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Founding May 1963

Secretaries-General of the OAU

1964–72 Dialo Telli (Guinea)
1972–74 Nzo Ekangaki (Cameroon)
1974–78 William Eteki M'Boumoua (Cameroon)
1978–83 Edem Kodjo (Togo)
1983–85 Peter Onu (Nigeria) (Acting)
1985–89 Ide Oumarou (Niger)
1989–2001 Salim Ahmed Salim (Tanzania)
2001 - Amara Essy (Cote d'Ivoire)

Major issues at Assemblies of Heads of State and Government, 1963–2001

With many African colonies attaining their independence – especially during 1960 – the desire for continental unity led to several attempts at establishing a pan-African organization.

Through the efforts of Emperor Haile Selassie of Ethiopia, representing the Monrovia Group of African states, and President Sekou Toure of Guinea, acting on behalf of the Casablanca Group, the leaders of 32 independent African states were brought together at Addis Ababa in May 1963. After two days of speeches, a charter creating the Organization of African Unity (OAU) was approved on 25 May (Africa Day).

The charter was signed within half an hour the next day as 30 heads of state and prime ministers mounted the podium in groups of four to non-stop thunderous applause. Morocco and Togo ratified the charter at a later stage.

The emperor, who acted as chairman, expressed the hope that this continental union "may last a thousand years". During the next decades many states joined the OAU as they became independent and currently the total membership stands at 53, comprising the independent mainland and island states and the Sahrawi Arab Democratic Republic (Western Sahara). The last mentioned country is administered by Morocco as an integral part of its territory. Morocco withdrew from the OAU in November 1985, after the Western Sahara, represented by its government-in-exile, had been admitted (February 1982). Of the 32 leaders who signed the charter in 1963 none are still in office. Among those who fell victim to military takeovers through the years, were OAU founding fathers Emperor Haile Selassie and President Kwame Nkrumah.

Apart from disputes between member states, refugee matters, United Nations' issues, Mid-Eastern affairs, security, socio-economic problems and the foreign debt burden, the topics of recurrent interest at the OAU included the decolonization of Portugal's African colonies, Rhodesia (Zimbabwe), South West Africa (Namibia), and apartheid in South Africa.

From the outset the OAU laid the basis for action against white-controlled minority governments in Southern Africa by setting up a Liberation Committee and a special fund to support insurgency movements. In addition, all OAU states were called upon to isolate South Africa by severing, inter alia, diplomatic, trade, transport, sport and cultural links with that country.

Assemblies of Heads of States and Government

JULY 1964, CAIRO,.
Chair: Pres Gamal Abdel Nasser of Egypt (1964–1965).
The principle of "strict respect" for the colonial boundaries inherited at independence was reaffirmed. A verbal clash occurred between Presidents Nyerere and Nkrumah over the latter's concept of a "United States of Africa". There was concern over the border dispute between Somalia, Ethiopia and Kenya. Prime Minister Moise Tshombe of Congo Kinshasa (Zaire) boycotted the conference because of "antagonism" toward him. Holden Roberto of the FNLA was recognized as the "legitimate" leader of Angola. Pres Banda explained Malawi's relations with South Africa. It was finally resolved that Addis Ababa and not Accra was to be the headquarters of the OAU.

Chair: Pres Kwame Nkrumah of Ghana (1965–1966).
Eight presidents of French-speaking states boycotted the conference because of Nkrumah's support for subversive elements within these states. Other major issues were outside interference in Congo Kinshasa, instability in southern Sudan and developments in Rhodesia (Zimbabwe).

Chair: Emperor Haile Selassie of Ethiopia (1966–1967).
There was concern over the unilateral declaration of independence in Rhodesia (Zimbabwe) a year before. Only 18 heads of state attended. By now Nkrumah, as a result of the first military takeover in Ghana, had disappeared from the scene.

Chair: Pres Mobutu Sese Seko of Zaire (1967–1968).
There was concern over the Biafran secessionist war in Nigeria, the war between Egypt and Israel (June 1967), foreign mercenaries in Zaire and incidents between Somalia, Kenya and Ethiopia. UN Secretary-General U Thant attended to help salvage the "crumbling image" of the OAU.

Chair: Pres Houari Boumedienne of Algeria (1968–1969).
Tanzania, Cτte d'Ivoire, Gabon and Zambia had earlier on recognized Col Ojukwu's secessionist Biafra (eastern Nigeria) and, after a stormy debate, voted against a resolution calling for support for Gen Gowon's Nigerian Federal Government.

Chair: Pres Ahmadou Ahidjo of Cameroon (1969–1970).
Confirmation of the Manifesto on Southern Africa signed at Lusaka in April 1969 (the "Lusaka Manifesto").

Chair: Pres Kenneth Kaunda of Zambia (1970–1971).
Nigeria and countries which had supported Biafra were reconciled. Kaunda was requested to lead a OAU delegation to Western countries supplying arms to South Africa in order to dissuade them from doing so.

Chair: Pres Moktar Ould Daddah of Mauritania (1971–1972).
Cτte d'Ivoire, Gabon, Lesotho, Madagascar, Malawi and Mauritius voted in favour of dialogue with South Africa; Dahomey (Benin), Niger, Swaziland, Togo and Upper Volta (Burkina Faso) abstained; Pres Houphouλt-Boigny maintained that the use of force was not the solution to the problems of South Africa.

Chair: King Hassan of Morocco (1972–1973).
Concern was expressed over the mass slaughter of Hutus in Burundi and the civil war in Chad. The end of the civil war in southern Sudan and the reconciliation between Morocco and Algeria, and between Senegal and Guinea were welcomed. Aid to the Liberation Committee was increased by 50%; new OAU policy with respect to insurgency movements aimed at helping only those who had proved themselves to be the strongest.

Chair: Pres Yakubu Gowon of Nigeria (1973–1974).
Discussion of Somalia's claims on Ethiopian territory and conflict between Rwanda and Burundi. There was general concern over economic problems resulting from the rising oil price. Col Qaddafi's proposal that OAU headquarters be moved elsewhere because "Ethiopia is not a free country" was rejected.

Chair: Pres Siyad Barre of Somalia (1974–1975).
Black African states had demonstrated solidarity with Arab states by severing diplomatic relations with Israel after the October War in 1973. Members were called upon to get South Africa expelled from the United Nations General Assembly. OAU Secretary-General Ekangaki resigned after criticism of his relations with transnational company Lonrho.

Chair: Pres Idi Amin of Uganda (1975–1976).
Several heads of state boycotted the conference because, as Pres Nyerere explained, "by meeting in Kampala, we are giving respectability to one of the most murderous administrations in Africa". It was noted that the struggle for independence in the Portuguese colonies was over; the Dar es Salaam Declaration of April 1975 prescribing a dual strategy with regard to Rhodesia, Namibia, and South Africa was ratified (peaceful methods if possible, but armed struggle if inevitable). There was an appeal to France to withdraw from Mayotte in the Comoro archipelago. By now Emperor Haile Selassie had disappeared from the scene (after the revolution in his country) and there was a break in diplomatic relations between Tunisia and Ethiopia.

JANUARY 1976, ADDIS ABABA. Extraordinary assembly.
Chair: Pres Idi Amin.
The conference ended in stalemate on 13 January after 22 members had voted in favour of recognizing the MPLA regime in Angola while 22 were in favour of a government of national unity; Uganda (chairman) and Ethiopia (host) abstained; by February a majority of member states had recognized the MPLA government and Angola was admitted as a member.

Chair: Prime Minister Seewoosagur Ramgoolam of Mauritius (1976–1977).
Outgoing chairman Amin left early to negotiate with Palestinian highjackers who were holding some 100 Israeli hostages at Entebbe Airport; the freeing of the hostages by Israeli forces on 4 July was condemned by the OAU as an "act of aggression". Pres Nimeiri arrived late owing to an attempted coup in Sudan. There was acrimonious debate between Somalia and Ethiopia on the future of Djibouti; France was condemned for its continuous presence on Mayotte Island; the Western Sahara issue remained unresolved after Morocco and Mauritania had taken over the territory from Spain in February 1976. Much attention was devoted to South Africa where mass action in Soweto had started on 16 June; member states were ordered not to recognize Transkei and other parts of South Africa that were declared independent states by the South African Government.

Joint conference of OAU and Arab League.
Arab oil-producing states agreed to increase their aid to African countries and to participate in joint development projects.

Chair: Pres Omar Bongo of Gabon (1977–1978).
General support for efforts of five Western members of the UN Security Council to negotiate a peaceful solution in Namibia while OAU aid for Swapo continued. Pres Kaunda's advice was accepted that Nkomo's and Mugabe's Patriotic Front in Rhodesia (Zimbabwe) be recognized. There was concern over the invasion of Zaire's Shaba Province in March 1977 by insurgents from Angola; also discussion of Libya's occupation of northern Chad and the Western Sahara issue.

Chair: Pres Gafaar el-Nimeiri of Sudan (1978–1979).
Aftermath of the Ogaden War between Somalia and Ethiopia (Sept 1977–March 1978) and second Shaba invasion (May 1978). Comoros was expelled from this session because mercenaries had helped to reinstate the Abdallah government. Moderate leaders responded to their colleagues' criticism of French and United States intervention in Africa by strongly attacking Soviet and Cuban involvement in Angola and Ethiopia; the moderates also urged that all the Rhodesian parties should participate in an election in order to avoid a repetition of the "Angolan debacle".

Chair: Pres William Tolbert of Liberia (1979–1980).
Controversy over Tanzania's role in the overthrow of Idi Amin by invading Uganda (October 1978–April 1979) – it was the first time in OAU history (and contrary to its charter) that one African country invaded another. Delegations of Arab African states walked out when Pres Sadat explained Egypt's peace agreement with Israel (27 March 1979). Mauritania's new military government withdrew from Western Sahara in July 1979, and it was noted with concern that Mauritania's section had been annexed by Morocco. Human rights violations, committed by the Macias government in Equatorial Guinea, were condemned.

APRIL 1980, LAGOS. Extraordinary Assembly on Economic Affairs.
Acting chair: Pres Senghor of Senegal as Pres Tolbert had been killed during a military coup in Liberia.
Secretary-General Edem Kodjo warned that "Africa is dying ...". The Lagos Plan of Action for the economic upliftment of Africa was adopted.

Chair: Pres Siaka Stevens of Sierra Leone (1980–1981).
Western Sahara's government-in-exile was recognized by the majority (26) of member states; Morocco and other moderate members threatened to leave the OAU if Western Sahara (Sahrawi Arab Democratic Republic) were to be admitted as a member. Zimbabwe joined as the 50th member state.

Chair: Pres Daniel arap Moi of Kenya (1981–1983).
Morocco agreed to hold a referendum in Western Sahara to decide on the future of the territory. It was agreed to send an OAU peacekeeping force to Chad. There was controversy over the decision to hold the next session in Libya. The OAU Charter of Human Rights was adopted.

In August a quorum of 34 member states (two-thirds) could not be obtained because 19 states boycotted the meeting in protest against OAU Secretary-General Kodjo's decision to admit the Sahrawi Arab Democratic Republic (Western Sahara) as a member in February of that year. In November another effort to achieve a quorum failed because of a dispute as to which delegation from Chad – that of the new Habre government or that of deposed Goukouni Oueddei – should be recognized as representing Chad.

Chair: Lt-Col Mengistu Haile Mariam of Ethiopia (1983–1984).
Libya boycotted the conference but the voluntary withdrawal of the Western Saharan delegation (see above) ended the boycott by 22 member states and a quorum was obtained; however, the Western Saharan and Chadian issues remained unresolved.

Chair: Pres Julius Nyerere of Tanzania (1984–1985).
As the Western Saharan delegation was admitted (see above), Morocco announced its temporary withdrawal from the OAU and Zaire "suspended" its membership. Pres Machel explained the reasons for the Nkomati Accord of March 1984 between Mozambique and South Africa.

Chair: Pres Abdou Diouf of Senegal (1985–1986).
Extensive debate on Africa's socio-economic problems and review of the Lagos Plan of Action (1980); adoption of Addis Ababa Declaration, including a 5-year economic programme to accelerate implementation of the Lagos Plan; emphasis was placed on the rehabilitation of Africa's drought-ravaged agriculture and on the easing of repayment terms for member states whose escalating debts had grown to a total of $170 billion; it was noted that the OAU Charter of Human Rights, (1981) had so far been ratified by only 15 member states. Morocco's withdrawal from the OAU was to take effect in November of that year.

Chair: Pres Denis Sassou-Nguesso of Congo (1986–1987).
In a dramatic deviation from protocol Pres Museveni strongly criticized the OAU for its silence over the brutality of Uganda's previous rulers. Most of the resolutions, however, dealt with Southern Africa. A consultative committee was established comprising the OAU Chairman, the leaders of the six Frontline and five other states and the Southern African liberation movements. The Assembly called for the intensification of the struggle and for comprehensive sanctions against states undermining anti-South African sanctions. US military aid to Unita and US raids on Libya were condemned. On Africa's economic plight, the Assembly called for an international conference on debt. An OAU anthem was approved.

Chair: Pres Kenneth Kaunda of Zambia (1987–1988).
Africa's debt crisis dominated the proceedings. The OAU expressed the view that African states' debt service payments should not exceed 20% of export earnings. South Africa received some attention, with further anti-apartheid measures being listed. A resolution on the reconstruction of Chad was adopted.

NOVEMBER/DECEMBER 1987, ADDIS ABABA. Extraordinary assembly.
This summit to discuss Africa's external debt problems had originally been planned for September 1987. Only nine heads of state attended. The meeting called for a ten-year moratorium on Africa's US$200 bn foreign debt, and for a massive inflow of Western aid to boost Africa's weak economies. It also called on the West to agree to an international conference to discuss Africa's debt crisis.

Chair: Pres Moussa Traore of Mali (1988–1989).
The 25th anniversary of the OAU was attended by the largest number of heads of state in many years but many left after attending the celebrations prior to the conference. Pres Moi threatened to stop Kenya's financial contributions to the OAU if the numerous member states whose membership fees were in arrears failed to meet their obligations towards the organization.

Chair: Pres Hosni Mubarak of Egypt (1989–1990).
The Conference supported the call by 28 of its poorest members that their foreign debt be written off. The chairman was prompted by the disputes and tension between Afro-Arab and black African nations to reiterate the concept of African unity in order to counter the growing perception that differences between the two camps were irreconcilable. This perception has been strengthened by Libya's military involvement in Chad, the renewed war between the Arab north and the black south of Sudan, and the cross-border violence in Mauritania and Senegal. It was noted that the implementation of UN Security Council Resolution 435 had commenced in Namibia on 1 April. OAU Secretary-General Ide Oumarou was succeeded by Mr Salim Ahmed Salim of Tanzania. Salim was the first person from a non-francophone country, and not hailing from the western part of Africa, to be elected for the post for the full term of four years.

Chair: Pres Yoweri Museveni of Uganda (1990–1991).
The outgoing chairman reported on various aspects of Africa's economic decline. In view of the worldwide interest in the profound political and economic changes in Eastern Europe and the USSR, the conference was concerned that Africa, with its poor investment climate, might be marginalized by the international community. A declaration of support for the movement towards democracy throughout Africa was issued. The declaration expressed understanding for the fears of some single-party rulers that multiparty politics could lead to instability in multicultural societies. Namibia, the continent's youngest independent country, joined the OAU. South Africa's famous political prisoner, Mr Nelson Mandela, who had been released on 11 February that year, received a rousing welcome.

Chair: Pres (Gen) Ibrahim Babangida of Nigeria (1991–1992).
At least 34 heads of state gathered in the new capital of Nigeria while rebel groups were establishing themselves in the Ethiopian capital, which was also the seat of OAU headquarters. A treaty establishing the African Common Market in six phases over a period of 34 years was signed. The secessionist move in northern Somalia was condemned, the efforts of the transitional governments in Liberia and Ethiopia were supported and there was acrimonious debate between the presidents of Rwanda and Uganda on the invasions of the former country by Rwandese rebels based in Uganda. Having taken note of the political reforms which were taking place in South Africa, the Chairman was authorized to initiate a review of the policy to continue sanctions against South Africa should conditions warrant this. After the conference OAU Secretary-General Salim voiced his disapproval of the fact that "more than half" of the OAU members were violating sanctions by trading either openly or secretly with South Africa.

Chair: Pres Abdou Diouf of Senegal (1992–1993).
The summit was attended by representatives of 51 states, including 29 presidents and 10 prime ministers. The meeting marked the beginning of a reorientation for the OAU, with special attention given to the problem of managing and resolving conflicts within and between member states. As this was evidently going to become a pressing issue in the post-Cold War environment, a feasibility study was commissioned for presentation in 1993, though many members warned that the cash-strapped OAU lacked the resources to create a peacekeeping force. Others were concerned that the initiative might imply a violation of the established principle of non-interference in the internal affairs of members. The opening stages of South Africa's democratic transition drew attention, with concern expressed about the levels of violence in the townships. ANC president Nelson Mandela, recently released from prison, addressed the opening session of the summit and warned members against too rapid a relaxation of international pressures on the interim government in South Africa. Africa's economic integration, debt cancellation and the AIDS threat were also discussed.

Chair: Pres Hosni Mubarak of Egypt (1993–1994).
Once again the subject of conflict prevention dominated the summit's agenda, though with OAU members some $62 million in arrears, it was evident that the UN would have to fund any OAU peacekeeping operation. A committee was to be appointed to set up a new conflict-resolution mechanism. Anxious to avoid complex domestic issues, the summit ignored the continuing civil war in Sudan, Nigeria's election debacle or the domestic strife in Zaire, whose prime minister's objections to President Mobutu's representation went unheeded. Eritrea's President Issayas Afewerki used his inaugural speech to lambast the OAU for failing to live up to its lofty ideals. He was particularly upset by the organization's silence throughout Eritrea's thirty-year struggle for independence. The Cairo Declaration issued at the summit recognized the close link between development, democracy, security and stability and called for the global community to counter the marginalization of Africa.

Chair: Pres Zine el-Abidine Ben Ali of Tunisia (1994–1995).
The 30th summit of the OAU was dominated by the stark contrast represented by the admission to membership of a democratic South Africa and the genocide in Rwanda. President Mandela's inspirational speech to the summit called on members to participate in an African renaissance, though he warned that, as the Rwandan tragedy demonstrated, Africa has been ill-governed. The summit approved a code of conduct for relations between African states, dissolved the OAU's Liberation Committee and expressed concern at the implications for Africa of the Uruguay Round of GATT negotiations.

Chair: Pres Meles Zenawi of Ethiopia (1995–1996).
Having escaped unharmed from an attack by unknown gunmen, while travelling from the airport for the opening ceremony, President Mubarak immediately returned to Egypt. The main theme of the conference was security and stability, including a proposed standing force to deal with conflict situations such as those in Rwanda, Burundi, Somalia, Liberia and Sierra Leone. Lack of funds, however, remained a serious obstacle to any plan for strengthening the OAU's capacity to prevent or resolve serious conflicts between members. Most of the 34 member states, in arrears with contributions to the OAU, responded to a threat of sanctions by paying at least 25% of the amount owed by them. The total amount of arrears had been US$58 million prior to the conference.

Chair: Pres Paul Biya (1996–1997).
President Nelson Mandela attended the opening ceremony and reiterated his credo of an African renaissance, first stated at the Tunis summit in 1994. He pledged South Africa's support for all peace initiatives. Discussions to avert the threatening ethnic war in Burundi dominated the proceedings. It was decided in principle that a peace-keeping force, composed of Tanzanian, Ugandan and Ethiopian troops, be deployed in Burundi. The matter was to be further investigated. IMF director-general Michael Camdessus reported that 31 African countries had embarked on ecomonic reforms and that 40 African countries are recording positive GNP per capita growth rates. He predicted an average GNP growth rate of 5% for 1996. The conference resolved to support the candidature of Mr Boutros Boutros-Ghali (UN secretary-general) for a second term. Mr Boutros-Ghali's re-election was opposed by the US.

Chair: Pres Robert Mugabe (1997–1998).
The first summit to be held in Southern Africa welcomed Laurent-Desirι Kabila, the new president of the Democratic Republic of Congo (formerly Zaοre), who said that, owing to administrative problems, elections in his country would not be held soon. Pres Mugabe said democracy in Africa should be pursued judiciously and that the Western democracies should stop acting as mentors in this respect. UN Secretary-General Kofi Anan said that criticism of human rights violations was necessary. The OAU noted the recent military takeover in Sierra Leone and endorsed intervention by Ecomog, the West African peacekeeping force. The Chairman warned that military takeovers of elected civilian governments would henceforth receive short shrift from the OAU. The media pointed out the irony of Nigeria's military government playing the leading role in Ecomog. The OAU reiterated its view that the Libyans accused of being responsible for the Lockerbie air disaster be tried in courts other than those of the UK or the US. The summit called upon the UN to provide two permanent seats for Africa on the Security Council. The next summit was to take place in Burkina Faso.

Chair: Pres Blaise Compaore ( 1998-1999)
Appeals for a cessation of hostilities between Ethiopia and Eritrea. Support expressed for a US and Rwandan plan to resolve the border dispute peacefully. The OAU asked members to ignore sanctions with humanitarian or religious implications agains Libya. It called on the Security Council to suspend all sanctions pending trial in a neutral venue of two Libyans accused of the 1998 bombing of a Pan Am airliner over Lockerbie in Scotland. Nigeria's new military ruler General Abdusalam Abubakar and its people were urged to maintain peace and stability and work for democracy there following the sudden death of Sani Abacha. The OAU expressed support for Guinea-Bissau's President Vieira who had been prevented by an army revolt from attending the summit. It was decided that questions over membership status of Saharan Arab Democratic Republic and return to OAU of founder member Morocco would be considered by foreign ministers in February 1999. OAU to strengthen its mechanism for prevention, management and resolution of conflict.
A total and unconditional demobilisation of the fighters of the rebel movement UNITA was demanded. The UN Security Council was requested to take extra measures to ensure UNITA complies to its promises under a 1994 peace deal.
South Africa to coordinate appropriate measures by neighbours to promote a solution which recognises the unity and territorial integrity of the Comoro islands but which offers the island of Anjouan, which seceded in 1997, greater autonomy. The progress towards national reconciliation in Burundi was noted.
Recommendations on reforms to make the OAU more effective would be presented at next meeting of foreign ministers in February 1999. The OAU expressed concern over lack of progress in Somalia, which is divided among rival clans and has not been represented at an OAU summit since 1991. OAU reaffirmed its commitment to create an African Economic Community by the year 2005. Meanwhile, the focus would be on regional integration and economic cooperation.

Chair: Pres Abdelaziz Bouteflika (1999-2000)
A record 42 of the 53 heads of state turned out in Algiers for the OAU's final summit of the century. Muammar Qaddafi attended for his first OAU summit since 1977. Nigeria's Pres Olusegun Obasanjo, who last addressed an OAU summit as the military ruler of Africa's most populous nation two decades ago, urged the summit to declare 2000 a year of peace and security in Africa. Globalisation and conflict featured prominently on the agenda as did the continent's myriad conflicts and plans for economic revival. The OAU charter, it was decided, will be discussed at a special meeting in Tripoli during September 1999. UN Secretary-General Kofi Annan welcomed emerging home grown peace deals in Sierra Leone, the Democratic Republic of the Congo and Algeria.
Africa's leaders, some of whom seized power in coups themselves,decided at the final OAU summit of the century to ostracize any future African leader who takes power by force instead of being elected to power through the ballot box. UN refugee chief Sadako Ogata expressed concern about the plight of civilians caught up in the war between Eritrea and Ethiopia. The Summit agreed to an anti-terrorism charter with wide ranging powers of arrest and extradition and have called for a global convention and a UN sponsored meeting to combat the menace and a speedy conclusion of a global International Convention for Prevention and Control of Terrorism in all its forms.

The meeting did not endorse the Libyan leader Muammer Qaddafi's proposal for the creation of a United States of Africa by 1 January 2000 to meet the challenges of globalization. However, it was resolved, on 9 September to accelerate the development of an African Economic Community and to aim at the creation of a Pan-African Union, including a Pan-African parliament, in the year 2000. The OAU foreign ministers were mandated to prepare the legal text for the proposed Union and to submit it to the OAU's next annual summit in Togo in June 2000.

The members sign the protocol for the ratification of the African Union.

The African Union Treaty comes into effect.

Amara Essy is elected Secretary General of the OAU to oversee year-long transition to African Union.