African Union - Overview


The objectives of the AU are:

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

The African Union is made up of both political and administrative bodies. The highest decision-making organ is the Assembly of the African Union, made up of all the heads of state or government of member states of the AU. The Assembly is chaired by Yayi Boni, president of Benin, elected at the 18thordinary meeting of the Assembly in January 2012. The AU also has a representative body, the Pan African Parliament, which consists of 265 members elected by the national parliaments of the AU member states. Its president is Bethel Nnaemeka Amadi.

Other political institutions of the AU include

  • the Executive Council, made up of foreign ministers, which prepares decisions for the Assembly;
  • the Permanent Representatives Committee, made up of the ambassadors to Addis Ababa of AU member states; and
  • the Economic, Social, and Cultural Council (ECOSOCC), a civil society consultative body.

The AU Commission, the secretariat to the political structures, is chaired by Nkosazana Dlamini-Zuma of South Africa. On 15 July 2012, Ms. Dlamini-Zuma won a tightly contested vote to become the first female head of the African Union Commission, replacing Jean Ping of Gabon.

The main administrative capital of the African Union is in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia, where the African Union Commission is headquartered. A new headquarters complex, the AU Conference Center and Office Complex (AUCC), was inaugurated on 28 January 2012, during the 18th AU summit. The complex was built by China State Construction Engineering Corporation as a gift from the Chinese government, and accommodates, amongst other facilities, a 2,500-seat plenary hall and a 20-story office tower. The tower is 99.9 meters high to signify the date 9 September 1999, when the Organization of African Unity voted to become the African Union.

Other AU structures are hosted by different member states:

  • the African Commission on Human and Peoples' Rights is based in Banjul, The Gambia; and
  • the New Partnership for Africa's Development (NEPAD) and APRM Secretariats and the Pan-African Parliament are in Midrand, South Africa.

The AU covers the entire continent except for the Îles Éparses, Réunion, Mayotte, Saint Helena, Ascension and Tristan da Cunha, Madeira, Canary Islands, Spanish North Africa, and Morocco. Morocco is not a member because its government opposes the membership of Western Sahara as the Sahrawi Arab Democratic Republic. However, Morocco has a special status within the AU and benefits from the services available to all AU states from the institutions of the AU, such as the African Development Bank. 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 the parts of Western Sahara.

The AU's first military intervention in a member state was the May 2003 deployment of a peacekeeping force of soldiers from South Africa, Ethiopia, and Mozambique to Burundi to oversee the implementation of the various agreements. AU troops were also deployed in Sudan for peacekeeping in the Darfur conflict, before the mission was handed over to the United Nations on 1 January 2008 UNAMID. The AU has also sent a peacekeeping mission to Somalia, of which the peacekeeping troops are from Uganda and Burundi.

The AU has adopted a number of important new documents establishing norms at continental level, to supplement those already in force when it was created. These include the African Union Convention on Preventing and Combating Corruption (2003), the African Charter on Democracy, Elections and Governance (2007), the New Partnership for Africa's Development (NEPAD) and its associated Declaration on Democracy, Political, Economic and Corporate Governance.

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