There are a number of international organizations in Africa formed with the aim of promoting peace, social integration, economic cooperation and development of member nation states. These include the African Union (AU), Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS), Economic Community of Central African States (CEEAC), East African Economic Community (EAEC) and South African Development Community (SADC).

Their respective aim, membership, structure and activities are examined.


African Union (AU)

African Union, formerly the Organization of African Unity (OAU), or Organization de l’Unite Africaine, is an inter-African organization founded in May 1963, with the following set objectives:

  1. To promote unity and solidarity among African states.
  2. To coordinate political, economic, cultural, medical, scientific and defence policies.
  3. To defend the independence and territorial integrity of member states.
  4. To eliminate colonialism from Africa.



All independent states are eligible to become members. There are now 53 members. The two most recent ones are Eritrea, which joined after gaining its independence in 1991, and South Africa, which became a member in 1994.

Morocco suspended its membership in 1985 in protest at the admittance of the Saharawi Arab Republic (Western Sahara) in 1982. The headquarters of the African Union is in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia.


Administrative Structure

The structure of the African Union remains that of the OAU, which was disbanded in 2001. Its policy-making body is the annual Assembly of Heads of State and Government. The Assembly coordinates policies and approves decisions made at the periodic meetings of the Council of Ministers, which consists of the foreign ministers of member countries. Efforts to resolve disputes are handled by the Commission of Mediation, Conciliation and Arbitration. In 1991, the OAU decided to set up a conflict management division to monitor potential disputes and to try and prevent them from erupting into violence; a peace fund was created to finance the division’s operations.

The OAU had a number of specialized commissions dealing with areas such as economics, transport and communications, education, as well as a few specialized agencies including the Pan-African News Agency, the Pan-African Postal Union and the Scientific, Technical and Research Commission. The organization, while maintaining its political nature, became increasingly involved with promoting economic integration and cooperation.

These efforts led to the decision to establish an African economic community whose treaty was signed by African leaders in 1991. After receiving the required two-thirds ratification, the treaty entered into force in April 1994, and in early 2001 African leaders agreed in principle to proposals to set up an African Union similar to that of the European Union.

The permanent administrative body of the organization is the General Secretariat. It is headed by a Secretary-General, elected for a four-year term and aided by five assistant secretaries in charge of the various departments. The secretariat carries out the resolutions and decisions of the assembly, keeps archives and conducts the organization’s public relations.



The African Union’s Pan-African roots date back to 1900, when the First Pan-African Congress met in London. Between 1900 and 1927 five congresses met to promote black solidarity and protest against colonization, but the delegates were primarily from the United States and the West Indies. During the 1930s the movement was almost non-existent, but in 1944 several black organizations founded the Pan-African Federation and the Sixth Pan-African Congress was organized in 1945. Africans, who now were in the majority, sponsored resolutions demanding political independence in the 1950s, and new African states formed various political and economic organizations.

The first conference of independent African states met in Ghana in 1958. In the early 1960s, two blocs emerged. One, the Casablanca Group, consisting of the more “radical” states, was created in January 1961. Under the leadership of Kwame Nkrumah of Ghana, it argued for Pan-African political unity. The Monrovia Group, including the more “conservative” states, met in May 1961 and outlined a programme of gradual economic unity. Primarily through the efforts of Emperor Haile Selassie I of Ethiopia, Sir Abubakar Tafawa Balewa, prime minister of Nigeria and Sekou Toure, president of Guinea, representatives from most independent African states met at Addis Ababa in 1963, and on May 25 the OAU was founded by 30 states.

The OAU Charter, as signed at Addis Ababa, reflected a compromise between the prevailing views among the Casablanca and Monrovia groups, envisaging a unity “that transcends ethnic and national differences”. After the formation of the OAU, the two groups disbanded.

In May 2001, the OAU was replaced by the African Union, with the aim of creating economic and political union across the continent, as well as an African parliament and a court of justice.


Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS)

Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS), was set up with the aim to encourage economic, social and cultural development in West Africa. It was founded in 1975 by the Treaty of Lagos and came into operation in 1977. Its 16 member states are Benin, Burkina Faso, Cape Verde, Cote d’Ivoire, The Gambia, Ghana, Guinea, Guinea-Bissau, Liberia, Mali, Mauritania, Niger, Nigeria, Senegal, Sierra Leone and Togo.

ECOWAS is administered through a secretariat, which is based in Abuja, Nigeria. Since its inception, ECOWAS has moved to liberalized trade and gradually reduce restrictions on the movement of goods, services and people between member states. In January 2001, the West African Monetary Institute (WAMI) was established in Accra, Ghana, as a transitional step towards a West African central bank. ECOWAS has also improved intra-region communications and transport. Some member governments, however, have been slow to implement agreed policies at a national level and to pay their contribution to community funds.

ECOWAS’s military role, however, has been extremely significant. ECOWAS members are pledged to mutual non-aggression; in 1990, the organization set up mechanisms to mediate in disputes between members. In the same year, an ECOWAS force, ECOMOG, was sent to Liberia to try to mediate in the civil war. ECOWAS efforts, through ECOMOG, to finalize a peace settlement and establish a government acceptable to all Liberian factions failed initially and fighting continued through to 1993. However, by the end of that year ECOWAS had helped oversee the negotiation of a peace treaty and the setting up of a transitional government, which took power in 1994. Although, fighting resumed in September 1996, a final peace agreement was eventually reached in December of that year. In 1997, an ECOMOG force was deployed in Sierra Leone to oppose the Revolutionary United Front after it had taken power in a military coup and in October 1998 ECOWAS negotiated an agreement to end unrest in Guinea-Bissau.


Economic Community of Central African States (CEEAC)

Economic Community of Central African States (CEEAC), was officially founded in Libreville, Gabon in late 1983, and operational from early 1985. Its declared aims are the promotion of cooperation and self-sustaining development, with particular emphasis on economic stability and the improvement of living standards. The 11 member countries are Angola, Burundi, Cameroon, Central African Republic, Chad, Congo, Democratic Republic of Congo, Equatorial Guinea, Gabon, Rwanda, and Sao Tome and Principe.

CEEAC’s policies include plans to eliminate customs duties between member states and establish a common external tariff; to establish the free movement of goods, services and people; to improve industry, transport and communications and to link commercial banks and set up a development fund. CEEAC’s headquarters are in Libreville, Gabon.


East African Economic Community (EAEC)

After independence, Kenya joined with Tanzania and Uganda in 1967 to form the East African Economic Community, which aimed to further the development of a common market in goods and services among the member states; the community was dissolved in 1977. In 2001, Uganda, together with Tanzania and Kenya, revived the economic grouping known as the East African Community. This organization, aimed to improve trade, promote greater links between the three countries, and attract outside investment to the area as a whole.


South African Development Community (SADC)

South African Development Community (SADC), formerly the Southern African Development Coordination Conference (SADCC), is an organization of southern African states initially formed to reduce economic dependence on South Africa and to harmonize development in the region. The first SADCC conference, held in Arusha, Tanzania, in 1979, was attended by Angola, Botswana, Mozambique, Tanzania and Zambia the so-called “front-line states” together with representatives from donor governments and international aid agencies. Lesotho, Swaziland, Malawi and Zimbabwe joined the following year; and Namibia in 1990.

In April 1980, SADCC’s strategy for “economic liberation” was formalized in the Lusaka Declaration,outlining an action programme which gave initial priority to integrating and improving regional transport links. At the same time, it was agreed to decentralize the organization’s operations; each member state became responsible for a specific area of the action programme. For example, Angola coordinates the energy programme; Mozambique, transport; and Zimbabwe, food security. Botswana is responsible for agricultural research and hosts the organization’s small secretariat. During its first ten years, SADCC secured more than US$2.5 billion towards the estimated US$6 billion costs of the action programme, making it one of the more successful regional development bodies.

In January 1992, in response to the political changes in South Africa, SADCC’s governing body, the Council of Ministers, approved proposals to transform the organization into a fully integrated economic community. In August, the treaty establishing SADC was signed. In 1994, South Africa became a member of SADC; the Democratic Republic of Congo, Mauritius and Seychelles subsequently joined soon after. At the beginning of the 21st century SADC had a membership of 14 states.

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