Organisation of African Unity
Organisation de l'unité africaine
Flag of the Organisation for African Unity
Anthem: "Let Us All Unite and Celebrate Together"
OAU during its foundation
OAU during its foundation
CapitalAddis Ababa
• 1963–1964
Kifle Wodajo
• 1964–1972
Diallo Telli
• 1972–1974
Nzo Ekangaki
• 1974–1978
William Eteki
• 1978–1983
Edem Kodjo
• 1983–1985
Peter Onu
• 1985–1989
Ide Oumarou
• 1989–2001
Salim Ahmed Salim
• 2001–2002
Amara Essy
• Charter
25 May[citation needed] 1963
• Disbanded
9 July 2002
Preceded by
Succeeded by
Casablanca Group
Monrovia Group
African Union
a Headquartered in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia

The Organisation of African Unity (OAU; French: Organisation de l'unité africaine, OUA) was an intergovernmental organization established on 25 May 1963 in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia, with 33 signatory governments.[1][a] One of the main heads for OAU's establishment was Kwame Nkrumah of Ghana. It was disbanded on 9 July 2002 by its last chairman, South African President Thabo Mbeki, and replaced by the African Union (AU). Some of the key aims of the OAU were to encourage political and economic integration among member states, and to eradicate colonialism and neo-colonialism from the African continent.[2]

The absence of an armed force like that of the United Nations left the organization with no means to enforce its decisions. It was also not willing to become involved in the internal affairs of member nations prompting some critics to claim the OAU as a forum for rhetoric, not action. Recognizing this, the OAU in September 1999 issued the Sirte Declaration, calling for a new body to take its place. On 9 July 2002, this happened with the creation of the African Union. The African Union continues to this day to uphold many of the founding principles of the OAU.[3]


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See also: Union of African States and History of the African Union

The OAU was founded in May 1963[4] in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia, by 32 African states with the main aim of bringing the African nations together and resolve the issues within the continent.[4] Its first ever conference was held on 1 May 1963[5] in Addis Ababa.[5][4] At that conference, the late Gambian historian – and one of the leading Gambian nationalists and Pan-Africanists at the time – Alieu Ebrima Cham Joof delivered a speech in front of the member states, in which he said:[5]

It is barely 75 years when the European Powers sat around the table in Germany each holding a dagger to carve up Africa for its own benefit.… Your success will inspire and speed up the freedom and total independence of the African continent and eradicate imperialism and colonialism from the continent and eventually neo-colonialism from the globe… Your failure, which no true African in Africa is praying for, will prolong our struggle with bitterness and disappointment. I, therefore, adjure that you ignore any suggestion outside Africa and holding that the present civilization, which some of the big powered are boasting of, sprang up from Africa, and realising that the entire world has something earthly to learn from Africa, you would endeavour your utmost to come to agreement, save Africa from the clutches of neo-colonialism and resurrect African dignity, manhood and national stability.


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The OAU had the following primary aims:

Emperor of Ethiopia Haile Selassie with President of Egypt Gamal Abdel Nasser in Addis Ababa for the Organisation of African Unity summit, 1963.

A Liberation Committee was established to aid independence movements and look after the interests of already-independent states. The OAU also aimed to stay neutral in terms of global politics, which would prevent them from being controlled once more by outside forces – an especial danger with the Cold War.

The OAU had other aims, too:

Soon after achieving independence, a number of African states expressed a growing desire for more unity within the continent. Not everyone was agreed on how this unity could be achieved, however, and two opinionated groups emerged in this respect:

Some of the initial discussions took place at Sanniquellie, Liberia. The dispute was eventually resolved when Ethiopian emperor Haile Selassie I invited the two groups to Addis Ababa, where the OAU and its headquarters were subsequently established. The Charter of the Organisation was signed by 32 independent African states.

At the time of the OAU's disbanding, 53 out of the 54 African states were members; Morocco left on 12 November 1984 following the admission of the Sahrawi Arab Democratic Republic as the government of Western Sahara in 1982.[7]

Criticism and praise

The organisation was widely derided as a bureaucratic "talking shop" with little power. It struggled to enforce its decisions, and its lack of armed force made intervention exceedingly difficult. Civil wars in Nigeria and Angola continued unabated for years, and the OAU could do nothing to stop them.

The policy of non-interference in the affairs of member states also limited the effectiveness of the OAU. Thus, when human rights were violated, as in Uganda under Idi Amin in the 1970s, the OAU was powerless to stop them.

The Organisation was praised by Ghanaian former United Nations Secretary-General Kofi Annan for bringing Africans together. Nevertheless, critics argue that, in its 39 years of existence, the OAU did little to protect the rights and liberties of African citizens from their own political leaders, often dubbing it as a "Dictators' Club"[8] or "Dictators' Trade Union".

The OAU was, however, successful in some respects. Many of its members were members of the UN, too, and they stood together within the latter organisation to safeguard African interests – especially in respect of lingering colonialism. Its pursuit of African unity, therefore, was in some ways successful.

Total unity was difficult to achieve, however, as the OAU was largely divided. The former French colonies, still dependent on France, had formed the Monrovia Group, and there was a further split between those that supported the United States and those that supported the USSR in the Cold War of ideologies. The pro-Socialist faction was led by Ghana's Kwame Nkrumah, while Félix Houphouët-Boigny of the Ivory Coast led the pro-capitalists. Because of these divisions, it was difficult for the OAU to take action against states involved in internal conflicts because it could rarely reach an agreement on what was to be done.

The OAU did play a pivotal role in eradicating colonialism and white minority rule in Africa. It gave weapons, training and military bases to rebel groups fighting white minority and colonial rule. Groups such as the ANC and PAC, fighting apartheid, and ZANU and ZAPU, fighting to topple the government of Rhodesia, were aided in their endeavours by the OAU. African harbours were closed to the South African government, and South African aircraft were prohibited from flying over the rest of the continent. The UN was convinced by the OAU to expel South Africa from bodies such as the World Health Organization.

The OAU also worked with the UN to ease refugee problems. It set up the African Development Bank for economic projects intended to make Africa financially stronger. Although all African countries eventually won their independence, it remained difficult for them to become totally independent of their former colonisers. There was often continued reliance on the former colonial powers for economic aid, which often came with strings attached: loans had to be paid back at high interest-rates, and goods had to be sold to the aiders at low rates.

The US and Soviet Union intervened in post-colonial Africa in pursuit of their own objectives. Help was sometimes provided in the form of technology and aid-workers. Despite the fight to keep "Westerners" (colonialists) out of African affairs, the OAU failed to achieve to meet goals set up to advocate African affairs. The Organisation still heavily depended on Western help (military and economic) to intervene in African affairs, despite African leaders' displeasure at dealing with the international community, especially Western countries.


Autonomous specialised agencies, working under the auspices of the OAU, were:

List of chairpersons

Main article: Chairperson of the Organisation of African Unity

List of secretaries-general

Main article: Secretary General of the Organisation of African Unity

OAU summits

Egypt's president Nasser at the Cairo summit 1964
Host City Host Country Date
Addis Ababa  Ethiopia 22–25 May 1963
Cairo  Egypt 17–21 July 1964
Accra  Ghana 21–26 October 1965
Addis Ababa  Ethiopia 5–9 November 1966
Kinshasa  Democratic Republic of the Congo 11–14 September 1967
Algiers  Algeria 13–16 September 1968
Addis Ababa  Ethiopia 6–10 September 1969
Addis Ababa  Ethiopia 1–3 September 1970
Addis Ababa  Ethiopia 21–23 June 1971
Rabat  Morocco 12–15 June 1972
Addis Ababa  Ethiopia 27–28 May 1973
Mogadishu  Somalia 1974
Kampala  Uganda 28 July–1 August 1975
Port Louis  Mauritius 2–6 July 1976
Libreville  Gabon 2–5 July 1977
Khartoum  Sudan 18–22 July 1978
Monrovia  Liberia 17–20 July 1979
Freetown  Sierra Leone 1–4 July 1980
Nairobi  Kenya 24–27 June 1981
Addis Ababa  Ethiopia 6–12 June 1983
Addis Ababa  Ethiopia 12–15 November 1984
Addis Ababa  Ethiopia 18–20 July 1985
Addis Ababa  Ethiopia 28–30 July 1986
Addis Ababa  Ethiopia 27–29 July- 1987
Addis Ababa  Ethiopia Extraordinary Summit: October 1987
Addis Ababa  Ethiopia 25–28 May 1988
Addis Ababa  Ethiopia 24–26 July 1989
Addis Ababa  Ethiopia 9–11 July 1990
Abuja  Nigeria 3–5 July 1991
Dakar  Senegal 29 June – 1 July 1992
Cairo  Egypt 28–30 June 1993
Tunis  Tunisia 13–15 June 1994
Addis Ababa  Ethiopia 26–28 June 1995
Yaoundé  Cameroon 8–10 June 1996
Harare  Zimbabwe 2–4 June 1997
Ouagadougou  Burkina Faso 8–10 June 1998
Algiers  Algeria 12–14 July 1999
Sirte  Libya Extraordinary Summit 6–9 September 1999
Lomé  Togo 10–12 July 2000
Lusaka  Zambia 9–11 July 2001, the last OAU summit

OAU members by date of admission (53 states)

Date Countries Notes
25 May 1963  Algeria
 Central African Republic
 DR Congo 1971–97 Zaire
 Dahomey From 1975 Benin
 Ivory Coast From 1985 Côte d'Ivoire
 Morocco Withdrew 12 November 1984, protesting the membership of Western Sahara. However, Morocco joined the African Union in January 2017, 33 years after its withdrawal.[9]
 Sierra Leone
 Tanganyika Tanganyika and Zanzibar merged 26 April 1964 to form the United Republic of Tanganyika and Zanzibar, which was renamed Tanzania on 1 November 1964.
 Upper Volta From 1984 Burkina Faso
 Zanzibar Tanganyika and Zanzibar merged 26 April 1964 to form the United Republic of Tanganyika and Zanzibar, which was renamed Tanzania 1 November 1964.
13 December 1963  Kenya
13 July 1964  Malawi
16 December 1964  Zambia
October 1965  Gambia
31 October 1966  Botswana
August 1968  Mauritius
24 September 1968  Swaziland (now Eswatini)
12 October 1968  Equatorial Guinea
19 November 1973  Guinea-Bissau
11 February 1975  Angola
18 July 1975  Cape Verde
 São Tomé and Príncipe
29 June 1976  Seychelles
27 June 1977  Djibouti
1 June 1980  Zimbabwe
22 February 1982  Western Sahara
3 June 1990  Namibia
24 May 1993  Eritrea
6 June 1994  South Africa

See also


  1. ^ Due to the union of Tanganyika and Zanzibar into Tanzania about a year later, the 33 original signatories represent 32 modern states.


  1. ^ a b "Department of International Relations and Cooperation – South Africa". Archived from the original on 4 February 2012. Retrieved 10 December 2011.
  2. ^ "African Union (See also – Organization of African Unity (OAU)) Archives". Question of Palestine. Retrieved 27 May 2021.
  3. ^ Beverton, Alys (10 May 2009). "Organization of African Unity (1963–2002)". Retrieved 27 May 2021.
  4. ^ a b c Jaynes, Gerald D., Encyclopedia of African American Society, Volume 1 (contributors: Thomson Gale (Firm), Sage Publications), (2005), p. 672, ISBN 978-0761927648 [1] Archived 18 July 2018 at the Wayback Machine
  5. ^ a b c "Message to the Founding Fathers of the OAU at their First Conference at Addis Ababa 1st May 1963 – Alhaji A E Cham-Joof". The Point Newspaper, 29 June 2006. Archived 23 November 2011 at the Wayback Machine
  6. ^ Elias, T. O. (1965). "The Charter of the Organization of African Unity". The American Journal of International Law. 59 (2): 243–267. doi:10.2307/2196967. ISSN 0002-9300. JSTOR 2196967. S2CID 146867168.
  7. ^ Beverton, Alys (10 May 2009). "Organization of African Unity (1963–2002)".
  8. ^ Reynolds, Paul (8 July 2002). "BBC News – World – Africa – African Union replaces dictators' club". Archived from the original on 4 March 2012. Retrieved 8 August 2006.
  9. ^ "Morocco rejoins the African Union after 33 years". Al Jazeera. 31 January 2017. Archived from the original on 18 June 2018. Retrieved 18 June 2018.
  10. ^ "African Parliamentary Union". Archived from the original on 2 April 2015. Retrieved 14 March 2015.

Further reading