The Organization of African Unity (OAU) was founded on may 25, 1963 at Addis Ababa, Ethiopia. Thirty independent African states attended the inaugural meeting. The organization was intended to unite all African states against the forces of colonialism and imperialism and work towards the resolution of African socioeconomic and political problems. The OAU is made up of all independent African states. Before the emergence of OAU as a regional body, three different groups with different ideologies and goals existed. This did not augur well for unity. OAU is a better organization than the former blocs it replaced.

  1. Casablanca group: Ghana, Egypt, Morocco, Guinea, Mali and Algeria.
  2. Brazzaville or African and Malagasy group: Cameroun, Congo Brazzaville, Ivory Coast, senegal, Niger Republic etc.
  3. Monrovia Group: Nigeria, Liberia, Sierra leone, Ethiopia etc. At the signing of the charter in Addis Ababa, the existing three blocs were present but only Monrovia and Casablanca were dissolved while the Brazzaville or African and Malagasy group continued to exist. Therefore, OAU as a body came into existence on May 25, 1963. The headquarters is in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia. Currently, about 53 countries make up the body and they are all independent states. Eritrea was admitted as the 52nd member of the organisation at the summit of Heads of State and Government in June, 1993 after obtaining its independence from Ethiopia on may 24, 1993. South Africa was equally re-admitted as the 53rd member of OAU after apartheid was dismantled.

Points to note:

  • Casablanca Group: It was a radical group that called for the immediate political integration of Africa.
  • Monrovia Group: It was a moderate bloc that demanded for a gradual political integration of African states.



  1. Promotion of unity: It has the aims of promoting unity and solidarity among African states.
  2. Living condition: To ensure good living standard for the people.
  3. Common defence: Member states agreed that they should jointly and co-operatively defend their territories against external aggression.
  4. Eradication of colonialism: They agreed to work towards the eradication of all forms of colonialism and imperialism on the continent.
  5. Promotion of international peace: Member states agreed to work together with other organisations, e.g. U.N.O. to promote international peace.
  6. United front: To have a united front on issues of global importance.



  1. Sovereignty: All member states are sovereign, none should be under the control of any other state. Respect for sovereignty of states to be a major principle.
  2. Settlement of disputes: They agreed in principle that all disputes among member states should be settled peacefully.
  3. Emancipation of African territories: Working co-operatively to free the entire continent from colonial rule.
  4. Equality of states: No state should dominate others. Equal rights should be granted to all member states,
  5. Policy of non-interference: No member state has the right to interfere in the internal affairs of other member states.
  6. Policy of non-alignment: Members have faith in the policy of non-alignment, and are expected to discuss and assess international issues objectively
  7. Total condemnation of all forms of subversive activities, political assassination perpetrated in neighbouring states or other states within the continent.



The following are the organs of OAU:

  1. The Assembly of Heads of state and Government.
  2. The Council of Ministers.
  3. The General Secretariat.
  4. The Commission of Mediation, Conciliation and Arbitration.
  5. The Liberation Committee.


a) The Assembly of Heads of State and Government

The Assembly of Heads of State and Government is the highest and most powerful of all the organs of the organisation. It is the body that takes final decision on matters affecting member states of the organisation. It is made up of Heads of state and government of all member states. It meets once in a year, however, during emergency an extra-ordinary meeting may be convened at the instance of a member country, but it can only hold if two-third of member states support it, and this is because issues or matters are mostly decided by two-third majority. Also, each state has one vote and voting is by simple majority. This Assembly has a chairman and usually, the head of state and government of the host country is usually the chairman for one year.


Functions of the Assembly of Heads of State and Governments

  1. Appointment of secretary-General: This organ is responsible for the appointment of the Secretary-General of the organization.
  2. Admission of new members: New members into the organization are also admitted by this organ.
  3. Amendment of the charter: The Assembly can approve proposals for any amendment to the charter of the organisation.
  4. Coordination of policies: Policies of general interest as it affects member states are discussed and co-ordinated by this body
  5. Activities of the various organs, commissions, etc, are examined by the Assembly of Heads of State and Governments.
  6. Problems of member states: Some problems of member states are looked into and settled by this body using the available machinery in place.
  7. Examination of activities: Activities and duties of the organs of the organization and the commissions are examined from time to time.


b) The Council of Ministers

The council consists of foreign or external affairs ministers or any other ministers appointed by the government for this purpose. e.g. the minister of external affairs in Nigeria is a member of this council. It meets twice a year but an extraordinary meeting may be called and it requires 2/3 approval of the member state. This council prepares the agenda for the meetings of Heads of states and governments and equally implements their decisions. This, therefore, makes it responsible to the Assembly of Heads of States. Each state has one vote and a quorum is formed by 2/3 of the body.


Functions of the Council of Ministers

  1. Preparation of the agenda: The Council of Ministers prepares the agenda for the meetings of the Assembly of Heads of states and governments.
  2. Approval of the budget: It approves the annual budget of the organization
  3. Implementation of decisions: This council equally implements the decisions arrived at by the Assembly.
  4. Recommendations: This body recommends to the Assembly of Heads of State and Governments for the appointment of a Secretary-General of the organisation and for the admission of new members into the organisation.
  5. Responsible to the Assembly: This council is responsible to the Assembly in all their deliberations and is expected to act accordingly on them.
  6. Co-operation: This council is responsible for co-ordinating and harmonizing inter-African co-operation.


c) The General Secretariat

This is the administrative organ of the organization. The headquarters is in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia. The head of the secretariat is the Secretary-General who is the chief administrative officer. He is assisted by two assistant secretaries. All of them are appointed by the Assembly of Heads of State on the recommendation of the Council of Ministers. The Secretary-General stays in office for a period of four years and may be re-appointed for another term.


Functions of the General Secretariat

  1. Implements the administrative duties: It implements all the administrative duties of the organisation.
  2. Preparation of agenda: This body prepares the agenda for meetings of the council of ministers which usually takes place at the secretariat.
  3. Provides the technical know-how: It provides the technical and administrative services required by the specialized commissions of the organisation.
  4. Preparation of the annual report: The annual reports on the activities of the organisation are also prepared by this body.
  5. Budget: The Secretariat prepares the budget of the organisation for each fiscal year and with the approval of the Council of Ministers.
  6. Programme: The Secretariat is responsible for the preparation of the programme of activities for the organisation each year.
  7. Provision of facilities: It provides the facilities needed for all meetings of the organisation.
  8. Financial control: It is the body that controls the finances of the organisation.


Functions or Duties of the Secretary General

  1. The chief administrative officer: The Secretary-General is the chief administrative officer of the organisation.
  2. Control of the Secretariat: All the activities at the secretariat are under the control of the Secretary-General.
  3. Implementation of decisions: He makes sure that the decisions arrived at by the Assembly of Heads of State and Government are adequately implemented.
  4. Supervision: Activities of other organs of the organization’s specialised commissions are supervised by the Secretary-General.
  5. Budget: He is responsible and supervises the preparation of the annual budget of the organization.
  6. Annual report: He prepares the annual report of the organization.
  7. Appointment of staff: He has the power to recruit and control members of his staff.


Past Secretary-Generals of OAU

The following are the past and current Secretary-Generals.

  • 1st – Diallo Telli of Guinea (1963-72).
  • 2nd – Ezo Ekangaki of Cameroun (1972-74).
  • 3rd – William Eketi Mbomoua of Cameroun (1974 -78).
  • 4th – Edem Kodjo of Togo (1978 — 83).
  • 5th – Peter Onu of Nigeria (1983 — 85).
  • 6th – Ide Omarou of Niger Republic (1985-89).
  • 7th – Salim Ahmed Salim of Tanzania (1989-2001). He is the last Secretary-General of the defunct OAU. Thenewly formed African Union (AU) has Essy Amara as the Secretary-General.


d) The Commission of Mediation, Conciliation and Arbitration

This organ was mainly set up to settle disputes among the member states of the organization. About 21 members from different member states, make up this commission, and it is for a period of five years. It has Addis Ababa in Ethiopia as its headquarters. There is a president and a vicepresident. Membership of this commission, their activities etc, are determined by the Assembly of Heads of State and Government. To facilitate and promote the work of the organization, other five specialized commissions were setup. These are:

  1. Educational and Cultural Commission.
  2. Economic and Social Commission.
  3. Health, Sanitation and Nutrition Commission.
  4. Defence Commission.
  5. Scientific, Technical and Research Commission.

Membership of these specialized commissions consists of the ministers concerned in their respective states or their designated representatives.


e) The Liberation Committee

The liberation committee was set up in 1963 with headquarters at Dare-es-Salam in Tanzania.


Purpose/Functions of the Committee

  1. Assistance to African territories: This committee was set up mainly to assist African territories who were still under colonial rule to gain independence.
  2. Financial support: This body was to assist, financially and materially, the liberation movements in Africa, e.g. SWAPO in Namibia and MPLA in Angola.

Note: The Liberation Committee has long ceased to exist because all African countries are now independent.



  1. Served as a forum: The organization served as a forum for African leaders to discuss African affairs.
  2. United stand at the U.N.O: The organization has allowed the African states to take a united stand at the U.N.O.
  3. Attainment of independence: The Liberation Committee of OAU had supported nationalist movements in countries fighting for independence, e.g. Angola, Namibia and Mozambique.
  4. Settlement of disputes: It contributed to the settlement of many disputes among African states. For example, OAU playeda useful role during the Nigerian civil war.
  5. Regional economic co-operation: The Organization of African Unity has encouraged regional and economic cooperation in Africa, e.g. ECOWAS.
  6. African Development Bank: This bank has granted soft loans to member states for developmental programmes.
  7. Human rights: It has contributed to the observance of human rights in African countries through the adoption of the African Charter on Human Rights.
  8. Eradication of apartheid: OAU played a crucial role in the eradication of apartheid in South Africa, For example, at the Abuja Summit of 1991, member states resolved to continue supporting the policy of sanction against South Africa.
  9. African Economic Community (AEC): The treaty establishing this community was signed in Abuja in 1991. One of the goals of the community is for a sustained socioeconomic development of member states of the organization.
  10. Promotion of world peace: OAU, in co-operation with other international bodies, e.g. U.N.O. etc has contributed to the promotion of world peace and security.



  1. Political instability: Due to frequent changes of government, internal strife and conflicts, many African states are politically unstable.
  2. Colonial experience: Some member states of the organization still owe allegiance to their former colonial masters.
  3. No standing army: The O.A.U. as an organization has no standing army. Areas where there are conflicts that require military interventions cannot receive appropriate attention.
  4. Payment of dues: Irregular payment of dues by member states is affecting the attainment of the goals of the organization.
  5. Decisions of the organization may not be binding on the members: This is because all member states are sovereign states.
  6. Neo-colonialism: Member states of the organization depend largely on developed countries for financial assistance and this make them susceptible to manipulation in the hands of these developed countries.
  7. Poor leadership: Most African states are yet to have reliable, honest and dedicated leadership committed to the ideals of the organization.
  8. The problem of refugees: Most African countries are having internal or external conflicts, resulting in people fleeing their countries or home to other countries or places where there is peace. These refugees become serious socio-economic problems to those countries.
  9. Differences in ideology: African states belong to different socio political blocs. This has been affecting decision-making and implementation of the organisation’s programmes.
  10. Border conflict: Border clashes have been a regular feature on the continent. OAU, as a body has no capability to forestall such.
  11. Shortage of fund: Some of the member states of the organization are not paying their dues and when they do, it is usually not prompt. This has been creating problems in the implementation of the objectives and goals of the organization.
  12. Poverty: Most of the countries are poor and so their economies are heavily dependent on foreign powers. Therefore, there is the tendency for these African states to be more loyal to these foreign powers than to the OAU itself.
  13. Principle of non-interference: The principle of non-interference in internal affairs of member states. This prevented OAU from playing active role in major crises in member countries.
  14. Inter-state boundary: Disputes are common as a result of inter-state boundary in Africa e.g. Eritrea/Ethiopia, Nigeria/ Cameroon, Senegal/Mauritania and Libya/ Chad.
  15. Existence of Sub-regional Organisations e.g. ECOWAS and MANO River Union.
  16. Domination: The fear of domination nursed by some member countries of the organization.
  17. Internal or domestic strife: Conflict, violence, breakdown of law and order in some member states leading to divided attention and lack of support for the Organisation.
  18. Rivalry: This could be noticed among the powerful member states for supremacy.

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