The African Union


Established in 2002, the African Union works for integration, peace and security, democracy and human rights.

AU headquarters in Addis Ababa
AU headquarters in Addis Ababa© picture-alliance/dpa

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 55 members, meaning all countries of the African continent are represented.

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 2017: Moussa Faki Mahamat) 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): 15 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.

Click here to visit the the African Union website

African Peace and Security Architecture (APSA)

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.

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

UNAMID soldiers in Darfur
UNAMID soldiers in Darfur

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 is supporting 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. At the fourth EU-Africa Summit held in Brussels in April 2014 it was agreed that five (broad) priorities would be the focus of continent-to-continent cooperation:

  • peace and security;
  • democracy, good governance and human rights;
  • human development;
  • sustainable and inclusive development and growth, as well as continental integration;
  • global issues.

The next EU-Africa Summit will take place in Abidjan/Côte d’Ivoire at the end of November 2017.

Pan-African University

The African Union began to build the Pan-African University (PAU) in 2008. The aim 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.

There are institutes on key issues affecting the future with different faculties in four sites in North, West, East and Central Africa. The establishment of a fifth institute in South Africa is being prepared. In Algeria (Tlemcen) the Pan African University Institute for Water and Energy Sciences including Climate Change, of which Germany has agreed to be patron, is being set up.

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