Organization of African Unity Is Founded Summary

  • Last updated on November 10, 2022

The Organization of African Unity aimed to eradicate European political power in Africa but accepted European-imposed boundaries on African states and avoided discussion of infringements on human rights by African states.

Summary of Event

The Organization of African Unity (OAU) was founded as an attempt by African countries to achieve harmony and cooperation on the African continent. The group’s 1963 charter exudes idealism. Pragmatism, however, restricts that idealism. The OAU evolved from African hostility to the European seizure of the so-called Dark Continent. This opposition sprang not only from the soil of Africa itself but also, interestingly, from the African diaspora. Organization of African Unity Postcolonialism;Africa Nationalism;Africa Pan-Africanism[PanAfricanism] [kw]Orga nization of African Unity Is Founded (May 25, 1963) [kw]African Unity Is Founded, Organization of (May 25, 1963) Organization of African Unity Postcolonialism;Africa Nationalism;Africa Pan-Africanism[PanAfricanism] [g]Africa; May 25, 1963: Organization of African Unity Is Founded[07610] [g]Ethiopia;May 25, 1963: Organization of African Unity Is Founded[07610] [c]Organizations and institutions;May 25, 1963: Organization of African Unity Is Founded[07610] [c]Diplomacy and international relations;May 25, 1963: Organization of African Unity Is Founded[07610] [c]Colonialism and occupation;May 25, 1963: Organization of African Unity Is Founded[07610] [c]Indigenous peoples’ rights;May 25, 1963: Organization of African Unity Is Founded[07610] Nkrumah, Kwame Balewa, Abubakar Tafawa Nasser, Gamal Abdel [p]Nasser, Gamal Abdel;pan-Africanism[panAfricanism] Haile Selassie I Senghor, Léopold Touré, Ahmed Sékou Kenyatta, Jomo Nyerere, Julius Tubman, William V. S. Telli, Diallo

The African diaspora resulted from the centuries-long export of slaves to the Americas and the resulting reaction to it by people of African descent in the New World. This response led to the movement of pan-Africanism, which had as its slogan Africa for the Africans. This slogan implies the casting aside by Africans of subservience to foreign masters and the Africans’ confident assertion that African interests are paramount.

Pan-Africanism sprang from two realms, the literary and the political. The former constituted a movement of ideas and emotions. These were deep feelings of dispossession, oppression, persecution, and rejection by people of African descent. Such expression came from poets Claude McKay, Langston Hughes, Raphael Ernest, Grail Armattoe, Aimé Césaire, Léopold Sédar Senghor, and Léon Dalmas, and also prose writers Majola Agbebi, John Edward Bruce, and Edward Blyden. The political stream of pan-Africanism preached African emancipation, black colonization in Africa, and an end to Europe’s scramble for control of Africa.

The literary and political streams of pan-Africanism were united by the rivals Marcus Garvey Garvey, Marcus and W. E. B. Du Bois Du Bois, W. E. B. . In New York City, Garvey founded the Universal Negro Improvement Association, which trumpeted “Back to Africa” to the black masses of the New World. Opposed to that idea, Du Bois urged regeneration of blacks in the lands of their residence and in association with a freed, independent African continent. Another foundation of pan-Africanism was the black American churches, notably the African Methodist Episcopal Zion. That body’s bishop, Alexander Walters Walters, Alexander , became the chief collaborator with H. Sylvester Williams Williams, H. Sylvester of Trinidad in calling the first Pan-African Congress in 1900. The second conference, in 1919, insisted that “the natives of Africa must have the right to participate in the Government as fast as their development permits.”

The Sixth Pan-African Congress Sixth Pan-African Congress (1945)[Sixth PanAfrican Congress] , convening in Manchester, England, in 1945, featured Africa’s young leaders. They included Jomo Kenyatta, the poets Raphael Armattoe and Peter Abrahams, and Kwame Nkrumah, who owed much to Garvey’s ideas. This congress demanded independence for Black Africa. Pan-Africanism was transplanted organizationally to Africa itself. At the Manchester Congress, Nkrumah organized the West African National Secretariat. The latter in 1946 began promoting a West African Federation as a basis for a United States of Africa.

The Egyptian revolution in 1952 propelled Gamal Abdel Nasser into a leading role in pan-Africanism. The Bandung Conference Bandung Conference (1955) in 1955, with its insistence on fundamental human rights, also influenced pan-African thinking. April, 1958, marked the formal launching of pan-Africanism by individual states. Except for South Africa, all the independent states—Egypt, Ethiopia, Ghana, Liberia, Libya, Morocco, Sudan, and Tunisia—sent representatives to Accra, Ghana. The conference condemned colonialism, South Africa’s racism, and France’s occupation of Algeria. The conference favored a “fundamental unity” between African states on foreign questions.

Pan-Africanism received impetus from three All African Peoples Conferences. The first, a nongovernmental conference of political parties at Accra in December, 1958, proposed a commonwealth of free African states. It also favored Africa’s independence and the principle of equal representation of citizens in government.

The movement for African unity received a severe setback in 1960-1961. Meeting at Abidjan, Ivory Coast, in 1960, twelve states—Cameroon, the Central African Republic, Chad, Congo (Brazzaville), Dahomey, Gabon, Ivory Coast, Madagascar, Mauritania, Niger, Senegal, and Upper Volta—formed the Brazzaville Group. It favored Mauritania’s independence, mediation in the Congo (Kinshasa), and peace in Algeria by 1961. In January, 1961, eight states—the Algerian Provisional Government, Ceylon, Ghana, Guinea, Libya, Mali, Morocco, and the United Arab Republic—established the Casablanca Powers. They favored Morocco’s acquisition of Mauritania, recognition of Antoine Gizinga’s government in the Congo (Kinshasa), and immediate independence for Algeria. In May, 1961, the twelve Brazzaville states joined Ethiopia, Liberia, Libya, Nigeria, Sierra Leone, Somalia, Togo, and Tunisia in the Monrovia States. This organization carried on the Brazzaville Group’s program. Neither the Monrovia States nor the Casablanca Powers called for political union in Africa.

On May 25, 1963, the OAU debuted. It was a merger of the Monrovia and Casablanca blocs (minus Ceylon) and Burundi, Congo (Kinshasa), Rwanda, Sudan, Tanganyika, and Uganda. Hosted by Emperor Haile Selassie I, the meeting at Addis Ababa featured Kwame Nkrumah, Abubakar Tafawa Balewa, Gamal Abdel Nasser, Ahmed Sákou Tourá, Julius K. Nyerere, and William V. S. Tubman. A long debate occurred over the institution’s name, but Malagasy’s insistence on inclusion of its name failed. Arguments ensued over the frequency of holding the summit assembly; the majority vote for an assembly decision; the rules for the general secretariat and for the Commission of Mediation, Conciliation, and Arbitration; the working languages of the OAU; ratification of the charter; and admittance and withdrawal of states from the OAU.

The charter of the OAU consists of a preamble and thirty-three articles. The preamble is a ten-point statement outlining the convictions, hopes, and ideals of the member states. Its first sentence, beginning “We, the Heads of African States and Governments . . . ,” emphasizes that the OAU is an organization of governments, not of peoples. The preamble stresses the inalienable right of all people to control their own destiny. As will be noted, the application of this noble principle is a different matter entirely. The preamble recognizes the territorial integrity of all African states. Thus, it ratifies the European establishment of boundaries despite the arbitrary methods by which the borders were determined. Self-determination by peoples thus seemed to receive short shrift from the self-styled African defenders of human rights.

The OAU charter established four main institutions. The first, the Assembly of Heads of State and Government, was designed to make and coordinate policy and to review all activities of the OAU. It met yearly and could convene extra sessions if necessary. Each member state had one vote, and a quorum was two-thirds of the OAU’s total membership.

The Council of Ministers consisted of the foreign ministers or other persons designated by members. It implemented decisions of the assembly, prepared conferences, and coordinated inter-African cooperation. Meetings were twice yearly or as needed in extraordinary session. Each member state possessed one vote, and a quorum was two-thirds of the OAU’s total membership.

The General Secretariat was directed by the administrative secretary-general, appointed by the assembly on the recommendation of the council (Diallo Telli was the first secretary-general of the OAU). A fourth body, the Commission of Mediation, Conciliation, and Arbitration, was intended to settle disputes by peaceful means. A separate agreement among the members would later define its composition, responsibilities, and functions.


The founding fathers of the OAU overwhelmingly believed that their creation promised to advance pan-Africanism. Events that followed would show successes and failures, and eventually result in an even more intensive effort at pan-African cooperation as the OAU was replaced by the African Union in 2002.

The OAU became the concrete manifestation of the spirit of pan-Africanism, featuring successes and failures in the realm of human rights in Africa. Certain of its actions reveal its idealism balanced against cynical pragmatism. The OAU charter pledged the member states “to eradicate all forms of colonialism from Africa.” Thus, action should spring against vestiges of European imperialism.

The OAU chose to ignore human rights violations in many states; however, it did manage to promulgate one of the most progressive regional agreements on refugees in 1969, and most African countries proved to be reasonably generous hosts for asylum seekers. There was also an attempt to promote human rights through the promulgation of the African Charter on Human and Peoples’ Rights of 1981, which though often ineffective, at least indicated a desire to recognize the importance of such rights.

The OAU, though perhaps not responsible for the decolonization of the continent, saw that goal largely achieved by the 1990’s. The fall of the white apartheid regime in South Africa and the establishment of democratic majority rule there represented the triumph of yet another of its goals. Indeed, the reemergence of democratic regimes in the 1990’s bodes well for the future of human rights on the continent. Finally, the momentum built through the emergence of the African Union as the successor to the OAU indicated that a variety of key global and continental trends bode well for the future of an Africa of greater stability, justice, and prosperity. Organization of African Unity Postcolonialism;Africa Nationalism;Africa Pan-Africanism[PanAfricanism]

Further Reading
  • citation-type="booksimple"

    xlink:type="simple">Addona, A. F. The Organization of African Unity. Cleveland, Ohio: World, 1969. Readable, popular account of the formation of the Organization of African Unity and its charter. Lists the founding fathers of the OAU. Interesting illustrations, helpful index, limited bibliography.
  • citation-type="booksimple"

    xlink:type="simple">Binaisa, Godfrey L. “Organization of Africa Unity and Decolonization: Present and Future Trends.” Annals of the American Academy of Political and Social Science 432 (July, 1977): 52-69. Succinct description of the creation of the Organization of African Unity. Impartial discussion of the OAU’s achievements and failures up to early 1977. Some documentation.
  • citation-type="booksimple"

    xlink:type="simple">Cervenka, Zdenek. The Organization of African Unity and Its Charter. Praha, Czechoslovakia: Academia Nakladateslvi Ceskoslovenské Akademie Ved, 1968. Brief, clear telling of the founding of the Organization of African Unity. Good political and legal analysis of the OAU charter and a concise discussion of the OAU-United Nations relationship. Excellent annotations. Introduction by Diallo Telli, the first secretary-general of the OAU.
  • citation-type="booksimple"

    xlink:type="simple">Legum, Colin. Pan-Africanism: A Short Political Guide. Rev. ed. Westport, Conn.: Greenwood Press, 1976. Excellent, balanced narrative of pan-Africanism. Lucid account of the early Organization of African Unity. Praiseworthy documentation, including poetry. Many first-rate appendixes, including declarations, charters, protocols, and resolutions. Good index.
  • citation-type="booksimple"

    xlink:type="simple">Muchie, Mammo, ed. The Making of the Africa-Nation: Pan-Africanism and the African Renaissance. London: Adonis & Abbey, 2003. A collection that addresses the topics of African unity and African identity, with a focus on defining the idea of “unity” and how it should proceed.
  • citation-type="booksimple"

    xlink:type="simple">Neweke, Aforka G. “The Organization of African Unity and Intra-African Functionalism.” Annals of the American Academy of Political and Social Science 489 (January, 1987): 133-147. Stresses the Organization of African Unity as a product of compromise between advocates of continent-wide political union and proponents of functional cooperation as a building block for an African sociopsychological community. Happenings in African states and international politics frustrated functional cooperation within the OAU. Profuse notes.
  • citation-type="booksimple"

    xlink:type="simple">Tekle, Amare. “The Organization of African Unity at Twenty-Five Years: Retrospect and Prospect.” Africa Today 35 (1988): 7-19. Assesses the Organization of African Unity’s achievements and failures within the context of its original mission and historical constraints. Calls for reform in the OAU’s charter and decision-making framework.
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    xlink:type="simple">Walraven, Klaas van. Dreams of Power: The Role of the Organization of African Unity in the Politics of Africa, 1963-1993. Aldershot, England: Ashgate, 1999. Originally written as the author’s doctoral dissertation, this work is a thorough history of the role and function of the Organization of African Unity, from its beginnings to 1993, as well as a study of pan-Africanism.
  • citation-type="booksimple"

    xlink:type="simple">Wolfers, Michael. Politics in the Organization of African Unity. London: Methuen, 1976. Scholarly, detailed story of the formation of the Organization of African Unity’s charter. Estimable history of the OAU from 1963 to 1973 and some narration of events between 1973 and 1976. Has a well-documented, select bibliography, a map of the OAU’s membership in 1975, and an adequate index.

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Categories: History