The African Union (AU) is an organisation made up of 53 African states.
|The African Union has around 7,000 peacekeepers |
deployed in Darfur [EPA]
It was founded in 2002 as a successor to the Organisation of African Unity (OAU) and has its headquarters in Addis Ababa, the Ethiopian capital.
The main objectives of the AU are to promote peace, democracy and economioc development amongst its member states.
There are long-term plans for the organisation to set up a human rights court, a central bank and single currency.
In March 2004 the union set up a pan-African parliament to debate continent-wide issues and advise AU heads of state.
In the same year the organisation set up a peace and security council. The council can authorise the deployment of military forces in situations which include crimes against humanity and genocide.
It can also sanction peacekeeping missions and plans to have a rapid-reaction force in place by 2010.
AU peacekeepers have been deployed in Burundi and ceasefire monitors have been sent to Darfur in western Sudan.
The governing structure of the AU consists of an assembly, executive council and commission.
The assembly, the organisation's main decision-making body, is made up of the heads of state of constituient countries, who meet at least once a year. Members of the assembly elect a chair who holds office for one year.
The executive council consists of the foreign ministers of member states, who offer advise to the assembly members.
The commission is the AU's administrative branch and comprises 10 commissioners, who hold individual portfolios.
Founded: July 9, 2002 (replaced the OAU founded May 25, 1963)
Member states: 53
Headquarters: Addis Ababa, Ethiopia
Offcial languages: African languages, Arabic, English, French and Portugese
Annual budget: $43 million (2004 figure)
Chairman: Denis Sassou-Nguesso
The commission puts AU policies into action and coordinates the organisation's activities and meetings.
The commission elects a chair to serve a four-year term.
The chairman of the AU is Denis Sassou-Nguesso, the Congolese president. The commission's chairman is Alpha Oumar Konare, the former Malian president.
Two of the biggest issues currently facing the AU are the ongoing conflict in the Darfur region of western Sudan and the fight against Aids.
Violence in Darfur is estimated to have has killed 200,000 people and forced 2.5m refugees to flee their homes during the four-year conflict.
The AU currently deploys 7,000 peacekeepers in the region.
The operation is estimated to cost $40 million a month and is a significant financial burden for the organisation.
In June 2006, the United States Congress appropriated $173m for the AU force.
In January 2007 Alpha Oumar Konare, the AU commission's chairman, called for the United Nations to take over the full financing of the peacekeeping operation.
The United Nations is currently pressing the Sudanese government for the deployment of a "hybrid" African Union-UN force of 20,000 peacekeepers for the region.
Spread of Aids
Aids has spread rapidly in the continent and is a major source of concern for the AU.
Sub-Saharan Africa is the worst affected area in the world, with the virus claiming millions of lives.
The epidemic has affected over 25% of the population of southern Africa, (including South Africa, Botswana, Kenya, Namibia and Zimbabwe).
Since South Africa accounts for 30% of the AU's economy, the high growth of the virus in the country has had a significant detrimental affect on the continent's internal and external trade.