60 years of African unity: what's failed and what's succeeded (2023)

Africa Day this year marks 60 years since the founding of the Organisation of African Unity (OAU). The anniversary begs the question: How much of the vision of the OAU’s founding fathers has been realised 60 years on? What would not be there but for the efforts of the organisation and its successor the African Union?

There were two competing visions lobbying at the founding. Kwame Nkrumah, Ghana’s president, in his Africa must Unite speech, argued the pan-African case for continental federalism, for a Union of African States, with one continental diplomatic corps, one department of defence, and a common market.

He was hugely outvoted by other presidents refusing to give up their sovereignty. So the OAU, formed on 25 May 1963, was instead modelled on the Organisation of American States. It was an inter-governmental organisation whose charter pledged it to not interfere in the internal affairs of its member states – even in the event of massacres. This followed the precedents of the UN United Nations, the Arab League, and the Organisation of American States, and would soon be followed by the Association of South-East Asian Nations (ASEAN).

The OAU was committed to decolonisation, including the end of apartheid in South Africa and the settler regime in Southern Rhodesia (Zimbabwe). It contributed herculean diplomatic lobbying and sanctions to achieve this. Its Liberation Committee, based in Dar es Salaam (the Tanzanian commercial capital), donated weapons and funds to the insurgencies in South Africa, Zimbabwe, Namibia, Angola, and Mozambique.

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The OAU was a state-centric realisation of pan-Africanism. It launched a variety of continental NGOs, which were allocated to one or other member state to host. Space allows for only one example: it supported the launch of the Pan-African Writers’ Association. Ghana pledged to provide it with premises for headquarters.

One development not anticipated when the OAU was founded in 1963 was the subsequent establishment of regional economic communities. There are over a dozen of these. Out of the eight officially recognised by the AU, the most significant are the Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS), the Southern African Development Community (SADC), and the East African Community (EAC). These three are each free trade areas and, on paper at least, the ECOWAS and EAC are custom unions. These each provide stepping-stones towards that continental common market that Nkrumah had lobbied for back in 1963.

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As a political scientist who has researched the OAU and AU, I argue that it has performed far better than almost all of its global counterparts, though it has also experienced several shortcomings.

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The hits

One success of the AU is its growing prestige. After its founding in 2002, Wikipedia did not consider it merited an entry until 2011. But today 50 non-African states accredit ambassadors to the AU. The diaspora demanded inclusion during South African president Thabo Mbeki’s leadership, and is now formally recognised as the “sixth region” of the AU since 2003. Caribbean nations, members of CARRICOM, recently started formal links with the AU: these are African-descendant nations, abducted out of Africa during centuries of slave trade.

The AU architecture for peacekeeping and peacemaking has no peer in the Organisation of American States, Arab League, or ASEAN. While most AU organs meet only twice per year, the Peace and Security Council has met twice per month since its founding in 2004.

Dozens of its ad hoc military missions help governments with the suppression of terrorism everywhere from the Sahel to northern Mozambique. Various AU and regional economic community peacekeepers have served in the Democratic Republic of Congo’s numerous civil wars for decades.

60 years of African unity: what's failed and what's succeeded (1)

The AU seeks a role in global governance. It tries to negotiate that Africa speaks with one voice in the halls of international organisations. Since some of the most important economic decisions about Africa are made outside the continent, the urgency of this is self-explanatory. The AU has its own embryonic diplomatic corps, with permanent diplomatic missions in Brussels (to negotiate with the EU), Beijing, Cairo (to negotiate with the Arab League) in New York (at the United Nations), and in Washington (to negotiate with the World Bank and IMF).

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Kwame Nkrumah appealed for an African common market back in 1963. The 1991 Treaty of Abuja proposed an elaborate 34-year schedule to achieve this. The first real step towards such economic integration is the African Continental Free Trade Area - headed by a South African Secretary-General, Wamkele Mene. Clearly, this will take at least a decade to substantially achieve. But the prize of “defragmenting Africa”, as the World Bank calls it, will be worth the herculean lobbying and negotiating it will take. The African Continental Free Trade Area is currently negotiating “rules of origin” and dispute-settling mechanisms as its opening steps.

The AU tries to be norms-making. The 1991 Treaty of Abuja must surely be the world’s most ambitious attempt to import lock, stock, and barrel the institutions and norms of the EU into another continent, which was of course only partially successful.

Few AU members have implemented the Charter on Democracy, Elections, and Good Governance. But a majority of countries have one by one signed up to the African Peer Review Mechanism which, like the AU, has just celebrated its 20th anniversary. This is part of the peer pressure towards constitutionalism, and against autocrats.

The misses

One failure of the AU is in not preventing serial coups-de-etat. There have been more than 200 coups following the era of independence in the 1960s. The obvious reason is that the continental body never sends a military intervention to suppress the putchists, to capture them and bring them to trial for treason. It limits itself to diplomatic pressures against them, such as suspending their membership.

In 2016 the AU launched a campaign to “silence the guns by 2020”. Unhappily, it proved powerless to prevent both coups and terrorist insurgencies from continuing, so the slogan was repackaged as “silence the guns by 2030”. It remains to be seen if wars can be suppressed throughout the African continent by 2030.

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Another failure is in getting member states to pay their annual dues. Clearly, the current penalties of suspension, which only fully come into effect when a state falls two years behind in payments, is not a deterrent. The AU surely needs to follow the universal practice by banks - that if a customer falls more than two months behind in repaying a mortgage bond, full sanctions are implemented.

The AU often dispatches election observers to countries to monitor voting, and hopefully to deter vote-rigging in its various forms. It has been criticised for reluctance to censure incumbent regimes that tilt the playing field in the electoral contest for power.


In conclusion, the AU compares well with its peers in developing countries such as ASEAN, Organisation of American States, and Arab League. The AU accomplishes more than the Commonwealth, or the Francophonie. Only the EU is way ahead – because its budget is three orders of magnitude larger than that of the AU.

The AU has put cornerstones in place towards realising the goals of the founders. The end of coups and civil wars; working towards establishing an African common market; and getting Africa to speak with one voice in global governance are worthy goals to persist in pursuing.

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What were the failures of African unity? ›

Arguably, its major failing was its inability to bring peace, prosperity, security, and stability to Africa. The OAU was found wanting in its responses to the tyrannies and kleptocracies ruining Africa, a deficiency that undermined its credibility.

What were the successes of the Organization of African Unity? ›

To realize decolonization, the OAU organized diplomatic support and provided logistical aid to liberation movements throughout the African continent. The OAU was successful in its mission, as 50 African countries had gained independence from European colonial powers by 1977.

What succeeded the Organization of Africa Unity as more countries became independent? ›

The Organization of African Unity was formed in 1963, 18 years after the United Nations in 1945. Four African states - Egypt, Ethiopia, Liberia and South Africa, were founding members of the UN. As more African states became independent, they asserted their sovereignty and independence by joining the United Nations.

What are some of the problems facing the Organization of African Unity? ›

  • Political instability in some African countries.
  • Apathy of member states.
  • Religious differences.
  • Lack of fund.
  • The struggle for leadership among member states.
  • Ideological differences among the member states.
  • Border conflicts among African countries.

What was the main reason why African resistance failed? ›

African resistance to European imperialism failed because the European colonizers brought with them advanced military technology that African forces were not able to counter.

Why did the Organisation of African Unity fail? ›

The OAU failed to establish any proactive conflict prevention and resolution mechanisms, rather receiving aid from Europe, the United States and the United Nations.

Has the African Union been successful? ›

The African Union has developed a well-oiled machine promoting peace and security. Its initiatives have included developing an institutional design for mediation, political dialogue, early warning systems and peace-support operations. These have changed the game of peace missions and led to relative success.

What is the main goal of the African Unity? ›

The main objectives of the OAU were to rid the continent of the remaining vestiges of colonisation and apartheid; to promote unity and solidarity amongst African States; to coordinate and intensify cooperation for development; to safeguard the sovereignty and territorial integrity of Member States and to promote ...

What is the purpose of African unity? ›

The African Union was established to promote the unity and solidarity of African countries, defend state sovereignty, eradicate colonialism, promote international cooperation, and coordinate and harmonize Member States' policies.

Who wanted to unite all of Africa? ›

Nkrumah, with his grand design for a United States of Africa under one flag and one central government, long preceded him.

Which African country achieved independence? ›

Q. Ghana was one of the first nations in the African continent to gain independence from colonial rule.

How many countries gained independence in Africa? ›

Infosheets on the 17 African countries that gained independence in 1960 | African Studies Centre Leiden.

What is the conclusion of Organisation of African Unity? ›

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.

What are the core visions of African Union? ›

The vision of the African Union is that of: “An integrated, prosperous and peaceful Africa, driven by its own citizens and representing a dynamic force in global arena.”

Why most African countries failed to achieve development? ›

Africa, a continent endowed with immense natural and human resources as well as great cultural, ecological and economic diversity, remains underdeveloped. Most African nations suffer from military dictatorships, corruption, civil unrest and war, underdevelopment and deep poverty.

How successful was African resistance? ›

However, military resistance played a large role in helping the cause of the native people of Africa. It had success such as Ethiopia's ability to remain independent and the Chilembwe insurrection; it also had its failures such as lack of technology and lack of unity.

What was the biggest obstacle to African independence? ›

One of the most pressing challenges African states faced at Independence was their lack of infrastructure. European imperialists prided themselves on bringing civilization and developing Africa, but they left their former colonies with little in the way of infrastructure.

Does the Organization of African Unity still exist? ›

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).

Who founded African unity? ›

What has made uniting the many regions of Africa difficult? ›

European powers drew new political borders that divided established governments and cultural groups. These new boundaries also forced different cultural groups to live together. This restructuring process brought out cultural tensions, causing deep ethnic conflict that continues today.

What are the top 5 challenges Africa is facing? ›

Africa faces significant challenges in reaching these goals
  • Agricultural development (food security)
  • Crime and violence (including domestic violence)
  • Environmental sustainability and climate change initiatives.
  • Equal opportunity for all (social, racial, religious)
Jun 1, 2017

What is the impact of the African Union? ›

The AU has, since its launch, developed considerable agency to shape the agenda and decisions in Africa, and to actively participate in global affairs. The AU has helped Africa to develop into a regional bloc second only to the EU in its institutional development.

Why is Africa important to the world? ›

The continent has 40 percent of the world's gold and up to 90 percent of its chromium and platinum. The largest reserves of cobalt, diamonds, platinum and uranium in the world are in Africa. It holds 65 per cent of the world's arable land and ten percent of the planet's internal renewable fresh water source.

What are five objectives of the African Union? ›

The main objectives of the OAU were, inter alia, to rid the continent of the remaining vestiges of colonization and apartheid; to promote unity and solidarity among African States; to coordinate and intensify cooperation for development; to safeguard the sovereignty and territorial integrity of Member States and to ...

What is the difference between African Union and African unity? ›

African Union unlike the Organization of African Unity has mandate to intervene in the internal affairs of member states who violate human rights. African Union is viewed as an organization of African peoples while Organization of African Unity was an organization of African executives.

What is the structure of African unity? ›

Assembly of Heads of State and Government (annual summit). Council of Ministers (meeting twice a year). General Secretariat, headed by Secretary General (4-year term), with Assistant Secretaries-General for West, Central, North, East and Southern Africa.

What is the symbol for African unity? ›

Gold Circle symbolises Africa's wealth and bright future. Green Circle stands for African hopes and aspirations. Plain Gold Map of Africa without boundaries in inner circle signifies African unity. 7 interlocking Red rings at base of emblem signify African solidarity and the blood shed for Africa's liberation.

Why African countries should unite? ›

A united Africa will allow nearly 20 African countries to acquire the benefits of having immediate access to the sea. With slightly more than 70% of the earth's surface covered by the ocean, the benefits of having immediate access to marine life are tremendous.

Who helps Africa the most? ›

The best charities for Africa in terms of overall impact are Self Help Africa, Frontline AIDS, and InterCare. Charities such as Innovation: Africa and Bread and Water for Africa do incredible work in enabling and helping local business owners to become self-sustainable and increase their income.

How can I unite Africa? ›

Among the important strategies are the formation of economic unions to create regional market and production networks; the establishment of a principled continental parliament; promotion of good education; the use of sports and music to facilitate mutual understanding; the strategic use of languages to build ...

What kind of Africa do we want? ›

An Africa of good governance, democracy, respect for human rights, justice and the rule of law. Africa shall have a universal culture of good governance, democratic values, gender equality, and respect for human rights, justice and the rule of law.

What was the struggle of Africa? ›

The Scramble for Africa, also known as the Partition of Africa, or the Conquest of Africa, was the invasion, annexation, division, and colonization of most of Africa by seven Western European powers during an era known as New Imperialism (between 1833 and 1914).

Which African country was never colonized? ›

Ethiopia is Africa's oldest independent country and its second largest in terms of population. Apart from a five-year occupation by Mussolini's Italy, it has never been colonised.

Which African country gained freedom first? ›

Today in history: Ghana becomes first African country to gain independence from colonial rule, and more.

What is the oldest country in Africa? ›

Liberia was the first African republic to proclaim its independence and is Africa's first and oldest modern republic.

What are the 3 largest independent countries in Africa? ›

Mali — 1,240,190 km² (478,840 mi²) South Africa — 1,219,090 km² (470,693 mi²) Ethiopia — 1,136,242 km² (438,705 mi²)

When did Africa become free? ›

Between 1945 and 1960, three dozen new states in Asia and Africa achieved autonomy or outright independence from their European colonial rulers. There was no one process of decolonization. In some areas, it was peaceful, and orderly. In many others, independence was achieved only after a protracted revolution.

What are 3 of the main problems in Africa? ›

Intra-state conflict, terrorism, and unconstitutional changes of government are three of the biggest security issues in Africa to monitor in 2022.

What are two challenges facing Africa? ›

s challenges include the adverse impact of climate change, increasing water scarcity, biodiversity and ecosystem loss, desertification, low resilience to natural disasters, potential non achievement of the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs), energy crisis, food crisis, limited benefits from globalization, health ...

What are the 7 grand challenges of Africa? ›

The 7 grand challenges are:
  • Urbanization.
  • Education.
  • Infrastructure.
  • Healthcare.
  • Climate change.
  • Governance.
  • Job Creation.

What was the weakness of African unity? ›

The AU was highly fragmented with too many focus areas. Its complicated structure and limited managerial capacity made it inefficient and unaccountable. It was neither financially independent nor self-sustaining. There was poor coordination between it and the Regional Economic Communities.

What are the problems of Africa unity? ›

Yet, the continent is continuously tortured by various challenges such as economic instability, poverty, unemployment, inequality, political unrest as well as ethnic conflicts.

What is an idea which promotes the unity of all African people? ›

Pan-Africanism, the idea that peoples of African descent have common interests and should be unified. Historically, Pan-Africanism has often taken the shape of a political or cultural movement.

What are the four organs of African Union? ›

AU Organs
  • Judicial and Human Rights Institutions.
  • L'Assemblée de l'Union.
  • Legal Organs.
  • The Commission.
  • The Economic, Social & Cultural Council.
  • The Executive Council.
  • The Financial Institutions.
  • The Pan-African Parliament.

What has the African Union achieved? ›

The African Union's Achievements

African Union efforts helped avert catastrophes and protected people from violence in Burundi, the Central African Republic, Comoros, Darfur, Somalia, South Sudan, Sudan, and Mali.

What is the fact finding mission of the African Union? ›

As part of its oversight function and to make an informed decision on matters of peace and security, the Parliament undertakes fact-finding missions to areas of conflict and places with human rights and humanitarian challenges.

What are the failures of Pan Africanism? ›

The most quoted weakness of pan Africanism is; its failure to bring economic freedom inside the continent. One of the major objectives of pan-Africanism was to realize authentic development all over Africa.

What were the problems of African decolonization? ›

The Decolonization of Africa had far-reaching consequences on the economy, resulting in weakened growth. It was often marred with political turmoil, unrest, and revolts. Lack of infrastructure, unorganized labour, and hordes of other related issues impoverished the African states beyond imagination.

What were some challenges with African independence? ›

One of the most pressing challenges African states faced at Independence was their lack of infrastructure. European imperialists prided themselves on bringing civilization and developing Africa, but they left their former colonies with little in the way of infrastructure.

What were the negatives of the Scramble of Africa? ›

The Scramble for Africa has contributed to economic, social, and political underdevelopment by spurring ethnic-tainted civil conflict and discrimination and by shaping the ethnic composition, size, shape and landlocked status of the newly independent states.

How successful was Pan-Africanism? ›

While the Pan-African congresses lacked financial and political power, they helped to increase international awareness of racism and colonialism and laid the foundation for the political independence of African nations.

What was the goal of Pan-Africanism of the late 1960s? ›

Pan-Africanism was the attempt to create a sense of brotherhood and collaboration among all people of African descent whether they lived inside or outside of Africa.

How did Pan-Africanism impact Africa? ›

Significance of the Pan-African movement

It helped to launch the struggle for rights and equality for black people in the diaspora; although there were advocates of a return migration to Africa, eventually and especially after 1945, black people in the diaspora focused on rights and justice where they lived.

Why does decolonization fail? ›

The perceived failure of decolonization, especially in Africa, was attributed to the complicity of the petite bourgeoisie with the colonizers, resulting in different forms of neo-colonialism.

What are 3 effects of decolonization? ›

Consequences of Gaining Independence: Existing Arguments
  • Democracy. Almost axiomatically, European colonial rule inhibited democratic representation. ...
  • Economic Growth. ...
  • Government Revenue. ...
  • Conflict. ...
  • Sample. ...
  • Dependent Variables.
Mar 13, 2019

How did Africa decolonize? ›

Between 1945 and 1960, three dozen new states in Asia and Africa achieved autonomy or outright independence from their European colonial rulers. There was no one process of decolonization. In some areas, it was peaceful, and orderly. In many others, independence was achieved only after a protracted revolution.

What are 3 major challenges facing Africa? ›

Intra-state conflict, terrorism, and unconstitutional changes of government are three of the biggest security issues in Africa to monitor in 2022.

What are 5 conflicts in Africa after independence? ›

Others included the Kenya-Somali war (1963-1967), the Somali-Ethiopian conflict (1964-1978), the Egypt-Libya conflict (1977), the Eritrea-Ethiopia border conflict (1998-2000) and the 1994 Cameroon-Nigeria conflict over the disputed oil-rich Bakassi Peninsula.

What are 3 key reasons why the Scramble for Africa happened? ›

Causes of colonisation

The reasons for African colonisation were mainly economic, political and religious.

What were the two most important causes of the Scramble for Africa? ›

The Scramble for Africa can be explained by two important and interrelated causes: imperial rivalry and industrialization. Imperial rivalry is the most obvious cause. As the European empires were growing in power and wealth, they sought to expand their territorial reach in order to remain competitive with one another.

What were the negative consequences of colonial rule for Africa? ›

Colonialism made African colonies dependent by introducing a mono- cultural economy for the territories. It also dehumanized African labour force and traders. It forced Africans to work in colonial plantations at very low wages and displaced them from their lands.


1. 1963-2023: The OAU/AU after 60 Years - Achievements and Challenges Ahead
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2. The African Union Explained: Is Africa's 55 Member Union the 'European Union' of Africa? - TLDR News
(TLDR News EU)
3. President Ruto Attends African union Transition Mission Summit On Somalia In Uganda
4. America vs. South Africa? *an honest review*
(Ashley In Afrika)
5. Why is Africa turning away from the United States? | The Bottom Line
(Al Jazeera English)
(Parliament of the Republic of South Africa)


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