The African Union
CRS Report for Congress
The African Union
Analyst in African Affairs
Foreign Affairs, Defense, and Trade Division
In July 2002, the Organization of African Unity (OAU), founded in 1963 during
the decolonization era, was superseded by the African Union (AU). An AU Interim
Commission, created to transfer the institutional and real assets and liabilities of the
OAU to the AU, and establish the AU’s organizational structure, is the focal point of
AU activities during its inaugural year. The AU’s policy agenda overlaps substantially
with that of the OAU, but more strongly emphasizes a need for greater economic growth
and for governance reforms. The AU is likely to confront many of the same policy and
fiscal challenges faced by the OAU (see CRS Report RS20945, The Organization of
African Unity). H.Res. 155, introduced in March 2003, urges U.S. support of the AU and
its diverse economic and political goals. This report will be updated as events warrant.
The African Union (AU) has its roots in the Organization of African Unity (OAU)
and the African Economic Community (AEC) Treaty of 1991. It came into force in 1994,
following ratification by two-thirds of OAU member states.1 The AEC Treaty set up a
six-stage economic integration process leading to the anticipated creation, by 2028, of a
common market and a range of common political and economic institutions. Its lengthy
implementation schedule, however, meant that the treaty might yield few benefits for
decades. This factor, along with increasing calls for a basic restructuring of the purposes,
priorities, and organization of the OAU, ultimately led to its replacement by the AU.
Developments in the late 1990s that contributed to the reform movement included:
!Increasing support by OAU member states for good governance and its
rejection of undemocratic changes of power.
!A loosening of the OAU’s adherence to its long-standing doctrine of
non-interference by member states in the affairs of their peers, including
1 For online information on the African Union, see [http://www.africa-union.org] and
[ h t t p : / / www.au2002.gov.za] .
Congressional Research Service ˜ The Library of Congress
some marked by human rights abuses and undemocratic transfers of
!The rising importance of economic liberalization, renewed attention to
market-driven economic growth, and global trends toward regional
H.Res. 155, introduced by Representative Meeks on March 2003, urges that the United
States commend the AU’s creation and support its diverse economic and political goals.
Sirte Summit. In September 1999, a summit of OAU heads of state held in Sirte,
Libya assessed and sought to improve the OAU charter. The meeting, held on the 30th
anniversary of Libyan leader Muammar al-Qadhafi’s coup d’état, was seen as an effort
to extend Libya’s growing influence in Africa, and to end its international isolation in the
wake of the Lockerbie airplane bombing.2 Al-Qadhafi hosted the meeting to press for the
creation of a United States of Africa, loosely modeled on the United States. Such a union,
he asserted, was needed to further intra-continental economic development and
integration, and to enable more organic relations to emerge between nations divided by
arbitrary, colonial-era borders. He cited the AEC Treaty as the legal and institutional basis
of his proposal, stating that it had fundamentally redefined the OAU Charter, and noting
that it allowed for the creation of a range of common, pan-continental institutions. His
proposal, which echoed 1960s-era pan-Africanist ideas, emphasized a need to resolve and
prevent Africa’s conflicts through the establishment of common defense institutions.
Summit participants issued the Sirte Declaration. Explicitly referencing al-Qadhafi’s
ideas, it called for the revitalization of the OAU and provided for the creation of an
African Union, which was to conform with the OAU Charter and the AEC Treaty. It also
called for the accelerated implementation of the AEC Treaty, and set the year 2000 as the
projected start-up date for a pan-African parliament. It tasked the presidents of Algeria
and South Africa, in consultation with the OAU Contact Group on Africa’s External Debt,
with seeking a substantial reduction or the total cancellation of Africa’s foreign debt.
Subsequent Developments. In March 2000, in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia, the
OAU Council of Ministers ratified the Sirte Declaration. In July 2000, in Lomé, Togo, the
OAU Assembly of Heads of State and Government adopted an African Union Draft
Constitutive Act. It also requested that OAU member parliamentarians vet a Pan-African
Parliament (PAP) Draft Protocol to the AEC Treaty, prior to its ratification. The AU Draft
Constitutive Act text differed substantially from the model proposed by al-Qadhafi, and
contained no binding provisions or timetables. In March 2001, again meeting in Libya,
an OAU/AEC summit of heads of state mandated that the AU would come into being
upon the 36th ratification by an OAU member state of the AU Constitutive Act — a
benchmark reached in April 2001, when Nigeria deposited its instrument of ratification.
The summit also adopted the PAP Draft Protocol, prior to its approval by OAU members.
An OAU/AEC Summit, meeting in July 2001 in Lusaka, Zambia, charged the OAU
Secretary General, in consultation with OAU states, with determining the modalities
2 Al-Qadhafi has sought to increase Libya’s influence in continental affairs and deepen its
bilateral relations with many African states by mediating in several conflicts and providing
several African countries with grant, credit, and barter-based assistance, often related to fuel
supply supports. See CRS Issue Brief IB93109, Libya.
necessary for the creation, structuring, and functioning of the organs of the AU. Priority
was given to the creation of an Assembly, Executive Council, Commission, and a
Permanent Representatives Committee. The same actors were charged with defining the
areas of competence, inter-relationships, and linkages with other external multilateral,
non-governmental, and professional organizations of the OAU’s specialized agencies, and
processes for reconstituting these as AU organs. The Summit also:
!Determined that regional economic communities would function as key
“building blocks” of the AU. 3
!Authorized the OAU Secretary General to “identify alternative modalities
of funding the activities and programs of the [AU], bearing in mind that
the Union cannot operate on the basis of assessed contributions from
Member States only.”4
!Mandated that, as provided by the AU Constitutive Act, OAU assets,
liabilities, and agreements with other parties would devolve to the AU.
In July 2002 in Durban, South Africa, the final meetings of the OAU were held. They
were followed by official inauguration of the African Union, and meetings of its
Assembly, Executive Council, and Assembly of Heads of State and Government.
Structure and Functioning of the African Union
Organization. The Constitutive Act of the African Union defines the institutional
structure, organizational principles, and broad policy roles of constituent AU organs.
These include the following:
!An Assembly, an Executive Council, and a Commission of the Union.
!A Pan-African Parliament and a Permanent Representatives Committee.
!Court of Justice.5
!Peace and Security Council.
!Specialized Technical Committees, responsible to the Executive Council.
These include committees on: Economy and Agricultural Matters;
Monetary and Financial Affairs; Trade, Customs and Immigration
Matters; Industry, Science and Technology, Energy, Natural Resources
and Environment; Transport, Communications and Tourism; Health,
Labor and Social Affairs; and Education, Culture and Human Resources.
!Economic, Social and Cultural Council.
3 Major regional trade and economic cooperation organizations include the Common Market for
Eastern and Southern Africa (COMESA), the Southern African Development Community
(SADC), East African Community (EAC), Regional Integration Facilitation Forum (RIFF), the
Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS), the Southern African Customs Union
(SACU), and the West African Economic and Monetary Union (WEAMU).
4 OAU, Decision on the Implementation of the Sirte Summit Decision on the African Union,
Lusaka, Zambia, Dec. 1, 2001.
5 The Council will integrate, augment, and functionally replace the OAU Mechanism for Conflict
Prevention, Management and Resolution, which will remain in existence pending ratification by
member states of the Peace and Security Council Protocol (ASS/AU/Dec. 3 [I]).
!Central Financial Institutions (including an African Central Bank; and
African Monetary Fund; and an African Investment Bank).
The precise operational relationships among these organs and with their subsidiary
bodies, and their structures, functions, mandates, and powers, are yet to be determined.
African Union Policy: NEPAD. A key AU policy vehicle is the New Partnership
for Africa’s Development (NEPAD), a multi-sector sustainable development and
investment planning and advocacy framework. It has been endorsed by diverse African
leaders and by key multilateral organizations.6 A core feature of NEPAD is the voluntary,
progress-based African Peer Review Mechanism (APRM). APRM signatory states will
be subject to peer evaluations that will assess their degree of adherence to political,
economic and corporate governance goals, codes, and standards contained in the NEPAD
Declaration on Democracy, Political, Economic and Corporate Governance.
Defining the AU Agenda: Contrasting Visions of Reform
During the African Union inaugural summit in July 2002, leaders from across Africa
joined together in a public display of continental unity and pageantry. The formation of
the African Union, however, was reportedly the subject of significant, sometimes divisive
debate among African leaders. The debate arrayed leading political and economic
reformers, in particular advocates of NEPAD and of Africa’s further integration into the
global economy, against several leaders who have championed African political autonomy
and nationalist policy agendas. The latter, including the heads of state of Libya,
Zimbabwe, Namibia and Gambia, criticized NEPAD. They warned that for such a plan
to be successful, it would need to be defined, realized, and controlled by Africans alone,
independent of external influences. NEPAD was defined by foreign political and
economic models, they asserted, and might subject Africa to externally-imposed political
conditions in exchange for credit and other assistance. They also asserted that NEPAD7
would create financial dependency on external creditors.
Libyan and South African Leadership Roles. Differences over the proposed
purpose and role of the AU played out in reported disagreements between President
Thabo Mbeki of South Africa and Libyan leader Muammar al-Qadhafi. The latter has
promoted a range of populist, sometimes radical, proposals. These reflect traditional
pan-Africanist goals emphasizing a need for greater continental unity and sovereignty vis-
a-vis the industrialized world, and a strong rejection of policy conditionalities in exchange
for access to credit. Despite al-Qadhafi’s early conceptual contributions to the creation of
the AU and his subsequent outreach efforts, the AU organization that ultimately emerged
reflected broad African leadership support for NEPAD. The gradual displacement of
al-Qadhafi’s agenda by NEPAD reportedly gave rise to a leadership struggle between him
and President Mbeki. During a June 2002 state visit by Mbeki to Libya, al-Qadhafi
reportedly called NEPAD a project of “former colonisers and racists,” i.e., of Western
6 See CRS Report RS21353, New Partnership for Africa’s Development (NEPAD). NEPAD
documents are available online at [http://www.nepad.org/].
7 See The Herald Online (Harare), “’No Differences Between Zim, AU over NEPAD’,” July 31,
“Gambia: President Jammeh Down on NEPAD,” BBC, July 23, 2002.
governments.8 He also reportedly attempted to delay the July 2002 initiation of the AU
in Durban, South Africa in favor of a launch in 2003 in Libya, with Libya — not South
Africa — as the first AU chair. Libya has helped some countries to pay their OAU arrears,
in an apparent attempt to garner support and to increase its influence within the OAU
during the transition to the AU. The president of Zambia, which received such assistance,
reportedly championed the transfer of AU headquarters from Ethiopia to Libya, asserting
that such a key role was befitting of Libya, as one of the richest AU countries.
The Libyan and South Africa governments have dismissed claims that a rivalry exists
between them, and efforts to bridge their differences appear to have been successful,
albeit broadly in favor of the South African agenda. President Thabo Mbeki was named
as the first chairperson of the AU during its inaugural year, and the first AU summit was
held in Durban, South Africa. Libya has indicated its acceptance of NEPAD and its Peer
Review mechanism, and Libya is represented on the NEPAD Implementation Committee.
Some AU inauguration summit participants reportedly believe that al-Qadhafi’s presence
in NEPAD could jeopardize the recent endorsement of the plan by the G-8 countries.9
Current Topics and Issues
HIV/AIDS. World-wide, Africa is the region currently most affected by the
HIV/AIDS epidemic. In many African countries, it is rapidly decreasing life expectancy
rates, reducing current and future economic production, and leading to enormous human
resource losses, including within the educated work force. Some critics claim that
NEPAD fails to substantively and pro-actively address the extreme devastation being
engendered by the spread of AIDS in many African countries.
War and Conflict. Conflicts in Sierra Leone and Angola have recently ended, but
hostilities continue in Somalia, Liberia, Burundi, Sudan and the Democratic Republic of
the Congo (DRC).10 Many other countries have faced armed insurgencies or periodically
high levels of political violence in recent years. Such conflicts pose potent challenges to
the AU goal of achieving continental peace and security, while upholding the doctrine of
member states’ non-interference in the internal affairs of their peers. In late April 2003,
the AU began deploying the first 100 members of a planned 3,500-strong combined South
African, Ethiopian, and Mozambican peacekeeping force that will monitor and reinforce
a cease-fire and political succession aimed at ending Burundi’s civil war.
Democracy and Governance Challenges. The extent of the African Union’s
determination to consolidate democratic institutions and culture, and ensure good
governance and adherence to the rule of law — as reflected in the AU Constitutive Act
and in multiple NEPAD texts — face immediate tests. In recent years, the constitutions
of several African states have been amended expressly to allow current leaders to renew
8 Ranjeni Munusamy, “Mbeki’s African Plan under Fire,” June 16, 2002, Sunday Times (South
Africa), inter alia.
9 Carola Hoyos and Nicol Degli Innocenti, “Africa Launches a Union to Fight War and Poverty,”
July 10, 2002, Financial Times.
10 Recent provisional peace accords relating to the DRC and Sudan conflicts, respectively, may
lead to the end to these conflicts. Some observers remain pessimistic about such possibilities.
their terms of office. Such developments suggest that the power of incumbency, rather
than the rule of law, effectively governs political power-holding in many African
countries — although in several countries, including Zambia, Malawi, and Mozambique,
the trend toward entrenched presidential incumbency has been reversed. In other cases,
the legitimacy of recent local legislative elections administered by ruling parties have
been questioned by opposition groups and outside observers. Key challenges facing the
AU are disputed polls in Madagascar, Zimbabwe; Nigeria also held a widely criticized
Madagascar. In the island nation of Madagascar, contested presidential elections
in late 2001 led to a tense, violent, half year stand-off between the two candidates and
their supporters. After the election, the challenger, businessman Marc Ravalomanana,
citing electoral irregularities, declared himself the electoral winner over Didier Ratsiraka,
the longtime incumbent. The Malagasy Supreme Court later sanctioned his claim. In June
2002, the United States and several other powers formally recognized Ravalomanana’s
government, and France soon followed suite. The AU, however, has not recognized the
new government, and has called for new elections. Senegal, which had tried to mediate
in crisis, did not endorse the AU decision. It recognized the new government, as did
Burkina Faso, Mauritius, Libya and the Comoros. There are indications that the AU may
soon recognize the current Malagasy government.
Zimbabwe. In contrast to its Madagascar decision, the inaugural AU Assembly
tacitly accepted the highly disputed March 2002 re-election of Zimbabwean President
Robert Mugabe, which was preceded by extensive political violence and a controversial
land redistribution program. Although the AU did not directly address the election, it
affirmed earlier OAU endorsements of it, mirroring acceptance of the election by sub-
regional leaders and SADC. In contrast, the United States, the European Union, and other
countries rejected the Zimbabwean poll. Leaders of the Zimbabwean opposition
Movement for Democratic Change, some of whom were prevented from attending the AU
inauguration, called upon the AU to use the NEPAD African Peer Review Mechanism to
sanction the Zimbabwean government for abuses of human and political rights.
Elitism and Popular Participation. Civil society activists have long charged
that the OAU was a state-centric forum that upheld the interest of political elites, rather
than the public good. Some critics predict that the AU may become subject to similar
biases, and assert that without much broader input from African societies at large, the AU
will become irrelevant to the needs of the majority of Africa’s citizens. Still, many critics
see positive potential in both the AU and NEPAD, and leading AU architects, such as
President Mbeki, have recognized their concerns in public statements. Mbeki has
sponsored forums focusing on AU-related policy goals of diverse civil society groups.
Structural Poverty and Financing of NEPAD. The AU may face difficulties
in financing its ambitious agenda, as did the OAU. The average sub-Saharan per capita
in 2002 was $470 and was much lower in many non-oil-producing countries. In addition,
wealth is highly unequally distributed in many African countries; even in the wealthiest
of sub-Saharan countries, the majority of people are poor. While NEPAD is an attempt
to improve the economic standing of Africa in general, growth that it may generate is
likely to occur over the medium to long-term. In the short to medium term, funding
shortfalls are likely to curtail the ability of the AU to meet its planned objectives.