The African Union's History & Purpose

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  • 0:01 Purpose
  • 1:00 History
  • 1:36 Structure
  • 2:30 Effectiveness
  • 3:05 Lesson Summary
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Lesson Transcript
Instructor: Shawn Grimsley

Shawn has a masters of public administration, JD, and a BA in political science.

There's probably not a place in the world that struggles more than the people and states found on the continent of Africa. In this lesson, you'll learn about the African Union and its efforts to improve Africa. A short quiz follows.


Africa is the second largest continent in the world, consisting of about one-fifth of the world's landmass. It boasts the world's longest river, the Nile, one of the largest lakes, Lake Victoria, and lush rainforests. It holds a vast wealth of minerals, gems, precious metals, and fossil fuels. Seems like a blueprint for success, right? Apparently, not. Much of Africa struggles with economic development and political stability, a legacy due to its colonial past.

As you probably know, oftentimes a group can accomplish more working together than individuals can working alone. The same can be said of states. The African Union is an intergovernmental organization formed to help nurture security, economic development, and economic integration among its member-states. It is open to all states in Africa and currently has 54 members.


We can trace the roots of the African Union back to the Organization of African Unity (OAU), which was formed in 1963. It became an advocate for human rights when it adopted the African Charter on Human Rights in 1981, leading to the formation of the African Human Rights Commission. On the economic development front, the treaty establishing the African Economic Community (AEC) became effective in 1994. The AEC is a significant step towards economic integration among the organization's members. The African Union became active in 2002 as a replacement for the OAU.


The African Union is composed of numerous organs. Let's look at some of the key ones:

  • The Pan African Parliament is the legislature of the African Union.
  • The Assembly consists of the heads of states and heads of government of each member-state and is the governing body of the African Union.
  • The African Court on Human and Peoples' Rights has jurisdiction over all cases submitting to it concerning the African Charter on Human and Peoples' Rights and related human rights laws and protocols adopted by the states in the African Union.
  • The Peace and Security Council is charged with promotion of peace and security for and among member-states.

Other important organs that are in the process of development include the African Investment Bank, the African Monetary Fund, and the African Central Bank.

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