On May 25, 1963, 33 independent African states met in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia, to form the Organization of African Unity. The purpose of the summit 50 years ago was to enhance cooperation between member states and to accelerate the liberation struggles of those countries that still remained under colonial and/or European-settler rule.
In 1963, European-minority rule was deeply entrenched in South Africa, Zimbabwe, Zambia (the last two known as Northern and Southern Rhodesia, respectively), Namibia (then known as Southwest Africa) as well as the then-Portuguese colonies of Guinea-Bissau, Angola and Mozambique.
Five decades later the OAU was transformed into the African Union, which was established in 2002 in Durban, South Africa. The AU was designed to continue the vision of the radical anti-imperialist states of the early 1960s, which were led by leaders such as Dr. Kwame Nkrumah of Ghana, Ahmed Sekou Touré of Guinea, Julius Nyerere of Tanzania, Gamal Abdel Nassar of Egypt, Ben Bella of Algeria and others who were pushing for stronger ties between post-colonial governments in order to effectively challenge the hegemony of imperialist Western Europe and the United States.
In 1999 at a meeting in Sirte, Libya, the former leader of Libya’s Jamahiriya, Col. Muammar Gaddafi, called for the realization of the Nkrumaist vision of continental union government that would encompass a common currency, military force, human rights court and parliament. Although this was not agreed upon in 2002 at the AU founding, some progress has been made in regard to gender equality and the establishment of a Pan-African Parliament based in South Africa.
The AU has also established the rudimentary basis for an African standby force to address internal conflicts throughout the continent. This has not prevented direct imperialist intervention by French military forces in the former French colonies nor increased U.S. military intervention through AFRICOM ties with individual African military forces throughout the continent.
This year’s AU Summit is meeting under the theme “Pan-Africanism and the African Renaissance.” The event began on May 19 and runs to May 27.
During the African Union’s opening session on May 19, the AU said, “The Chairperson of the African Union Commission Dr. Nkosazana Dlamini Zuma has called for the general acceptance and understanding about the rise of Africa over the last five decades in terms of economic growth, public investment, infrastructure and regional integration as well as improvement in democracy and governance, peace and stability and some human development indicators among others.” (au.int, May 20)
These statements were made to the Permanent Representatives Committee of the AU. During the course of the summit all the organs of the continental organization, which has 54 member states, will hold deliberations on a number of issues, including peace and security, gender affairs, culture, civil society and economic development.
The AU website also reported, “Dr. Nkosazana Dlamini Zuma, in her address to the session, highlighted the fact that the OAU/AU founders had to construct newly independent states and develop a vision and plans for continental integration, on the foundation of the fragmentation and the destruction caused by centuries of colonization.” (The AUC Chairperson’s full speech is available on the AU website, au.int.)