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History of the Organization of African Unity
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BRIEF OVERVIEW OF THE HISTORY OF THE AFRICAN UNION
TOWARDS AFRICAN NATIONAL SOVEREIGNTY
A united Africa has a long history and is the unique product of the social and cultural attitudes of Africans. African unity is responsible for the remarkable intellectual and social achievements of African civilization. The historic periods during which Africa was unified politically or in other ways, impacted profoundly the forms of awareness, defence and development of African cultural values.
Kwame Nkrumah, father of the African Union
Unification occupies a central place in the hearts and minds of Africans. In fact Africa’s political independence was perceived only as a necessary condition for the attainment of eventual continental unity. The drive for economic development, the next phase after independence, was believed to be merely the means with which to achieve African Unity.
During a speech on foreign Policy in 1959, Kwame Nkrumah said, "In Ghana we regard our independence as meaningless unless we are able to use the freedom that goes with it to help other African people to be free and independent, to liberate the entire continent of Africa from foreign domination and ultimately' to establish a Union of African States."
In other words, for the leaders in the struggle against colonialism, the ultimate purpose and aim of their effort was the unification of Africa. The independence that they achieved was to be used for the purpose of their true goal, to unite Africa. The African unity would also be the best means to secure and preserve African independence.
OAU founders Ben Bella, Nasser and Bourkiba in 1963
African Unity, by itself alone, is the native emotion that beats in the hearts of millions of Africans. The African Union is the modern translation of that desire for unity.
In the words of the Emperor Haile Selasie:
"But through all that has been said and written and done in these years, there runs a common theme. Unity is the accepted goal. We argue about the technics and tactics. But when semantics are stripped away, there is little argument among us. We are determined to create a union of Africans."
Whereas much rationale for the desire for unification can be found in the words of the slave era, articulated by Africans in diaspora who wished to return home, or who wished to use the unity as a means of empowerment, in fact the impetus for African unity antedates the slave era.
African unity as a political ideology and force has a long and ancient history. Among the unifiers of Africa is a civilization known as Kush. The unification of Kush, Libya and Egypt in 800 BC is understood by many African scholars of history as comparable to the unification of China in 202 BC. Scholars site the works of Homer, Herodotus, and others, as proofs that Africa was in fact a political unit throughout most of its history. According to the ancient historian Josephus, the Candace (title of Kushite female monarchs) who visited king Solomon, was the ruler of all of Africa (including Egypt) around 945 BC. This is plausible because the Egyptian royal authority derived from female lineage.
Bob Marley, Pan Africanist and cultural icon
Many people with little interest or access to African communities fail to understand the esteem and pride with which Africans hold the history of African unity. It is not easy for people without much exposure to Africans to understand the complexity of African history-as-ideology, nor the deep and lasting effects of lived history on Africans, nor even the diverse forms in which this reality of unity is manifested in every sphere of life.
In the past, the international community has focused a great deal on the destructive consequences of efforts to obscure or diminish tribal or community identities. Much has been made of the differences that manifest as tribal clashes, dominance of particular cultural communities in the political life of a state, but little attention has been given by western media, to the equally potent impulse towards African unity. To mismanage or diminish the tendency to unification has complex and destructive consequences for the culture and coherence of Africans.
Amilcar Cabral, one of the leaders of the struggle against Portuguese occupation of Africa wrote:
“History teaches us that certain circumstances make it very easy for foreign people to impose their dominion. But history also teaches us that no matter what the material aspects of that domination, it can only be preserved by a permanent and organized control of the dominated people's cultural life; otherwise it cannot be definitively implanted without killing a significant part of the population."
African unity is not reducible to processes that can be replicated elsewhere. Nor can it be explained by simple comparisons with the rest of the world. The African experience with unification, while it shares certain characteristics with similar processes, has fundamental motivations and considerations that set it apart as a unique manifestation in human history.
Emperor Haile Selasie said of the formation of the Organization of African Unity in 1963:
"The blood that was shed and the sufferings that were endured are today Africa's advocates for freedom and unity. Those men who refused to accept the judgement passed upon them by the colonizers, who held unswervingly through the darkest hours to a vision of an Africa emancipated from political, economic and spiritual domination, will be remembered and revered wherever Africans meet. Many of them never set foot on this continent. Others were born and died here."
Statue of Lumumba, martyred Pan Africanist
In the slave and colonial eras, efforts to erode or undermine African unity inevitably led to disastrous conflicts and social failure that cost millions of lives. For example in the Congo, the Belgians and French colonists banned and outlawed Supratribal alliances and transnational African societies that were a common form of community organization. In effect they destroyed the cohesion of the region. In modern times, ignorance or dismissal of Pan Africanism continues to be a major source of tension in international relations.
In fact failure by the international community to cooperate with, or to support African unification processes has been lamented after every significant disaster in Africa’s recent history. In the 1994 genocide in Rwanda, the OAU raised troops for the purpose of intervening to stop the carnage, but failed to deploy when logistical support was withdrawn by the Clinton administration. It is highly likely that the 7 African Army divisions from all over Africa that were not deployed could have saved many lives, especially considering the fact the few hundred who were deployed by the OAU, from Tunisia, Ghana and Senegal did most of the work with limited resources. When the UN gave up and left Rwandans to die, 500 African troops, along with a Canadian officer, Romeo Dallaire, refused UN orders to withdraw and saved over 30,000 lives in Kigali.
Kwame Nkrumah, speaking at the OAU Conference of 1964 in Cairo said,
"In the year that has passed since we established the Organization of African Unity, I have had no reason to change my mind about the concrete proposal which I made to you then, or about the reasons I gave for my conviction that only a Union Government can guarantee our survival. On the contrary, every hour since then, both in the world at large and on our own Continent, has brought events to prove that our problems as individual states are insoluble except in the context of African Unity..."
The African Union was formed in 2001 in Lusaka City. The Union was envisioned as a sovereign state consisting of autonomous political entities with a progressive understanding of human and people's rights. Moreover, the African Union was formed as a defensive response to the persistent marginalization of African peoples by an indifferent and predatory international regime.
Amara Essy, a career diplomat, was elected by the leaders of the constituent republics to form the first government of the Union. His year-long mandate was to oversee the initiation of the transformation of the Organization of African Unity from a loose confederation (founded in 1963) into sovereign state with a legislative parliament, a supreme court of justice, and a single currency.
The Headquarter of the African Union Commission is located at Africa Unity House, in Addis Ababa. The African Union Commission has the task to service African Union meetings, implement decisions and resolutions adopted by the Pan African Parliament, Heads of State and Government, major all-union institutions such as the African Court, and Ministers, keep AU documents and archives and, conduct the daily work of coordination among Member States, NGOs, African regional organizations, etc., in all fields stated in the Charter.
Following the signature of the Treaty Establishing the African Economic Community (1991), the General Secretariat (now known as the AU Commission)also served as the Secretariat for the African Community (the AC is now the African Union). The African Union is headed by the Chair of the AU Commission assisted by five Vice Chairs (formerly Asistant Secretaries General). 521 staff members of whom 221 are of the Professional category and 300 of the General Service category, work both at Addis Ababa, the administrative capital of the African Union, and in the Regional and Sub-Regional Offices of the Union.
The African Community out of which the African Union was formed, is an amalgamation of the African Economic Treaty and the Organization of African Unity. Below is the brief history of the OAU.
ORGANIZATION OF AFRICAN UNITY
The Organisation of African Unity (OAU) was established on 25 May 1963 in Addis Ababa, on signature of the OAU Charter by representatives of 32 governments. A further 21 states have joined gradually over the years, with South Africa becoming the 53rd member on 23 May 1994.
The OAU aims to promote the unity and solidarity of African States; co-ordinate and intensify their co-operation and efforts to achieve a better life for the peoples of Africa; defend their sovereignty, territorial integrity and independence; eradicate all forms of colonialism from Africa; promote international co-operation, giving due regard to the Charter of the United Nations and the Universal Declaration of Human Rights; and co-ordinate and harmonise members’ political, diplomatic, economic, educational, cultural, health, welfare, scientific, technical and defence policies.
Since the entry into force of the Abuja Treaty establishing the African Economic Community (AEC) in May 1994, the OAU has been operating on the basis of two legal instruments. For this reason the OAU is officially referred to as the OAU/AEC.
The OAU has the following Specialised Agencies:
African Accounting Council;
African Bureau for Educational Sciences;
African Civil Aviation Commission;
Pan-African News Agency
Pan-African Postal Union
Pan-African Railways Union
Pan-African Telecommunications Union
Supreme Council for Sports in Africa
It had become evident and accepted as early as 1979, when the Committee on the Review of the Charter was established that a need existed to amend the OAU Charter in order to streamline the Organisation to gear it more accurately for the challenges of a changing world. However, despite numerous meetings the Charter Review Committee did not manage to formulate substantive amendments. The result of this was threefold:
The Charter was "amended" by being augmented through ad hoc decisions of Summit such as the Cairo Declaration Establishing the Mechanism for Conflict Prevention, Management and Resolution, etc;
A growing realisation that the need for greater efficiency and effectivity of the Organisation required urgent action; and
The need to integrate the political activities of the OAU with the economic and developmental issues as articulated in the Abuja Treaty.
An Extraordinary Summit of the OAU held in Sirte, Libya on 9 September 1999 called for the establishment of an African Union in conformity with the ultimate objectives of the OAU Charter and the provisions of the Treaty establishing the African Economic Community. Following this, the Constitutive Act of the African Union was adopted during the Lomé Summit of the OAU on 11 July 2000. The Union will evolve from the OAU and the AEC into one unified institution.
In general, the African Union objectives are different and more comprehensive than those of the OAU. The objectives of the African Union, as contained in the Constitutive Act, are to:
Achieve greater unity and solidarity between African countries and the peoples of Africa;
Defend the sovereignty, territorial integrity and independence of its Member States;
Accelerate the political and socio-economic integration of the continent;
Promote and defend African common positions on issues of interest to the continent and its peoples;
Encourage international cooperation, taking due account of the Charter of the United Nations and the Universal Declaration of Human Rights;
Promote peace, security, and stability on the continent;
Promote democratic principles and institutions, popular participation and good governance;
Promote and protect human peoples’ rights in accordance with the African Charter on Human and Peoples’ Rights and other relevant human rights instruments;
Establish the necessary conditions which enable the continent to play its rightful role in the global economy and in international negotiations;
Promote sustainable development at the economic, social and cultural levels as well as the integration of African economies;
Promote cooperation in all fields of human activity to raise the living standards of African peoples;
Coordinate and harmonise the policies between the existing and future Regional Economic Communities for the gradual attainment of the objectives of the Union;
Advance the development of the continent by promoting research in all fields, in particular in science and technology; and
Work with relevant international partners in the eradication of preventable diseases and the promotion of good health on the continent.
The Constitutive Act makes provision for a defined transitional period which will ensure a smooth and gradual transition of the OAU and AEC into the Union. The Constitutive Act replaces the Charter of the OAU. The Constitutive Act entered into force thirty days after ratification by two-thirds of the 53 Member States of the OAU, replacing the OAU Charter of 1963. However, the Charter shall remain operative for a transitional period of one year or such further period as may be determined by the Assembly, for the purpose of enabling the OAU/AEC to undertake the necessary measures regarding the devolution of its assets and liabilities to the African Union and all matters relating thereto.
The adoption of the Constitutive Act should be seen as the first step in an ongoing process to streamline and rationalise the existing organisational framework of the Continent, in so doing making the African Union relevant to the demands of the 21st Century and to achieve the ultimate goal of complete African unity. The African Union would build on the successes of the OAU, which, since its inception, has developed into the political and economic fulcrum of Africa.
The Lomé Summit in 2000 also acknowledged the Conference on Security, Stability, Development and Cooperation in Africa (CSSDCA) as creating a synergy between the various activities currently undertaken by the OAU/AEC, which therefore should help to consolidate the work of the OAU/AEC in the areas of peace, security, stability, development and co-operation. In this regard, the CSSDCA should provide a policy development forum for the elaboration and advancement of common values within the main policy organs of the OAU/AEC.
RELEVANT TREATIES/PROTOCOLS OF THE AFRICAN UNION
The OAU Charter was adopted on 23 May 1963. South Africa was admitted to the OAU on 23 May 1994 and the OAU Charter became binding on South Africa on that same date.
Treaty Establishing the African Economic Community (Abuja Treaty)
Adopted on 3 June 1991, entered into force on 12 May 1994.
Constitutive Act of the African Union
Opened for signature on 11 July 2000 at the OAU/AEC Summit in Lomé. The Instrument of Ratification was signed on 3 March 2001.
General Convention on the Privileges and Immunities of the Organisation of African Unity
Adopted on 25 October 1965, entered into force on 25 October 1965.
Additional Protocol on the Convention on the Privileges and Immunities of the Organisation of African Unity
Adopted in June 1980. Not yet entered into force.
Convention on the Prevention and Combating of Terrorism
Adopted on 13 July 1999, at Algiers, not yet entered into force.
African Charter on the Rights and Welfare of the Child
Adopted on 11 July 1990, not yet entered into force. South Africa signed the charter on 10 October 1997 and deposited its Instrument of Accession on 21 January 2001.
African Charter on Human and Peoples’ Rights
Adopted on 27 June 1981, entered into force on 21 October 1986.
Protocol to the African Charter on Human and Peoples’ Rights on the Establishment of an African Court on Human and Peoples’ Rights
Adopted on 10 June 1998, not yet entered into force.
African Nuclear Weapons Free-Zone Treaty (The Treaty of Pelindaba)
Opened for signature on 11 April 1996, not yet entered into force. South Africa, which is the state with the most significant nuclear capacity in the African Union, signed the treaty on 11 April 1996 and ratified it on 13 March 1998.
African Maritime Transport Charter
Adopted on 15 December 1995, not yet entered into force.
Bamako Convention on the Ban of the Import into Africa and the Control of Transboundary Movement and Management of Hazardous Wastes within Africa
Adopted in January 1991, entered into force on 22 April 1998.
Agreement for the Establishment of the African Rehabilitation Institute (ARI)
Adopted in June 1981, amended agreement adopted on 30 October 1989, entered into force on 2 December 1991.
Convention for the Establishment of the African Centre for Fertiliser Development
Adopted in February 1981, not yet entered into force.
Pan-African Postal Union Convention
Signed on 17 January 1980, entered into force on 1 July 1980. South Africa, the last state to acced to the PAPU Convention did so on 23 February 1999 and deposited its Instrument of Accession on 12 April 1999.
Pan African Telecommunications Union Convention
Signed on 7 December 1977. South Africa deposited its instrument of accession to the PATU Convention on 30 June 1999.
Convention for the Elimination of Mercenarism in Africa
Adopted on 3 July 1977, entered into force on 22 April 1985.
Cultural Charter for Africa
Adopted on 5 July 1976, entered into force on 19 September 1990.
Inter-African Convention establishing an African Technical Co-operation Programme
Adopted on 1 August 1975, not yet entered into force.
Constitution of the Association of African Trade Promotion Organisations
Adopted on 18 January 1974, not yet entered into force.
Convention Governing the Specific Aspects of Refugee Problems in Africa
Adopted on 10 September 1969, entered into force on 20 June 1974.
Constitution of the African Civil Aviation Commission
Signed on 17 January 1969, entered into force on 15 March 1972.
African Convention on the Conservation of Nature and Natural Resources (Algiers Convention)
Signed on 15 September 1968, entered into force on 16 June 1969.
Phyto-Sanitary Convention for Africa
Adopted on 13 September 1967. Not yet entered into force.