The African Union

The African Union (AU) is a body made up of 53 African states, formed in 2001 to replace the amalgamated African Economic Community (AEC) and the Organisation of African Unity (OAU).

Headquartered in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia, its aims are the socioeconomic integration of all states on the continent, unity, solidarity, peace, security and stability, and the economic growth and development of Africa.

The decision-making body in the AU is the AU Assembly of Heads of State, and its secretariat is the AU Commission.

Other institutions 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, based ion South Africa; and the Economic Social and Cultural Council, a civil society consultative body.

All African states are members of the AU, except for Morocco. That country left the Organisation of African Unity in 1984 in protest against other African states’ support for the Sahrawi Arab Democratic Republic, a disputed territory in the south of Morocco also known as Western Sahara.

But Morocco does have a special status within the AU and benefits from AU services. 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 has adopted important 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.

Objectives and principles

According to the Constitutive Act of the African Union, the AU’s objectives are to:

  • achieve greater unity and solidarity between the African countries and the peoples of Africa
  • defend the sovereignty, territorial integrity and independence of its Member States
  • accelerate the political and socioeconomic integration of the continent
  • promote and defend African common positions on issues of interest to the continent and its peoples
  • encourage international cooperation, taking due account of the Charter of the United Nations and the Universal Declaration of Human Rights
  • promote peace, security, and stability on the continent
  • promote democratic principles and institutions, popular participation and good governance
  • promote and protect human and peoples’ rights in accordance with the African Charter on Human and Peoples’ Rights and other relevant human rights instruments
  • establish the necessary conditions which enable the continent to play its rightful role in the global economy and in international negotiations
  • promote sustainable development at the economic, social and cultural levels as well as the integration of African economies
  • promote co-operation in all fields of human activity to raise the living standards of African peoples
  • coordinate and harmonise the policies between the existing and future Regional Economic Communities for the gradual attainment of the objectives of the Union
  • advance the development of the continent by promoting research in all fields, in particular in science and technology
  • work with relevant international partners in the eradication of preventable diseases and the promotion of good health on the continent

The Constitutive Act also sets out the principles according to which the union should function. These are:

  • sovereign equality and interdependence among member states of the AU
  • respect of borders existing on achievement of independence
  • participation of the African peoples in the activities of the AU
  • establishment of a common defence policy for the African continent
  • peaceful resolution of conflicts among member states of the AU through such appropriate means as may be decided upon by the Assembly
  • prohibition of the use of force or threat to use force among member states of the AU
  • non-interference by any member state in the internal affairs of another
  • the right of the AU to intervene in a member state pursuant to a decision of the Assembly in respect of grave circumstances, namely: war crimes, genocide and crimes against humanity
  • peaceful coexistence of member states and their right to live in peace and security
  • the right of member states to request intervention from the AU in order to restore peace and security
  • promotion of self-reliance within the framework of the AU
  • promotion of gender equality
  • respect for democratic principles, human rights, the rule of law and good governance
  • promotion of social justice to ensure balanced economic development
  • respect for the sanctity of human life, condemnation and rejection of impunity and political assassination, acts of terrorism and subversive activities
  • condemnation and rejection of unconstitutional changes of governments.