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OAU as a Predecessor to the African Union

OAU as a Predecessor to the African Union

The aim of this section is not to give the detailed account of the OAU as an African organization. Rather the OAU is highlighted to show in way that it can be considered as a predecessor to the African Union.

The OAU, placed in a longer term of historical current, is a manifestation of the Pan- African movement which originated in the USA during the late 19th century. In the USA, thousands of blacks, with African origins found it intolerable to bear the agonizing experience of racial discrimination and alienation. Some of their prominent leaders, namely WEB Du Bois (1868-1963) and Marcus Garvey (1885-1940) raised a flag of revolt against the then prevailing injustice and chose to speak for the entire black race which was leading a dehumanized existence. They subordinated the immediate problems of American blacks to a grand and enlarged vision of Pan-Africanism, which, in essence, stood for the unity and dignity of the black race.


As it has been reflected by Harshe in an article in the USA, the Pan-African movement has grown, substantially, acquiring different forms with charging times. The period prior to the birth of OAU had its own historical contribution to fully appreciate the on going Pan-African process.


Prior to the birth of the OAU, there was an inter-state politics in Africa which was characterized by growing rivalry between the Casablanca and Monrovia group of states. This rivalry, at least for a while, hindered the realization of the OAU.


The Casablanca group was principally led by Kwame Nkrumah of Ghana, Sekou Toure of Guinea, and Madibo Keita of Mali. The group vehemently opposed colonialism, racism and neocolonialism. Among other things, it opposed the Katanga secessionist movement, gave an extended support to Patrice Lumumba’s efforts to oust the Belgians from Congo, demanded French withdrawal from Algeria and was sympathetic towards the Soviet Union due to concrete Soviet support to their activities. This group had a more radical approach involving the creation of the federation of African states with joint institutions with a joint military command.


The Monrovia group, on its part, was constituted by the Brazzaville group including most of the moderate Francophone states such as Ivory Coast, Gabon, Niger, Senegal, Monrovia, etc. In addition, it had members like Ethiopia, Liberia, Nigeria and Somalia, which were neutral towards the rivalry between Casablanca and Brazzaville groups. It stood for the protection of national sovereignty, territorial integrity and independence of its members. It defended the principle of mutual non-interference in inter-sate relations and welcomed interstate technical and economic cooperation. Instead of snapping the ties with the west, the Monrovia group sought western cooperation in the process of promoting development.

The rivalry between the Casablanca and Monrovia groups was not, however, an unbridgeable gulf that could prevent the birth of the OAU. article Harshe stated three basic justifications for this historical scenario. To begin with, like the Monrovia states, the Casablanca states were also getting absorbed in the world capitalist economy despite their sporadic tirade against neo-colonialism and imperialism. The penetration of western finance capital in the extractive sectors of Guinean economy and Ghana’s membership of British Commonwealth amply illustrated this position. When succinctly expressed, both groups were eventually moving in the same direction. Secondly, despite their theoretical differences, both groups were keen to regulate and promote inter-state cooperation in Africa. Thirdly, though on their own ways, both groups aimed at liquidating colonialism and racism.


Harshe concludes that both groups had a lot in common. These commonalities were backed by the mediatory efforts of uncommitted (i.e. not strictly a proponent of either group) states like Ethiopia gave birth to the Organization of African Unity. Having passed all these ups and downs, the OAU was formally established in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia in May, 1963. The OAU Charter presented both views but using the vision of the Monrovia group as its core.


Wolfer states the tension in early days of the OAU and the compromise adopted as follows. “The main contention that surrounded the founding of the OAU is well known: whether the institution should lead to a union of states or merely to an association of the independent units.” Nweke, also states “The OAU was the product of a compromise between African statesmen who wanted political union of all independent African states and those who preferred functional cooperation as a building block towards the construction of an African socio-psychological community”.


The above statements can create a historical link between the OAU and the African Union. In the contention that surrounded the founding of the OAU, the latter statement  views the OAU as an association of the independent units prevailed over the creation of a union of states. The latter view had to wait for another favorable historical ground to be a reality. Wolfer state that the former position which failed to be operational has left its foot prints in the naming of the organization. He states “the agreed name [for the organization] was proposed in French by President Hubert Maga of Dahomey (possibly at the instigation of President Kwame Nkrumah of Ghana); and President William Tubman of Liberia insisted that the English translation be organization of (emphasis added) African Unity, rather than organization for African unity”.


The Assembly of the African Union has passed the Durban Declaration in tribute to the OAU and the launching of the African Union. The Durban Declaration describes the OAU in the following manner:-


The establishment of the OAU was a statement of determination to define Africa, not as individual countries but as collective bound together by geography, history and destiny. It was a self-empowering decision to find a framework for cooperation and forum for advocacy for African’s causes and for joint action. This determination found concrete expression in the objectives the founding fathers set for the OAU in its Charter of  promoting unity and solidarity among African states, of coordinating and intensifying cooperation for development, of defense for sovereignty, territorial integrity and independence of African state, of eradicating colonialism and of promoting international cooperation within the framework of the United Nations. The founding fathers saw a common future for Africa not contained by borders, linguistic differences, color, religion or other divisive legacies of colonialism. They saw one Africa, united in its diversity, speaking one language of freedom, unity and development under the Organization of African Unity.


Article II of the OAU Charter specifies the OAU’s purposes and indicates areas of intra-African cooperation. The following are the purposes of the OAU: –

–           To promote the unity and solidarity of the African states,

–           To coordinate and intensify their collaboration and efforts to achieve a better life for the peoples of Africa;

–           To defend their sovereignty, their territorial integrity, and their independence;

–           To eradicate all forms of colonialism in Africa, and

–           To promote international cooperation, having due regard for the Charter of the United Nations and the Universal Declaration of Human Rights,


Article III of the OAU Charter lists down the principles of the OAU, which are derived from the postulated purposes of the same. The principles of the OAU: include


–           The sovereign equality of all member states;

–           Non interference in the internal affairs of member states;

–           Respect for the sovereignty and territorial integrity of each state and for its inalienable right to independent existences;

–           Peaceful settlement of disputes by negotiation, mediation, conciliation, or arbitration;

–           Unreserved condemnation, in all its forms, of political assassination as well as of subversive activities on the part of neighboring states or any other state;

–           Absolute dedication to the total emancipation of the African territories that are still dependent; and

–           Affirmation of a policy of non-alignment with regard to all blocs.


Many of the purposes and principles of the OAU were keen in those days. Most of them are, however, not pertinent to the contemporary situation of Africa. A clear exemplification of such a holding may be the last that state the  principle of the OAU i.e., affirmation of a policy of non-alignment with regard to all blocs. By now, the mentioned blocs, the capitalist and socialist blocs are no more in rivalry. That is way a need was felt to bring a timely organization for Africa.


It can be argued that the African Union was conceived in the womb of the OAU. Stated other wise, though the objectives and principles of the African Union and the OAU are different, as is evident from the surrounding historical conditions, the idea of establishing the African Union was consolidated inside the OAU. Baimu shares this opinion as “It was noted that in the period between 1966 and 1999 efforts were made to realize African unity through the means of economic integration. This was expressed theoretically in a number of OAU declarations, resolutions and plans of actions that were adopted between 1968 and 1980, and in concrete terms in the formation of several sub-regional blocs.”


The conception of the African Union inside the OAU is highly reflected in a number of resolutions, decisions and declarations adopted by the OAU Assembly of the Heads of States and Government with a desire to realize African economic integration. The Monrovia declaration of commitment on the guidelines and measures for national and collective self-relations in economic and social development for establishment of a new international order called for the creation of the African Economic Market as a prelude to an African Economic Community, and the Lagos Plan of Action (LPA) which was adopted by the second extra-ordinary summit of the OAU in April 1980 and envisaged the creation of an African Economic Community by the year 2000.


The idea of continental economic integration was concretized in the 1991 Abuja Treaty Establishing the African Economic Community, which was adopted under the auspices of the OAU on 3 June 1991 and entered in to force on 12 May 1994 after the requisite number of ratifications was attained. Article 6 of the Treaty envisages the establishment of the African Economic Community, AEC, as an integral part of the OAU upon passing six consecutive stages over a transitional period not exceeding thirty-four years. The Abuja Treaty envisions the establishment of the AEC as a goal that should be achieved through encouraging the formation of sub-regional economic bodies which would eventually amalgamate to create the AEC.


Article 4 of the Abuja Treaty enumerates four basic objectives of the AEC. These are:


  1. To promote economic, social and cultural development and the integration of African economies in order to increase economic self-reliance and promote an endogenous and self-sustained development;
  2. To establish, on a continental scale, a framework for the development, mobilization and utilization of the human and material resources of Africa in order to achieve a self-reliant development.
  3. To promote cooperation in all fields of human Endeavour in order to raise the standard of living of African peoples, and maintain and enhance economic stability, foster close and peaceful relations among Member States and contribute to the progress, development and the economic integration of the continent, and
  4. To coordinate and harmonize policies among existing and future economic communities in order to foster the gradual establishment of the community.


With the coming into force of the Abuja Treaty, the OAU committed itself with the realization of the aforementioned objectives and therefore it has to coexist with the AEC. The gradual operation of the OAU based on both its Charter and the Abuja Treaty made it clear that there is an emerging need to come up with an institution that would combine OAU’s political nature and the AEC’s economic character. At the same time, the end of the millennium led to a sense of urgency among African leadership to reposition the OAU in order to set the African continent as a whole on a firm path to development and peace in the new millennium. It was in this context that the forty four African leaders met in Libya from 8 to 9 September 1999 at an extraordinary summit of the OAU called by the Libyan leader Muammar Gaddafi, to discuss the formation of a ‘United States of Africa’. The summit basically aimed at ‘strengthening OAU’s capacity to enable it to meet the challenges of the new millennium.’ It was there that the African leaders adopted the Sirte Declaration which called for the establishment of The African Union.


Having been instructed to model it on the European Union and taking into account the Charter of the OAU and the Abuja Treaty Establishing the African Economic Community, the OAU legal unit drafted the Constitutive Act of the African Union. The resulting draft Constitutive Act was debated on a meeting of legal experts and parliamentarians and later at a ministerial conference held in Tripoli from 31 May to 2 June 2000.


The Constitutive Act of the African Union was adopted by the OAU assembly of Heads of States and Governments in Lome in July 2000. By March 2001, all members of the OAU had signed the Constitutive Act and hence the OAU Assembly at its 5th extraordinary summit held in Sirte, Libya, from 1 to 2 March 2001 declared the establishment of the African Union. However, to fulfill the legal requirements for the African Union, the Constitutive Act had to wait for ratification by two thirds of the member states of the OAU. It was on 26 April 2001 that this requirement was met. On 26 May 2001, the Constitute Act entered in to force and thereby making the African Union a legal and political reality.


All what has been stated above might be taken as evidencing the assertion that ‘the African Union was conceived and be made realty in the womb of the OAU.’ It is this fact that capitalizes the importance of studying the development within the OAU to give birth to the African Union.


As has been stated earlier, the theme is not an in-depth analysis of the activities of the OAU. Rather it is a bird’s eye view of the same targeting on the historical tracks that led to the emergence of the African Union. The forthcoming subsections dictions ., 1.1.2 and 1.1.3 deal with issues similar to that dell under section  1.1.1. However, as they are worth being treated in depth, they are elaborated with a subsection of their own.


Discussion Questions


  • What were the major tenets of the Casablanca and Monrovia groups?
  • Why do you think that the OAU was mainly based on the ideas of the Monrovia group?
  • What decisive steps did the OAU take to smooth the ground for the emergence of the African Union?

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