African Union (AU), formerly (1963–2002) Organization of African Unity, intergovernmental organization, established in 2002, to promote unity and solidarity of African states, to spur economic development, and to promote international cooperation. The African Union (AU) replaced the Organization of African Unity (OAU). The AU’s headquarters are in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia.
The OAU was established on May 25, 1963, and its activities included diplomacy (especially in support of African liberation movements), mediation of boundary conflicts and regional and civil wars, and research in economics and communications. The OAU maintained the “Africa group” at the United Nations (UN) through which many of its efforts at international coordination were channeled. The OAU was instrumental in bringing about the joint cooperation of African states in the work of the Group of 77, which acts as a caucus of developing nations within the UN Conference on Trade and Development.
The principal organ of the OAU was the annual assembly of heads of state and government. Between these summit conferences, policy decisions were in the hands of a council of ministers, composed of foreign ministers of member states.
The major practical achievements of the OAU were mediations in several border disputes, including those of Algeria and Morocco (1963–64) and Kenya and Somalia (1965–67). It monitored events in South Africa and advocated international economic sanctions against that country as long as the official policy of apartheid was in place. In 1993 the OAU created a mechanism to engage in peacemaking and peacekeeping on the continent. In 1998 the OAU sponsored an international panel headed by former Botswanan president Ketumile Masire to investigate the genocide that took place in Rwanda in 1994; its report was released in 2000.
Also in 2000, in a move spearheaded by Libyan leader Colonel Muammar al-Qaddafi, it was proposed that the OAU be replaced by a new body, the African Union. The African Union was to be more economic in nature, similar to the European Union and would contain a central bank, a court of justice, and an all-Africa parliament. A Constitutive Act, which provided for the establishment of the African Union, was ratified by two-thirds of the OAU’s members and came into force on May 26, 2001. After a transition period, the African Union replaced the OAU in July 2002. In 2004 the AU’s Pan-African Parliament was inaugurated, and the organization agreed to create a peacekeeping force, the African Standby Force, of about 15,000 soldiers.