African Union

Organization of 54 African Countries Forms African Union

African Union Building, Addis Ababa, Ethiopia
Sean Gallup / Getty Images

The African Union is one of the world's most important intergovernmental organizations. It is composed of 53 countries in Africa and is loosely based on the European Union. These African countries work diplomatically with each other despite differences in geography, history, race, language, and religion to try to improve the political, economic, and social situations for the approximately one billion people that live on the African continent. The African Union promises to protect Africa's rich cultures, some of which have existed for thousands of years.

African Union Membership

The African Union, or AU, includes every independent African country except Morocco. Additionally, the African Union recognizes the Sahrawi Arab Democratic Republic, which is a portion of Western Sahara; this recognition by the AU caused Morocco to resign. South Sudan is the newest member of the African Union, joining on July 28, 2011, less than three weeks after it became an independent country.

The OAU: The Precursor to the African Union

The African Union was formed after the dissolution of the Organization of African Unity (OAU) in 2002. The OAU was formed in 1963 when many African leaders wanted to accelerate the process of European decolonization and gain independence for a number of new nations. It also wanted to promote peaceful solutions to conflicts, ensure sovereignty forever, and raise living standards. However, the OAU was largely criticized from the beginning. Some countries still had deep ties to its colonial masters. Many countries associated themselves with the ideologies of either the United States or the Soviet Union during the height of the Cold War.

Although the OAU gave weapons to rebels and was successful in eliminating colonization, it could not eliminate the massive poverty problem. Its leaders were seen as corrupt and unconcerned for the welfare of the common people. Many civil wars occurred and the OAU could not intervene. In 1984, Morocco left the OAU because it opposed the membership of Western Sahara. In 1994, South Africa joined the OAU after the fall of apartheid.

The African Union Is Founded

Years later, Libya's leader Muammar Gaddafi, a strong proponent of African unity, encouraged the revival and improvement of the organization. After several conventions, the African Union was formed in 2002. The headquarters of the African Union is in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia. Its official languages are English, French, Arabic, and Portuguese, but many documents are also printed in Swahili and local languages. The leaders of the African Union work together to promote health, education, peace, democracy, human rights, and economic success.

Three AU Administrative Bodies

The heads of state of each member country form the AU Assembly. These leaders meet semi-annually to discuss the budget and major goals of peace and development. The current leader of the African Union Assembly is Bingu Wa Mutharika, the President of Malawi. The AU Parliament is the legislative body of the African Union and is composed of 265 officials who represent the common people of Africa. Its seat is in Midrand, South Africa. The African Court of Justice works to ensure that human rights for all Africans are respected.

The Improvement of Human Life in Africa

The African Union strives to improve every aspect of government and human life on the continent. Its leaders try to improve educational and career opportunities for ordinary citizens. It works to get healthy food, safe water, and adequate housing to the poor, especially in times of disaster. It studies the causes of these problems, like famine, drought, crime, and war. Africa has a high population that suffers from diseases like HIV, AIDS, and malaria, so the African Union tries to give treatment to the afflicted and provide education to prevent the spread of these diseases.

The Improvement of Government, Finances, and Infrastructure

The African Union supports agricultural projects. It works to improve transportation and communication and promotes scientific, technological, industrial, and environmental advancement. Financial practices like free trade, customs unions, and central banks are planned. Tourism and immigration ​are promoted, as well as better uses of energy and the protection of Africa's precious natural resources such as gold. Environmental problems like desertification are studied, and Africa's livestock resources are given aid.

The Improvement of Security

A major goal of the African Union is to encourage the collective defense, security, and stability of its members. The African Union's democratic principles have gradually reduced corruption and unfair elections. It tries to prevent conflicts between member nations and solve any disputes that do arise quickly and peacefully. The African Union can grant sanctions on disobedient states and withhold economic and social benefits. It does not tolerate inhumane acts such as genocide, war crimes, and terrorism.

The African Union can intervene militarily and has sent peacekeeping troops to alleviate political and social disorder in places like Darfur (Sudan), Somalia, Burundi, and Comoros. However, some of these missions have been criticized as being too underfunded, undermanned, and untrained. A few nations, like Niger, Mauritania, and Madagascar have been suspended from the organization after political events like coup d'etats.

Foreign Relations of the African Union

The African Union works closely with diplomats from the United States, European Union, and United Nations. It receives aid from countries around the world to deliver on its promises of peace and health for all Africans. The African Union realizes that its member nations must unite and cooperate to compete in the world's increasingly globalized economy and foreign relations. It hopes to have a single currency, like the euro, by 2023. An African Union passport may exist one day. In the future, the African Union hopes to benefit people of African origin living throughout the world.

African Union Struggles Linger

The African Union has improved stability and welfare, but it does have its challenges. Poverty is still a tremendous problem. The organization is deeply in debt and many consider some of its leaders to still be corrupt. Morocco's tension with Western Sahara continues to strain the entire organization. However, several smaller multi-state organizations exist in Africa, like the East African Community and the Economic Community of West African States, so the African Union can study how successful these smaller regional organizations have been in combating poverty and political strife.


In conclusion, the African Union comprises all but one of Africa's countries. Its goal of integration has fostered one identity and has enhanced the political, economic, and social climate of the continent, thereby giving hundreds of millions of people a healthier and more successful future.

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Richard, Katherine Schulz. "African Union." ThoughtCo, Feb. 16, 2021, Richard, Katherine Schulz. (2021, February 16). African Union. Retrieved from Richard, Katherine Schulz. "African Union." ThoughtCo. (accessed March 31, 2023).