The African Union

The African Union (AU) was founded in 2002 as the successor to the Organization of African Unity. According to its founding charter, the AU mandate encompasses all fields of political, economic and social co-existence.

In particular, the AU is intended to advance economic and political integration, safeguard peace and security, foster sustainable development and promote democracy, human rights and good governance in Africa. It is furthermore authorised to speak on behalf of Africa at a global level and also to coordinate the activities of Africa’s regional organisations. 

The AU has 54 members, meaning all countries of the African continent are represented except Morocco. Morocco does not belong to the AU because of the conflict over the Saharan Arab Democratic Republic, which many states do not recognise.

Organisational structure

The most important organs of the AU are as follows:

  • Assembly of Heads of State and Government: convenes every six months; presidency rotates annually (currently Malawi)
  • Executive Council:  prepares for the meetings of Heads of State and Government at foreign minister level
  • Pan-African Parliament: comprises 265 representatives elected by the parliaments of the AU member states; has an advisory and supervisory function; convenes in Midrand, South Africa
  • AU Commission: executive organ/secretariat of the AU with headquarters in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia; President (since 2012: Nkosazana Dlamini-Zuma) and eight Commissioners elected by AU Assembly every four years
  • Economic, Social and Cultural Council (ECOSOCC): mouthpiece for African civil society with advisory function and 150 members
  • African Court on Human and People’s Rights: seat in Arusha, Tanzania
  • Peace and Security Council (PSC): fifteen rotating members meet on a regular basis in Addis Ababa; practical decision-making organ with extensive powers in the areas of peace and security

Financial institutions (African Investment Bank, African Central Bank and African Monetary Fund) are also planned or being developed.

Website of the African Union

African Peace and Security Architecture (APSA)

AU headquarters in Addis Ababa

AU headquarters in Addis Ababa
© picture-alliance/dpa

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AU headquarters in Addis Ababa

AU headquarters in Addis Ababa

AU headquarters in Addis Ababa

The establishment of the AU in 2002 laid the foundations of a peace and security architecture for the whole continent (APSA: African Peace and Security Architecture). With it came the understanding that the Africans and their regional organisations should take increased responsibility for peace and security on the continent.

The AU is duty bound to intervene in severe cases of human rights abuse or when there is a threat of genocide. It is also committed to the principle of ostracising regimes that have assumed power in violation of a country’s constitution and imposing sanctions on them. Accordingly, the AU membership rights of the Central African Republic, Guinea Bissau and Egypt are currently suspended. 

As a collective security and early warning system (in line with Chapter VIII of the UN Charter), ASPA is intended to facilitate prompt and effective responses to crises and conflict situations. Its central organ is the Peace and Security Council (PSC). The Council is supported by a Military Staff and a “Panel of the Wise”, whose function is to offer mediation.

African peacekeeping troops in Burundi, Darfur and Somalia

The African Standby Force (ASF) will provide the central pillar of the architecture in future. A framework concept was agreed in 2004. The Department for Peace and Security of the AU Commission combines the functions of executive and secretariat. A Pan-African Early Warning Unit is also attached to the Department to steer ongoing AU peacekeeping operations.

The AU began with a peacekeeping force in Burundi (AMIB) back in 2003, followed by the AMIS mission in Darfur (now UNAMID), AMISOM in Somalia and MISCA in the Central African Republic. These missions are not yet based on the idea of a standby force, but depend on voluntary undertakings by the troop-contributing nations.

The Federal Foreign Office supports the development of APSA by, amongst other things, helping to develop the police component of the ASF and construct a building for the Department for Peace and Security of the AU Commission in Addis Ababa.

EU-AU relations

The EU is the AU’s most important partner with regard to financial support and capacity-building. The Commissions of both organisations work closely together and meet on a regular basis. The EU is also the key partner for the development of an African peace and security architecture.

In order to do justice to the growing significance of Africa for Europe, the first EU-Africa Summit in Lisbon in 2007 adopted the Joint EU-Africa Strategy and Action Plan, which were then reaffirmed at the second Summit in 2010. The Strategy placed the relationship between the neighbouring continents on a new footing and extends beyond development issues. The next EU-Africa Summit will take place in Brussels on 2 and 3 April 2014.

Pan-African University

Since 2009 the African Union has been planning to set up a Pan-African University (PAU). The aim of founding the PAU is to promote science and technology on the African continent, coordinate research and development and improve general and vocational education. Other objectives are closer cooperation among scientists and researchers, greater mobility for African students and also the establishment of a regional and continental platform for scientific cooperation. 

It is expected that the PAU will in the future have five campuses, spread across the whole of Africa, each with its own different specialisation. In February 2010, in response to a request by the AU, Germany declared its willingness in principle to participate in the PAU project. The AU is particularly interested in German support for the planned North African campus with its research focus on “Water and energy, including climate change”.

New AU building

Last updated 18.03.2014

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