African Union: A quest for unity

The African Union was founded on July 9, 2002 and is made up of 53 African states.

    An African Union peacekeeper keeps guard in Mogadishu, the capital of war-torn Somalia [EPA]

    The African Union (AU), an organisation of 53 African states, was founded in 2002 as a successor to the Organisation of African Unity (OAU) and has its headquarters in Addis Ababa, the Ethiopian capital.

    While one of the main objectives of the OAU had been to rid the continent of the "remaining vestiges of colonisation and apartheid", the new AU dropped that clause, shifting towards the more commercial goal of accelerating "the political and socio-economic integration of the continent".

    Among its other objectives, the AU also seeks to promote security, democracy, human rights, sustainable development and the eradication of preventable diseases.

    The AU features a Court of Justice and a separate Court of Human and Peoples' Rights, which was established in 2004 and held its first meeting in 2006. There are plans to establish a central bank, monetary fund and investment bank.

    African Union
      Founded:July 9, 2002 (replaced the Organisation of African Unity)
      Member states:53
      Headquarters:Addis Ababa, Ethiopia
      Official languages:Arabic, English, French, Portuguese, Spanish, Swahili and any other African language
      Annual budget:$43 million (2004 figure)
      Chairman (2010):Bingu Mutharika, President of Malawi

    In 2004, the union set up the Pan-African Parliament to debate continent-wide issues and advise AU heads of state. That year, the AU also established a peace and security council that can authorise the deployment of military forces in situations which include crimes against humanity and genocide.

    The council 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 Somalia, and ceasefire monitors have been sent to Darfur in western Sudan.

    Morocco, which does not recognise the Western Sahara, is the only African country that has not joined the union. The Western Sahara belongs to the union and is known as the Sahrawi Arab Democratic Republic.

    Several members like Madagascar, Niger and Mauritania have been suspended from the African Union after undergoing military coups, while Eritrea recalled its ambassadors from the union after the AU supported United Nations' sanctions against it for allegedly supporting armed groups in Somalia.


    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 constituent countries and meets 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 advice to the assembly members.

    The commission is the AU's administrative branch and comprises 10 commissioners, who hold individual portfolios. Commissioners elect a chair to serve a four-year term.

    The commission puts AU policies into action and co-ordinates the organisation's activities and meetings.

    The Pan-African Parliament has only consultative and advisory powers.
    The chairman of the AU assembly in 2010 is Bingu Wa Mutharika, the president of Malawi, while the chairman of the union's commission is Jean Ping, the former foreign minister of Gabon. 

    Financial burden

    A displaced Sudanese girl looks at an AU peacekeeper [REUTERS]

    Some of the biggest issues currently facing the AU are the ongoing conflict in the Darfur region of western Sudan, instability in Somalia and the fight against Aids.

    Violence in Darfur is estimated to have killed 200,000 people and forced 2.5 million refugees to flee their homes during the four-year conflict. The AU currently deploys 7,000 peacekeepers in the region.

    The deployment is estimated to cost $40m a month and is a significant financial burden for the union. In June 2006, the United States Congress appropriated $173m for the AU force.

    The union deployed its African Union Mission in Somalia (AMISOM) in 2007 to intervene in that country's civil war.

    More than 6,000 troops from Uganda and Burundi comprise the AMISOM forces, but other countries such as Guinea, Angola and Mozambique have reportedly pledged reinforcements following July 11 twin bombing in Kampala, Uganda, that left 74 dead. The attacks were claimed by Somalia's al-Shabab group, which is fighting to topple the government in Mogadishu and impose its interpretation of Islamic Sharia law.

    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 per cent of the population of southern Africa, (including South Africa, Botswana, Kenya, Namibia and Zimbabwe).

    Since South Africa accounts for 30 per cent 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.

    SOURCE: Al Jazeera


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