Organization of African Unity Moves to Establish the African Union Summary

  • Last updated on November 10, 2022

The adoption of the Constitutive Act of the African Union paved the way for an economically solvent and unified Africa to assert its independence, self-determination, and social, economic, and political empowerment in the changing world of the twenty-first century.

Summary of Event

The Organization of African Unity (OAU) was established on May 25, 1963, in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia, as a body to promote the integration of African nations. In Africa, the 1960’s were a transitional period of turmoil and triumph—colonialism was ending and African nations were claiming their independence in the midst of civil conflicts and internal wars. Worldwide, political rhetoric was emphasizing progress, peace, and prosperity. In this context, the OAU focused on the liberation of African nations from colonization and apartheid; the organization followed basic pan-African Pan-Africanism[Panafricanism] ideals in its international and intercontinental relationships. With objectives of autonomy, solidarity, cooperation, safety, and territorial integrity, the OAU labored to empower all African peoples and to eliminate the profound racism on the continent. Moreover, the OAU aimed to support and ensure the social, political, and economic self-sufficiency of African nations. In efforts to achieve economic improvements, the OAU also worked diligently with the Group of 77, Group of 77[Group of Seventy Seven] a caucus of developing nations within the United Nations Conference on Trade and Development. African Union Organization of African Unity Constitutive Act of the African Union Lomé Summit (2000) [kw]Organization of African Unity Moves to Establish the African Union (July 11, 2000) [kw]African Union, Organization of African Unity Moves to Establish the (July 11, 2000) African Union Organization of African Unity Constitutive Act of the African Union Lomé Summit (2000) [g]Africa;July 11, 2000: Organization of African Unity Moves to Establish the African Union[10750] [g]Togo;July 11, 2000: Organization of African Unity Moves to Establish the African Union[10750] [c]Diplomacy and international relations;July 11, 2000: Organization of African Unity Moves to Establish the African Union[10750] [c]Organizations and institutions;July 11, 2000: Organization of African Unity Moves to Establish the African Union[10750] Salim Ahmed Salim Mbeki, Thabo

In the beginning of its existence, the OAU assisted in mediating border disputes between African nations and achieved a few successes in maintaining peace. The OAU was vocal in its disapproval of South Africa’s apartheid system, encouraging sanctions against the country and continuing to fight apartheid until that system was dismantled. It also achieved success in assisting all of its member nations in achieving independence. An additional goal of the organization was to maintain peace among its member states, although critics questioned the OAU’s impact and authority in this role, given that it was not successful in one of its main objectives—that of improving the economic situation in member nations. The OAU also proved to have little influence over the internal matters of its member states, as regimes of terror and civil conflicts went on unimpeded by any efforts of the organization to stop them.

The OAU’s weakness had become increasingly evident as the twentieth century came to an end. Historical analysts and the member nations themselves noted the need for review, reform, and reorganization of the OAU to meet changing contemporary and global issues. The major changes called for included a review of the organization’s charter, with a focus on the role the OAU played (or failed to play) in the domestic affairs of member nations, and a concerted effort to sustain internal peace on the continent. During the final years of the twentieth century, Africa was rife with conflict, as civil wars raged and violence broke out along national borders. Moreover, as the continent received increasing international attention, a picture of a unified Africa did not emerge. The discord on the continent was highlighted as a failure of the OAU’s pan-African ideals and its goals for a prosperous, peaceful Africa.

Recognizing the major need for economic improvement among OAU member nations, the Assembly of Heads of State and Government of the OAU (the OAU Assembly) began working toward an action plan that would help member states realize and utilize their resources to achieve self-sufficiency. After the establishment of the African Economic Community African Economic Community (AEC), which was developed to create such an action plan, creation of the African Union (AU) soon followed. In September, 1999, the OAU Assembly met in Sirte, Libya, and adopted the Sirte Declaration, Sirte Declaration (1999) a resolution that expressed the OAU’s intent to establish the African Union to realize the goals of the AEC. Subsequently, three additional summits were held to launch the African Union formally.

Approximately one year after the Sirte Declaration, the Constitutive Act of the African Union was drafted and completed. The act was adopted and signed by twenty-seven heads of state on July 11, 2000, in Lomé, Togo, at the OAU Assembly’s thirty-sixth ordinary session. The Constitutive Act of the African Union established the framework for a contemporary, globally minded, and economically focused pan-African, intercontinental organization. The Constitutive Act’s preamble listed all fifty-three member states of the OAU (originally the OAU had fifty-four members, but Morocco suspended its membership in the 1980’s), and the act’s thirty-three articles clarified the objectives and roles of the African Union. Within two years, at the Lusaka Summit Lusaka Summit (2001) in 2001 and the Durban Summit Durban Summit (2002) in 2002, the remaining African nations signed on and all of the nations’ instruments of ratification were deposited, bringing an official end to the OAU and establishing the African Union.


The establishment of the African Union delineated contemporary and relevant goals for Africa. It also demonstrated the acuteness of the organization’s members, who understood the need to recognize and build on the successes of the OAU while working to eliminate that body’s failures. The Constitutive Act of the African Union recognized the problems that had plagued the OAU and was the first step in executing institutional changes for twenty-first century Africa.

The Constitutive Act clearly called on the history of the Organization of African Unity and its role in the development of African nations during the preceding thirty-seven years. The act declared the determination of members to meet the local and global challenges of the twenty-first century and reemphasized their common vision of a unified and solvent Africa. Unlike the OAU’s charter, the Constitutive Act included a statement on the role of women and youth in African nations; it also focused on protecting and promoting human rights.

Major differences between the OAU’s charter and the Constitutive Act included the act’s greater emphasis on the African Union as a unified organization rather than separated states and an allowance for the AU to have greater powers to intervene in the affairs of its member nations when deemed necessary. The Constitutive Act structured the African Union in a way that was different from the structure of the OAU, keeping open the limits and powers of the AU’s positions, committees, and councils.

Drawn up in four original texts, each in a different language—Arabic, English, French, and Portuguese—the Constitutive Act of the African Union was a significant step for the global inclusion of Africa as a self-determined world participant. The Constitutive Act clearly stated the role of the AU in Africa and established the organization’s specific goals, roles, and responsibilities. With its emphasis on sovereignty, respect, and peace, the Constitutive Act demonstrated recognition of the shortcomings of the OAU and moved the nations of Africa forward to meet the challenges of the new century. The act also named three financial institutions as part of the AU—the African Central Bank, the African Monetary Fund, and the African Investment Bank—although it did not specify how the AU would be funded, apart from members’ dues.

The signing of the Constitutive Act of the African Union was a vital first step in presenting and preserving Africa for the twenty-first century. The member nations of the African Union recognized the urgent need for change and began with a document to redefine themselves, their roles, and their goals for a contemporary, globally aware Africa. The Constitutive Act allowed for and encouraged the independence of African states but also called on members to be part of a unified and economically growing continent of socially, technologically, politically, and culturally aware nations. The founding of the African Union, like that of its predecessor, the Organization of African Unity, provided Africa with an opportunity to revisit, review, and rebuild pan-African ideals of unity, peace, and self-determination. African Union Organization of African Unity Constitutive Act of the African Union Lomé Summit (2000)

Further Reading
  • citation-type="booksimple"

    xlink:type="simple">Makoa, Francis K. “African Union: New Organization, Old Ideological Framework.” Strategic Review for Southern Africa 26 (May, 2004): 1-14. Focuses mainly on the formal establishment of the AU in Durban in 2002 at the fourth summit meeting. Uses the ideological framework found in the Constitutive Act to analyze the challenges the AU must meet if it is to be more than just a new name.
  • citation-type="booksimple"

    xlink:type="simple">Murithi, Timothy. The African Union: Pan-Africanism, Peacebuilding, and Development. Burlington, Vt.: Ashgate, 2005. Examines the history of pan-Africanism and the OAU and discusses the AU’s prospects for success. Includes select bibliography and index.
  • citation-type="booksimple"

    xlink:type="simple">Packer, Corinne A. A., and Donald Rukare. “The New African Union and Its Constitutive Act.” American Journal of International Law 96 (April, 2002): 365-379. Presents an overview of the Constitutive Act of the African Union and discusses the evolution of the drafting of the act.
  • citation-type="booksimple"

    xlink:type="simple">Rechner, Jonathan D. “From the OAU to the AU: A Normative Shift with Implications for Peacekeeping and Conflict Management, or Just a Name Change?” Vanderbilt Journal of Transnational Law 39 (March, 2006): 543-577. Compares the OAU and the AU, focusing on the ways in which the AU might be more effective at conflict management than the preceding organization was.

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Categories: History