.

[ Michael Knes ]


"An African Answer to African Wars." Economist, 18 October 1997, 45-46.

Ali, Abdur-Rashid. "A 54th State of Africa?" African Business, February 1998, 33-34.

da Costa, Peter. "Keeping the Peace." Africa Report 40, no. 3 (May/June 1995): 26-29.

El-Ayouty, Yasin. The Organization of African Unity after Thirty Years. Westport, CT: Praeger, 1994.

Gongyuan Chen. "Organization of African Unity: Solidarity that Works." Beijing Review 39, no. 21 (20 May 1996): 11. Harris, Gordon. Organization of African Unity. New Brunswick, NJ: Transaction Publishers, 1994.

International Monetary Fund. "Organization of African Unity." Washington: International Monetary Fund, 1998. Available from .

Lu Zong. "OAU Summit Calls for Peace, Development." Beijing Review 39, no. 31 (29 July 1996): 7-8.

Oloniskan, Funmi. "African 'Homemade' Peace-keeping Initiatives." Armed Forces and Society 23 (spring 1997): 349 71. Organization of African Unity. "Organization of African Unity." Addis Ababa, Ethiopia: Organization of African Unity, 1998. Available from .

Other articles you might like:

Follow Founder
on our Forum or Twitter

User Contributions:

Comment about this article, ask questions, or add new information about this topic: