The African Union (AU) came into existence in 2002 when it replaced the Organization of African Unity (OAU), which was established in 1963. The main objectives of the OAU were to end colonialism and apartheid on the continent; to promote unity and solidarity among African states; to protect African countries’ sovereignty and territorial integrity; and to coordinate and intensify international cooperation for development. The OAU was supplemented in 1994 by the African Economic Community (AEC), which had the general objective of promoting the socio-economic development and the integration of Africa.
The AU formation process began in 1999. The goal of the Assembly of Heads of State and Government of the OAU was to transform the continental organization into one that could keep pace with new political and socio-economic developments in the world in conformity with the ultimate objectives of the OAU Charter and AEC Treaty. Accordingly, the Constitutive Act of the African Union (Constitutive Act) was adopted in 2000 and entered into force in 2001. After a transitional period of one year, the AU formally replaced the OAU in 2002. In stark contrast to its predecessor, the objectives and guiding principles of the AU include the promotion of democratic principles and institutions, popular participation and good governance, promotion and protection of human and peoples’ rights, and the ability of the organization to take action upon the decision of the Assembly (in cases of grave violations of human rights) or upon request of a member state.
Currently, key issues of contention between civil society and governments at the African Union Commission, which functions as the secretariat of the AU, include the shrinking space for civil society in many African countries and the increase in the number of governments imposing laws that restrict the operations of civil society and exercise of citizens’ rights. In addition, the AU has played a diplomatic role in mediating conflicts in countries such as Libya, Central African Republic and Burkina Faso, and responding to unconstitutional changes of government, such as in Guinea and Sudan, though its effectiveness is sometimes a question of debate among African civil society and Africa followers. A positive development is that the AU has begun soliciting views from African civil society about the role it can play in political and socio-economic development, human welfare, governance, peace and security in Africa with the AU in coming decades as part of the African Union Agenda 2063 project.
The AU has also embraced initiatives that remain forward-looking. The AU, for example, declared 2018 as the “African Anti-Corruption Year.” Under the leadership of the AU Advisory Board on Corruption (AUABC), the AU, its organs, Member States, Regional Economic Communities (RECs), and civil society organizations (CSOs) together with citizens attempted to address the urgent need to curb corruption. Furthermore, the AU is cooperating with other regional institutions to promote peace and security. For example, in February 2020, the European Union (EU) pledged to support the AU’s “coordination and partnership” with CSOs “to adapt to emerging security challenges in Africa.”
The AU’s supreme organ is the Assembly of Heads of State and Government. Other key organs include the Executive Council; the Pan-African Parliament; the African Court of Justice; the Economic, Social and Cultural Council; and the Peace and Security Council. The AU is a relatively young organization and some of its institutions, including judicial bodies, are still not fully operational.
Please see the African Union website here.